EXTREME vegan activism became an election issue today, with the Coalition Government promising to introduce laws with jail terms for activists publishing details to encourage farm and business trespass if elected.
Attorney-General Christian Porter and Agriculture Minister and Water Resources David Littleproud said a re-elected Morrison Government will introduce a new offence designed specifically to protect farmers and primary producers from the unlawful actions of animal activists.
“We have seen with Aussie Farms the malicious use of personal information, including farmers’ names, addresses and workplaces, designed specifically to encourage others to trespass on properties and damage businesses,” Mr Porter said.
“This is not acceptable and the Morrison Government will, if re-elected, introduce a new criminal offence specifically designed to protect Australian farmers from the sort of vigilante action we have seen this week.
“Penalties of up to 12 months imprisonment will apply to individuals who use a carriage service, such as the internet, to disclose personal information with the intention that another person would use that information to trespass on agricultural land,” the Attorney-General said.
“The law would also apply to other primary producers such as abattoirs.”
He said the new laws would include appropriate exemptions for bona-fide journalists and for situations where the information being released shows a law being broken, such as whistleblowing on animal cruelty.
The National Farmers Federation applauded the proposed tough new punishments for radical extremists who incite farm invasions.
“The move to throw the book at these offenders is a relief to farming families, who are right now under siege,” NFF chief executive officer Tony Mahar said.
“Hard-working farmers are having their character, livelihoods and way of life attacked and it simply cannot continue.”
The NFF said much of the offensive behaviour is directly linked to an online Aussie Farms ‘map’, which in January published the private address details of more than 3000 farm and supply chain businesses and which remains live today.
“Since January we’ve seen dairies, feedlots, abattoirs and even aquariums targeted.
“The people behind these despicable acts are so fundamental in their views they don’t believe in pets or guide dogs,” Mr Mahar said.
“They certainly do not support animal production for food and the right of the majority of Australians to consume meat, dairy products and eggs.”
As a result of the invasions incited by the ‘map’, families have been traumatised, production has been compromised and biosecurity and animal welfare has been placed at real risk, the NFF said. The NFF said “countless” animals have been stolen and the welfare of these animals remained a major concern.
Mr Mahar said farmers had endured an anxious week after threats of nation-wide attacks on Monday but had been buoyed by the support of their fellow Australians.
“People from all walks of life have come out in public support of farmers.
“It’s been particularly heartening to see those who choose a plant-based diet, distancing themselves from the radical extremists and their modus operandi,” he said.
“We are sure the proposal will receive bi-partisan support and we look forward to working with the parliament to see these tough but fair new sanctions introduced.
“We await a decision by the Charities Commissioner to strip Aussie Farms of it’s charity status,” Mr Mahar said.
The Federal Government said the proposed new criminal offence and penalties built on other actions taken by the Morrison Government against vigilante animal activists, including prescribing Aussie Farms under the Privacy Act. This meant the organisation could face fines of up to $2.1 million for breaches of the Act. The government has also asked states and territories to consider their own trespass laws.
Mr Littleproud said farming families deserved protection.
“I’ve been fighting this Aussie Farms attack map for activists for months and this is a great day.
“If you use the personal information of our family farmers to incite trespass then you deserve to go to jail,” he said.
“Farming families grow our food and there are children on these farms.
“Now states must beef up farm trespass laws – if 100 of my mates stormed a house in Sydney we’d expect to be locked up and farmers deserve the same protection,” Mr Littleproud said.
“The Morrison Government will always protect farmers, whilst ensuring that those who do mistreat their animals face appropriate action.”
Federal Opposition Shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon said the Morrison Government is now scrambling to fix a problem largely of its own making.
“The abolition of the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy, the Animal Welfare Unit and the Inspector General of Animal Welfare have fuelled animal activism.
“So too has the blind eye the government turned to the live sheep trade,” he said.
“Labor will properly consider the proposed increases in penalties and the new offences and supports them in principle.
“They can’t be given affect until after the election.”
But Mr Fitzgibbon said threatening people with jail for using their iPhones to organise a protest rally is not likely to have any meaningful impact.
“Labor stands by our farmers and is ready to act but this complex problem requires a sophisticated response, not just a politically-driven scramble five minutes before an election.
“We must restore the strategies and positions the Morrison Government abolished and resurrect a proper COAG process,” he said.
“The issue can’t be properly addressed without the cooperation of the states.”