Right to Farm Bill 2019

25th September 2019

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (16:22): I speak briefly on the Right to Farm Bill 2019. I believe property owners generally have a fundamental right to keep unwanted, uninvited and sometimes militant trespassers off their property, regardless of whether they are on a 1,000 hectare farm in the Hunter Valley or further west or living in a one bedroom unit in Surry Hills.

People living and working on rural properties have a fundamental right to perform legal farming practices or approved activities without nuisance or illegal trespass on their property. Too often in recent times we have seen these farms become the scene of an ideological warfare that is poorly targeted and, in many cases, dangerous. This issue first came to my attention in Lake Macquarie some five years ago when I was contacted by a young family who were producing eggs, an industry that is quite common in my area. The family had been targeted by a website called Aussie Farms. The young family were doing a great job in an area that was relatively close to other residential areas and that had never been the subject of any complaint from the community. In fact the community had embraced them as part of the milieu, of the character and tradition of the area. The couple and their daughter were targeted and intimidated by people associated with this particular website.

I totally accept that people can have different ideological arguments, but invading privately owned farms and homes to push those arguments is not, in my opinion, acceptable, and nor is any other form of offsite intimidation. Some of the activities carried out by activists in recent times have been appalling and also dangerous for all concerned. I believe that in the eyes of many they have damaged their cause more than they have promoted it. According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, the number of invasions or incidents of trespass on rural farms and properties has increased by 27 per cent since 2014. The tactics employed by some of those groups and by some animal rights groups have been aggressive and way over the top.

I absolutely support people's right to protest, but quietly invading a family's property in the dead of night, often wearing face?concealing dress, and then stealing or interfering with stock or property is wrong and dangerous and does no cause or person any good. Chaining oneself to machinery is not the safest way to make a point, however valid one might think that point is. Bullying or threatening a legally operating farmer, farming family or farm employee does nothing to promote a vegan diet, if that is what they are pursuing, or to provide a better welfare outcome for animals.

I note the comments from other members and I agree with many. In particular, I agree that vigilantism is sometimes born of the lack of adequate oversight from legal or industry regulators. I also accept there have been examples of illegal practice or animal cruelty on some farms, which have been identified by groups other than through the official process. I do not for a minute think that every single farm or primary industry operation in this State performs entirely within the rules all of the time. But there is a fair argument that the regulators or inspectors are not adequately empowered or funded to regulate or inspect properly.

Groups such as the RSPCA and other animal welfare groups provide oversight of things such as animal welfare. Departments such as the Environment Protection Agency are charged with monitoring and ensuring that things happen within the law or within appropriate legal guidelines to minimise offsite and environmental impacts. But those groups cannot do the job properly if they are not adequately equipped to do it. That is something the Government could be doing better and should address, particularly regarding the RSPCA. While the Minister is in the Chamber, I take the opportunity to note that some time ago I sat on an inquiry into companion animal breeding practices, which the Minister chaired. I was shocked to find just how little resourcing the RSPCA receives from the Government. I raise that and ask that the Minister be mindful of whether there is adequate resourcing for those oversight organisations and address it if possible.

But that is not the primary focus of this bill, which is aimed at protecting inclosed lands and private farming operations from nuisance trespassers, vigilantes, illegal hunters and those who seek to disrupt legal operations. The bill also introduces legislation to further protect primary producers from conflict and interference caused by neighbours or other land users. I will not speak in detail to that part of the bill, other than to say that it will further reinforce protections for lawful operations. But there may be further actions in relation to nuisance that could complement the intention of the bill through mechanisms such as section 149 certificates, as raised by the member for Ballina, or other ideas that may have been suggested by other members during the debate.

I accept that some primary industry operations have the capacity to create noise or odour issues and the like for neighbours, particularly in areas where the urban residential sprawl is meeting the fringes of what have been traditional farming or agricultural areas. In the vast majority of those cases, the farming operations have existed for generations and operate under conditioned approval or legal guidelines in terms of things such as noise and odour. Their lawful operations, then, should be legally protected from those who would seek to disrupt them with vexatious or frivolous claims. Our farmers and primary producers have enough to deal with without the added burden of having their lawful operations unduly and unfairly disrupted. Some believe the bill goes too far; others—including, as we have just heard, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party—want tougher measures and penalties. Is the bill perfect? Probably not. But as a start, I believe it is a genuine attempt to assist farmers with just one of their challenges and therefore is supportable. I commend the bill to the House.

Website: Read full Parliamentary debate

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