VICTORIA’S court system and legal fraternity would need to be educated on the importance of farm biosecurity with the introduction of increased penalties for animal activist trespassers, a leading farmer said today.
The Andrews Labor Government today introduced its Livestock Management Amendment (Animal Activism) Bill 2021, raising the prospect of fines of more $12,000 for individuals and over $60,000 for organisations that fail to comply with farm biosecurity plans.
Hamilton district sheep and cattle producer Michael Blake welcomed the government’s legislation as a terrific outcome “as far as imposing a deterrent.”
“Our farm is our workplace, it is also our home and the designation of the boundaries are non-specific – you walk outside the door and you are at work.
“So any invasion of that is an invasion of your domestic arena as well.”
Mr Blake said any other business, factory or shop, people had to go through a front gate or door and its designated.
The sufficiency of the proposed fines and penalties would depend on the attitude of the court system and legal fraternity to the offences, and the time offenders would have to pay, he said.
“It will depend on how they (the fines) are administered.
“It depends on, whoever sits on the bench, their interpretation of the law,” Mr Blake said.
“If it is somebody who is less passionate about the rural community, the interpretation might still be detrimental, but it does give me a little bit of confidence that we should be able to maintain our industry and our working environment and do the animal operations we need to do – which are within the law – without being inhibits by threats of exposure.”
Mr Blake said farmers will be relying on the courts to take a tough stance on animal activist farm trespassers. He said many people had faith in the law, but fines of $1, as was levied on an activist who stole livestock from a Yarragon goat farm and cafe in 2019, did not protect people or the business.
Courses have been run supporting activists wanting to conduct farm invasions and Mr Blake said there is a need to run educational programs for the legal fraternity on the importance of biosecurity.
“Obviously there be a watching brief on the first attempt to do a farm invasion.”
Mr Blake said the operation he ran with his wife Cathy has been a closed farm for livestock, grain and hay for 30 years. Ballyglunin Park has had a formalised biosecurity plan since 2004. In 2007, the Ballyglunin Park owners won the national Biosecurity Farmer of the Year award and Mr Blake is a pioneer in creating and implementing farm quality assurance schemes. The 1200 hectare operation runs about 6500 Merino and crossbred sheep and about 250 beef cows.
“Biosecurity is crucial to us because we lead the industry as number one in the wool integrity scheme SustainaWOOL Gold.
“We’ve led the industry on developing protocols for sustainability, so for us it’s crucial that we maintain our (biosecurity) levels at all times,” he said.
He said there are a number of exotic animal disease that could be catastrophic to the Australian agricultural industry if introduced onto farms by trespassers.