THE Australian Farmers Fighting Fund (AFFF) is backing moves for a legal test case that will establish legal precedents giving farmers stronger protections against illegal trespass by extreme animal rights activists.
The AFFF was formed in 1985 and provides financial, legal and professional assistance to tackle major issues that can set legal precedents.
Fairfax Agricultural Media can reveal Australian Pork Limited (APL) recently applied to the AFFF to progress a test case that will explore issues like illegal trespass and the use of video footage obtained in covert operations.
Questions are also set to be asked about the charitable status of groups alleged to be conducting these activities and their use of video footage and potentially strengthening penalties or introducing new ones for biosecurity breaches.
AFFF Trustee and National Farmers’ Federation chief executive Matt Linnegar said APL’s application offered a number of potential pathways to set legal precedents beyond the pork industry, but he was reluctant to expand on specific details.
Mr Linnegar said APL’s application had merit and deserved further consideration.
“We’ve asked APL to provide more detail and further explore their options,” he said.
APL chief executive Andrew Spencer said the generic application would look at a legal test case “where we can really ask some major questions of the law”.
“We want laws changed or precedents set in the courts around more appropriate protection for farmers,” he said.
“As it presently stands through precedent, we believe there is a significant lack of protection for Australia’s farmers from activities like farm raids.
“Trespass does not cut it – it does not provide a deterrent.
“Various other parts of the law, while adding small amounts, are really not able to address what is a 21st century problem driven by the sort of technology we have today.
“That means cameras can be stored in ceilings and sit up there for months recording video data or drones can fly over open farms spying on farmers.
“So today’s pig farmer isn’t adequately protected by the law and there needs to be some changes and that’s what we’re looking for through the application.”
Mr Spencer also declined to reveal specific details of the application saying it would “basically sit there waiting for a case I’d imagine”.
But he said the test case could consider how any video footage was used on public websites or in the media, if obtained illegally.
He said the courts currently recognised trespass is illegal, but that doesn’t mean the perpetrators can’t use the resulting “illegally obtained footage”.
“We see that as a particular contradiction of the law,” he said.
Mr Spencer said APL’s application to the AFFF was prompted by a spate of farm raids targeting pig producers.
In June last year, Fairfax Agricultural Media reported on
APL has also expressed concern about activists raising funds from the public and gaining tax concessions via charitable status, to gather and broadcast video footage from illegal trespass.
Mr Spencer said he believed a lot of the animal welfare debate was emotive and “100 per cent phony”.
“If you just look at the pure facts, the Australian pork industry is a global, progressive reformer of animal welfare,” he said.
“We are the first pork industry in the world to voluntarily phase out sow stalls.
“If someone is really interested in animal welfare, they should be, and in many cases they are, standing side by side with our industry, telling consumers to make sure when they go and buy bacon and ham, that it’s Australian because Australian pig farmers are doing things differently to the rest of the world.
“Today, 45 per cent of our pork that we consume in Australia is coming from countries that still use sow stalls.
“We have chosen not to that in this country and we’re two-thirds down the track to phase them out.”
Mr Spencer said he believed the farm raids were being conducted by “anti-animal farming groups with an agenda that’s not at all transparent”.
He said they were “raiding our farms, misrepresenting the practices on them and trying to stop animal agriculture”.
“That’s the bare bones of what’s going on here,” he said.
“It’s completely not fair and the real agenda is being misrepresented.”