WA Animal Welfare and Trespass Legislation Reform Bill In Parliament

Thursday 8 October 2020 @ 2.58 p.m. | Legal Research | Torts, Damages & Civil Liability | Trade & Commerce

The Animal Welfare and Trespass Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 (WA) (the Bill) was introduced into the WA Legislative Assembly on 24 June 2020 by Mr J.R. Quigley, the Attorney General and Minister for Commerce. The key purposes of this Bill are amending the Animal Welfare Act 2002 to make provision for designated inspectors, and amending the Criminal Code (WA) and the Restraining Orders Act 1997 to make provisions relating to trespass on places where "animal source food production" is carried out. Since its introduction the Bill has passed through the Legislative Assembly with amendments, and has reached second reading stage in the Legislative Council.

Prior to its introduction a draft Bill was circulated for community feedback in February 2020, seeking submissions on the proposed farm trespass and animal welfare legislation. 

Motivation for Introducing the Bill

According to the second reading speech, the Bill has been prepared in response to incidents in 2019 where individuals trespassed on agricultural land for the purpose of drawing public attention to animal husbandry practices opposed by them. This Bill is described as responding to a number of incidents occurring nationally and across WA where people have trespassed on land used for commercial animal food production, and interfered with those businesses, purportedly to draw attention to inhumane animal husbandry practices. The Minister states in his speech:

"These events reflect important and related issues of community concern. The unlawful behaviour of these people is not acceptable to the WA community. There is a clear need to protect our agricultural sector, and in particular, regional farming families from the adverse economic, biosecurity and personal effects of this type of trespass . . . What is also evident is that the WA community cares very strongly about animal welfare. There is a clear need to maintain community confidence in the animal welfare practices employed by our agricultural sector. High consumer confidence in animal welfare has the added benefit of securing the long-term viability of commercial animal food production. . . The Bill responds to these complex issues by bringing together a number of law reform measures in a single package."

The Legislation Amended

The reforms proposed by the Bill amend three separate Acts, namely the:

  • Animal Welfare Act 2002, 
  • Criminal Code (WA), and 
  • Restraining Orders Act 1997.

Overview of Amendments 

Currently the Animal Welfare Act 2002 only permits inspectors to enter a food production place either by consent or where the inspector reasonably suspects that an offence has been, is being, or is likely to be committed, and does not allow for the monitoring of compliance with animal welfare. The amendments proposed by the Bill will give designated inspectors a general right of inspection at intensive food production facilities.

According to the Minister the currently existing powers are "inadequate to meet the community’s expectations", namely that the appropriate authorities have, and exercise, the necessary powers to monitor for compliance with welfare standards in animal source food production.

The Bill's "powers of entry" provisions are limited to designated inspectors employed by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and may be exercised only when monitoring activities in abattoirs, knackeries and intensive production places. 

An “intensive production place” is defined to mean a non-residential place where intensive production is carried out and ensure that the powers of a designated inspector do not extend to a residence. Limiting the powers of entry to intensive production places, abattoirs and knackeries ensures that inspectors are targeted towards higher risk production methods.

The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code (WA) and the Restraining Orders Act 1997 are aimed at deterring trespass on land used for animal source food production and slaughter.

The Bill proposes increases to the applicable criminal penalties and increases accessibility to misconduct restraining orders in specific circumstances. The current maximum penalty for trespass under section 70A of the Criminal Code (WA) is imprisonment for 12 months and a fine of $12 000. The Bill amends the Criminal Code (WA) to provide for the circumstances of an "aggravated offence". The offence  occurs in the course of, or as a result of the trespass, on an animal source food production place where an offender interferes with, or intends to interfere with, animal-source food production; or assaults, intimidates or harasses, or intends to assault, intimidate or harass, a person in the context of their engagement in animal-source food production or a family member of the person. 

Note, the offence must be committed in circumstances of "aggravation" and a key element of the "aggravated offence" is that the trespass occurred on an "animal-source food production place" which is defined to mean an abattoir, a knackery or an animal-source food production facility, and is intended to capture traditional family animal farms, piggeries, poultry barns, feedlots, abattoirs and knackeries. 

The Bill also seeks to increase the criminal penalties applying to offences. It also improves the availability of misconduct restraining orders in specific circumstances. The proposed maximum penalty for the new offence of "aggravated trespass" is two years' imprisonment and a fine of $24,000 being double the usual maximum penalty for trespass to reflect the seriousness of the conduct.

Reaction and Comment

The Minister for Commerce, John Quigley has stated in a media release that: 

"Unlawful behaviour cannot be tolerated. We need to protect our agricultural sector, and in particular, regional farming families, from the adverse economic and personal effects of this type of trespass." 

The Minister for Regional Development; Agriculture and Food, Alannah MacTiernan has commented that:

"Modernising our animal welfare inspection regime means people can no longer use lack of transparency in abattoirs and other intensive production facilities as an excuse for their illegal actions . . .  A strong and transparent animal welfare system is critical to the long-term sustainability of our livestock sector."

The WA State Opposition has repeatedly called on the government to present two separate bills, namely; one for the immediate protection of farmers and a separate animal welfare bill. The leader of the Nationals (WA) has criticised the Bill stating in a press release that:

“We [the opposition] have consistently maintained the focus of this Bill should be increasing trespass penalties associated with rural crime to create that strong deterrent for criminal animal activists seeking to harm our essential farming sector, . . . The current legislation bizarrely tries to mash together two very different issues – animal welfare and rural crime – and it has failed to garner any support from the agricultural sector.”

As already stated the Bill has been amended in the Assembly and currently awaits further debate in the Legislative Council.

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