The State Government announced yesterday it would offer farmers and primary producers more protections from trespassers with a draft bill that includes significantly increased penalties for existing offences and a new offence of “aggravated farm trespass”.
Under the Summary Offences Act, the maximum fine for general trespassing is $2500.
But the new bill – spearheaded by Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone and Liberal MP David Basham – proposes the fine increase to a maximum of $5000.
Additionally, the penalty for interfering with farm gates would double from $750 to $1500; fines for disturbing farm animals would increase from $750 to $2500 or a prison term to six months; and a new aggravated farm trespass offence would carry a heavier sentence of up to $10,000 or 12 months’ jail time.
“These are serious crimes and we recommend the penalties match,” said Chapman in a statement.
“Animal rights activists are tremendously passionate about their cause but trespassing and causing damage on private property is not an acceptable way of getting a message across.
“This is an issue that is likely to generate strong feelings from many in the community, which is why we will be encouraging people to have their say now that a Bill has been drafted.”
Despite the larger penalties, an organiser for the Adelaide chapter of international animal-rights group, Anonymous for the Voiceless, said protestors would not be deterred – and the restrictions may consequently increase trespassing activity.
“These penalties will not stop the activists,” said Nick Hancock.
“There may be more of this type of stuff happening in order to continue to have the plight of animals heard and to be kept in the public eye.
“If a farmer is not up to a regulatory standard, I think it would only be found out because they have been uncovered by activists.
“I’ve seen hundreds of hours of undercover footage taken from inside farming facilities… What the activists uncover inside these places is unbearable to see.”
Livestock SA president Joe Keynes welcomed the new penalties to deter “mischief” as the current laws for trespassers were not working.
“There have been cases, not just in South Australia but across the nation, where judges have given activists really a slap on the wrist,” he said.
“I think the deterrents haven’t been strong enough and I welcome this review.
“We were getting a range of reports from farmers… when they (animal-rights activists) took over the Strath’ abattoir last year, and up on the shed, and stood on the roof.
“They have a right to protest but they don’t have a right to interrupt legal businesses and create damage or mischief to farming properties.”
A group of animal-rights activists, belonging to the Aussie Farms movement, occupied the roof of Strath Pastoral abattoir in Strathalbyn in September last year after a graphic video emerged of pigs, cattle and sheep being slaughtered.
The RSPCA investigated the facility on animal welfare grounds after it was supplied with the footage but it reported no breaches.
Twenty-three protesters were charged with criminal trespass after occupying the roof.
Glenn Pitchford from Pitchford Farms in the Adelaide Hills, who sells grass-fed and antibiotic-free beef and lamb, said he had not experienced trespassers on his property because the activists targeted “intensive farms” – farms that maximise land or labour to maximise output – but he knew of neighbouring farms which had.
“I know people that have been put on the on the list to be looked at by the animal-rights activists… mainly piggeries and stuff like that,” he said.
“They put out a list of all the places and properties that should be boycotted; farms near our farm have been put on that list.
“If somebody is abusing animals or doing things wrong chuck the book of them.
“Nobody wants to see animals abused but also nobody wants to have everybody’s livelihood upset by people that often are professional activists.
“I don’t want to see chickens abused, like caged chooks… [but] farmers are good people and often do it very hard.
“Things are not always black and white.”
The bill will enter public consultation on yourSAy before being introduced to State Parliament for consideration later this year.
The public has until Friday, October 4, to submit online responses.
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