New CTH Bill To Create Offences For Activists Who Incite Trespass, Damage, Or Theft Against Farmers

Tuesday 23 July 2019 @ 11.01 a.m. | Crime | Legal Research

On 4 July 2019, the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 (CTH) (‘the Bill’) was introduced to the House of Representatives by Attorney-General, Christian Porter. The Bill was referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee (‘the Committee’) on the same day, with a report due to be tabled on 6 September 2019.

The Bill aims to deter individuals from sharing personal information of farmers to incite offences against them. Under the Bill, it would be illegal for groups and individuals to promote such events online on any carriage service.

The Bill was introduced as part of the Government’s election commitment to protect the privacy of Australian farmers and other primary producers against the actions of certain animal activists. The Government claims that individuals would distribute personal information and details of farmers online, leading to harassment and offences being committed at their place of work, business and home. If the Bill is passed, it will amend the Criminal Code Act 1995 (CTH) (‘the Act’) by introducing two new offences in relation to individuals who incite trespass, theft and/or property offences on agricultural land.

The New Offences

Under the Bill, there will be two new offences:

  1. Where a person publishes and distributes material with the intention to incite trespass on agricultural land
  2. Where a person publishes and distributes material with the intention to incite property damage and/or theft on agricultural land

The Bill defines agricultural land as land used for a primary production business. This definition covers chicken farms, piggeries, abattoirs, animal saleyards, fish farms, crop growers and plantations.

Under the first offence, the offender is also required to be reckless as to whether the trespass or related conduct would cause detriment to the business carried on the land. This offence would also still apply regardless of whether or not trespass or detriment is suffered from the incitement. Inclusion of a disclaimer on the website where the information is published will not be conclusive of lack of intent.

Offenders would face penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment for inciting property damage and/or theft, and up to a year’s imprisonment for inciting trespassing.

The Bill does however include exemptions for journalists and whistle-blowers that expose animal cruelty on agricultural land. Journalists would fall under this exemption where the material published is in relation to a news report or a current affairs report which is in the public interest. The individual must also be a person working in a professional capacity as a journalist. Whistle-blowers would fall under the exemption where the actions of the individual would not ordinarily be subject to civil or criminal liability under Commonwealth, State or Territory whistle-blower or lawful disclosure regimes.

This Bill is aimed at individuals who encourage others who commit the offence of trespass, theft and destruction of property. Those who engage in the primary offence itself will be subject to state and territory criminal laws.

In addition to the issue of privacy and security for these farms, Attorney-General Porter also noted in his second reading speech that these offences affects workplace health and safety for both farmers and employers and has the potential to cause food contamination and breach of biosecurity protocols. He further commented:

“Recently and sadly, we have seen a number of incidents of trespass on agricultural properties and businesses. Farmers are of course a vital part of the Australian community. They deserve to go about their business free from harassment and threats of harm… This bill builds on action that [the G]overnment has already taken to protect farmers.”

Submissions for the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee;s inquiry into the Bill are currently open. 

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