More hurdles for Back’s Bill

07 Jul, 2015 02:00 AM
Senator Chris Back.
I’ve been asked to re-examine whether the level of penalties are consistent with other penalties
Senator Chris Back.

THE proposed anti-farm trespass Bill will face further high level scrutiny before it is presented for a vote in federal parliament.

Liberal Senator Chris Back’s proposed Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill has to further examine issues raised by a number of government committees.

The controversial Bill is aimed at animal rights activists trespassing on livestock facilities to take covert video footage and protracted delays in reporting any subsequent evidence of malicious animal cruelty offences, to proper authorities.

Senator Back said the Senate’s Standing Committee for Scrutiny of Bills had asked him to re-examine, in more detail, some issues associated with the level of penalties contained in his Bill.

“I’ve been asked to re-examine whether the level of penalties are consistent with other penalties in other pieces of legislation,” he said.

“I’m very happy to do that and will be doing that and if there are any inconsistencies I’ll be coming back with amendments at the time the Bill is debated in the Senate, if required, to pick up those points.”

Senator Back said he also supported the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee’s recommendation for his Bill to be amended to change the one day reporting time-frame to be “as practicable as possible”.

That definition could also mean a one hour time-frame to report any animal cruelty evidence, rather than the original proposal of 24 hours.

The Rural Committee’s recommendation was contained in a report handed down last month from an inquiry which also supported passing the Bill.

Given the Greens’ opposition to the anti-farm trespass laws, Senator Back said Labor’s support would be needed to pass the legislation, while backing from the eight crossbench Senators is also critical.

“I’ve had a look at what Labor has said and I think it would be fair to say Labor would probably be interested in seeing my response to some of the issues raised by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Human Rights Committee,” he said.

“I know that was discussed at one of their recent meetings.

“I think Labor would be interested in seeing what might eventuate from there but in any event I’d also be seeking the crossbenchers’ support.

“I can’t yet say that I’ll get the Bill through with crossbench support except to say I’m in the midst of the process at the moment of negotiating or explaining the Bill to crossbench Senators and it’s fair to say there’s a high degree of interest.”

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights - chaired by NSW Liberal MP Phillip Ruddock - handed down a report on its recent activities, in late June.

That report included fresh scrutiny of Senator Back’s Bill which was introduced into the Senate last October.

His Bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code Act 1995 to insert new offences in relation to failure to report a visual recording of malicious cruelty to domestic animals and interference with the conduct of lawful animal enterprises.

The Joint Committee report said its members considered Senator Back’s proposed Bill “engages and limits the right not to incriminate oneself”.

“The committee considers that the Bill engages and limits the right not to incriminate oneself as providing a recording of cruelty to animals to the relevant authorities may provide evidence of the individual undertaking the recording committing an offence, such as criminal trespass,” it said.

“However, the statement of compatibility does not identify the measure as limiting the right to protection from self-incrimination in this way, and therefore provides no justification for the limitation.”

The report also cited the Bill’s provision that a person commits an offence if they engage in conduct that destroys or damages property used in carrying on an animal enterprise, or belonging to a person who carries on, or is associated with, a person who carries on an animal enterprise.

Any person who causes economic damage exceeding $10,000 is liable to a maximum five year prison term.

“The committee considers that this offence provision engages the prohibition against arbitrary detention,” the report said.

“The prohibition against arbitrary detention requires that the State should not deprive a person of their liberty except in accordance with law.

“As it not clear that a prison term of five years for economic damage in excess of $10,000 is comparable to similar types of offences, the committee considers that the penalty may be so excessive as to be unjust.

“The committee notes that, as other legislation already includes provisions that make property damage a criminal offence, it is important that the human rights assessment of the Bill address the question of whether the proposed offence provisions may be regarded as necessary in pursuit of a legitimate objective for the purposes of international human rights law.”

The Greens’ dissenting report to the Senate inquiry claimed Senator Back’s Bill “seeks to deter and punish those who would expose to the public visual evidence of animal cruelty in commercial animal industries”.

“It would do this by effectively criminalising investigators while turning a blind eye to the perpetrators of that cruelty,” the dissenting report said.

“Indeed, the bill would result in greater penalties being imposed on those who make visual records of animal cruelty, than those who would commit the cruelty which remains an illegal act.

“As such, the Greens reject the bill in its entirety.”

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media


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