Australia is toughening up its laws against activists who target farms, with one minister warning that the ‘thugs and vigilantes’ have been ‘put on notice’.
New biosecurity laws came into force on New South Wales (NSW) at the start of August, meaning that activists who illegally enter farms in the Australian state will face on-the-spot fines of $1,000, with the potential of jail time and fines of up to $220,000 for individuals and $400,000 for groups and corporations.
The Federal Government is also expected to pass its own farm trespass laws soon, ensuring a national clamp down on the activity.
The legislation is a response to a series of on-farm protests in Australia over the past 18 months, including a number that have targeted pig farms.
“Today the Government is putting these vigilantes and thugs on notice. Your time threatening the agriculture industry and hardworking farmers is over,” NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said, according to ABC News.
“Your time threatening the agriculture industry and hardworking farmers is over.”
“We’ve seen a disturbing increase in vigilante behaviour where individuals and groups have taken upon themselves to trespass onto farmers’ land and threaten the biosecurity on the property.
“We want to send the strongest possible message to people to think again. This is just the first part of a broader package of reforms the Government is working on, and jail time will be included in further legislation we are looking at.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Federal Government was hoping to pass its own farm trespass laws soon. The laws would increase penalties for trespassers and make it an offence to use the internet to incite people to enter farms illegally.
Farmers welcomed the move. Pig farmer Edwina Beveridge, whose farm was broken into 10 times in 2014, with footage from secret cameras posted online.
“A lot of the images posted online have been taken out of context leading to me being harassed and targeted on social media,” she said.
“I’ve had death threats against me, there have been threats to burn our farm down, we’ve had a very nasty time.Protesters have the right to protest, they just need to do it in the right way but breaking into people’s farms isn’t right.
“On-the-spot fines sound like a good way to deter people breaking the law, but it needs to be followed through in the court process. I’m really pleased the Government is trying to help us.”
But protest group Aussie Farms said the legislation was a ‘smokescreen’ to stem footage being taken from farms.