Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants animal rights activists who target farmers’ homes to face jail terms of up to 12 months.
Animal rights activists who target farmers’ homes and lawful businesses could face a year in jail under proposed new laws to stop disruptive protests.
If re-elected in May, Morrison plans to change the laws to prevent animal rights activist organisation Aussie Farms from using private information about farmers to harass them.
“They are being targeted in the most mercenary way by an organisation that can only think of itself and not think about the real damage that is being done to the livelihoods of these hard-working Australians,” Morrison told reporters in Launceston on Wednesday.
He promised to introduce laws banning people from inciting criminal activity against farmers, with jail terms up to 12 months.
“Those who engage in using such information to incite criminal activity of people going and seeking to trespass or cause these types of injuries to the well-being of our farming community, they will face jail terms of up to 12 months,” Morrison said.
“We’re not kidding. It’s not just their farm, it’s their home. It’s where their kids live and grow up.”
Animal rights protesters on Monday launched a cross-border campaign targeting a busy Melbourne street, plus abattoirs and farms in Victoria, NSW, and Queensland. The nationally coordinated trespass action has been called an “attack on regional Australia” and the nation’s $22 billion meat industry by the Australian Meat Industry Council.
Patrick Hutchinson, chief executive of the council, said that five member operations on the eastern seaboard, as well as a number of other farm businesses, had been illegally disrupted by the activists.
“Of course people are entitled to their own views, but illegally entering facilities is just not OK,” Hutchinson said.
“It creates biosecurity risks, it leads to breaches of privacy, it is potentially unsafe for the activists themselves and at the end of the day it puts at risk jobs in regional communities.”
Affected businesses included the Carey Bros abattoir at Warwick in Queensland, Southern Meats in Goulburn, NSW, and six Victorian locations, including Westside Meats at Bacchus Marsh, MC Herd at Geelong, and O’Connor Beef at Pakenham.
“It’s an attack on regional Australia, pure and simple,” Hutchinson said.
“(Activists) come in from the city, they cause trouble, they create images that are not representative of the work our members do, they damage a business’s ability to operate, and then they’re gone.”
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The protests were organised to mark the one-year anniversary of the film Dominion, which used drones and hidden cameras to film inside farms to show how animals are treated during the production process.
Police also arrested 38 activists at the Melbourne who blocked a major intersection, causing chaos for commuters during the morning peak hour.
— Nine News Queensland (@9NewsQueensland) April 8, 2019
National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar and president Fiona Simson were among the industry leaders condemning the trespasses, with Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud urging state governments to hasten the introduction of stronger farm trespass laws.
Hutchinson said he supported the right to peaceful protest but could not condone action that may hurt an industry employing 55,000 people, mostly in country areas.
“We have a supply chain that will be impacted all the way through, from farmers through to transport individuals, blue and white collar workers at the abattoirs, meat wholelsalers, right through to local butcher,” Hutchinson said.
“They will stop at nothing short of abolishing our industry, and you just can’t negotiate with that.”
The Aussie Farms website publishes an interactive map of farms across the country, which the organisation says exposes animal exploitation in a secretive industry.
The protests, organised to mark the one-year anniversary of a documentary about animal abuse, resulted in scores of arrests, criminal charges and a renewed call for farmers to take action, with the federal government committing to underwrite legal claims.
Privacy laws were changed last Friday to potentially expose Aussie Farms’ website to significant penalties for publishing farmers’ addresses and contact details.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said the laws would make it illegal to use a carriage service to disclose personal information to incite criminal activity.
But the laws would include exemptions for journalists and whistleblowers who reveal illegal conduct within the agricultural industry.
By Angus Livingston and Alex Druce