LIVESTOCK transporters, whether they are farmers or owner-operators, have been encouraged to know their rights and to use the law as a defence against activists who interfere and disrupt their work or damage property, while on the road or at their place of work.
That was a key message at the Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of WA (LRTAWA) annual conference in Bunbury on July 21.
Owner drivers said activists were causing disruption to their employment and had become more of an issue for the industry.
Morison Legal barrister and solicitor Ian Morison presented, “Know your rights when a government inspector comes knocking” at the conference and said in some instances drivers needed to “suck it up”, but in other instances the law could be used to protect them and their property.
Mr Morison was questioned about the use of drones by animal activists, which seemed to be a more common occurrence around the truck yards.
He said there was a “growing body of law – in common law countries – that allows you the right to privacy”.
Mr Morison said filming a business premise could create an air space issue with the Air Traffic Safety Bureau, which had issues with drones going above certain heights.
It was also raised “what happens if activists start to interfere with your operations?”
Mr Morison said “if they get in the way of trucks you are not going anywhere”.
“But there are laws such as disorderly conduct and that has a fairly wide ranging definition,” he said.
“So you have to liaise with the police – if you see a situation coming along tell the police what’s likely to happen.”
Livestock drivers were also seeing more of a problem accessing abattoirs.
“They usually take photos of the driver and the number plate and they try to get inside the crate and take a photo,” one driver said.
“How do we protect ourselves from that?
“Is there a way we can take some action back against them?”
Apart from accepting it and knowing their rights, Mr Morison said if activists put markings on the truck then they were getting in the way and transporters have rights to stop somebody from trespassing.
“So anybody that puts a label on your truck is trespassing against your goods – against your truck and that is a civil wrong and you can sue them for damages,” he said.
“And technically you can get an injunction preventing them from doing that.
“Also under the misconduct restraining orders act you might be able to get some relief – some sort of restraining order against them.”
Mr Morison said there were laws such as the trespass against goods and trespass against premises – and also assault.
“If they for example come and touch you or a driver in any way in these circumstances that is assault,” he said.
“The law is pretty comprehensive.
“When we are talking about particular facts and situations like this – you draw on particular parts of the law – so there are some things that can be done and some things that can’t be done.
“Use the law.”
Mr Morison said if video footage was taken and used on social media to label a driver as an animal abuser, it could be a grounds for defamation.
He said the driver or business needed to be identified sufficiently in order to qualify to sue for defamation but it was an option if social media was being used as a tool to slander or defame transporters.
Mr Morison said owner drivers needed to be aware that under different legislation much of their rights had been taken away.
“What I have been talking about in this legislation is where parliament has decided there will be infringements upon your rights of ownership – right to possession – uninterrupted use of land premise,” he said.
“When the statute takes away that right you don’t have the right to protect your time, your possessions, your stock, your load or trailer.
“There’s a lot of inspectors, there’s a lot of rights that have been taken away and there are few rights that you have.
“In terms of the common law you have a right not to be interfered with – not to be physically made contact with by any third party in an aggressive way, and you have the right not to have your goods walked away with.
“If someone looks like they are going to seriously hurt you, or kill you, then you have the right to self defence and you know that you can only use reasonable force, and you know about how difficult that is.”
Mr Morison outlined the number of inspectors that the transport industry had to deal with including who handled vehicles, animal welfare, environment, biosecurity, health and safety, dangerous goods, as well as police who were the “ultimate inspector”.
He said to always check the identification of inspectors to ensure that no fraudulent person was trying to do them wrong, and although they were required to answer questions of inspectors their comments could not be used as evidence in any future court proceedings, if that occurred.
“It is worthwhile checking on the identification of the person that has come knocking, but obviously if we are talking about a police officer in uniform I wouldn’t bother,” Mr Morison said.
“If we are talking about a traffic transport inspector in a uniform probably you wouldn’t.
“It’s a funny world these days though and people find ways of committing frauds and they’ll think up things like posing as an inspector, and thus getting access to vehicles and pinching things and that sort of thing.
“So you are within your rights to call for identification.”
p Readers should consult with their own lawyer before taking any advice in the above story.