Animal welfare and trespass bill outlined

Animal welfare and trespass bill outlined

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Buy opposition MPs & the agricultural sector are concerned about the proposed legislation.

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THE State government has introduced the Animal Welfare and Trespass Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 into Parliament that aims to deter illegal forms of trespass.

It also aims to protect the welfare of animals in abattoirs, knackeries, intensive egg and poultry farms and piggeries through increased powers by Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) inspectors.

This is despite significant opposition to the proposed legislation from the agricultural community.

Opposition MPs and the agricultural sector are concerned about the proposed legislation, saying it didn't go far enough to protect farming families from activists trespassing on their properties and interfering in their businesses.

It was too long in the making and gave too much power to inspectors that they believed were not needed because existing compliance measures were working adequately.

The government said the legislation had been prepared in response to incidents last year in which Direct Action Everywhere vegan activists, led by James Warden, trespassed on agricultural land for the purposes of drawing public attention to animal husbandry practises they opposed.

In one incident they live streamed themselves on Facebook to their supporters around the world inside a piggery and on another occasion stole a calf from a farm and delivered it to the Greener Pastures Sanctuary in Waroona.

The activists also protested at a Baldivis feedlot and quarantine depot for the live sheep industry and filmed themselves in an altercation with a farmer who requested his family's privacy.

They have also protested outside restaurants and processing facilities around Perth.

The agricultural industry was outraged when the activists were found guilty of trespass but walked free without any jail time - while stating that their work to draw attention to the livestock production industry would continue.

The government's proposed reforms amend three separate acts - the Animal Welfare Act 2002, Criminal Code (WA) and Restraining Orders Act 1997.

The Animal Welfare Act does not currently allow for the monitoring or compliance of animal welfare and 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.

Under these amendments, designated inspectors will have a general right of inspection at intensive food production facilities.

Amendments to the Criminal Code and the Restraining Orders Act are aimed at deterring trespass on land used for animal source food production and slaughter, not grazing.

The bill increases the applicable criminal penalties and 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 - double the usual maximum penalty for trespass.

State Attorney General John Quigley said "unlawful behaviour cannot be tolerated" and "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".

Mr Quigley also said the WA community cared strongly about animal welfare and as such there was "a clear need to maintain community confidence in the animal welfare practises employed by our agricultural sector".

When introducing the bill last week Mr Quigley said "if a court does not impose a term of imprisonment (when an offender has been found guilty), it must impose a minimum penalty of a community service order and a fine of at least $24,000 unless exceptional circumstances exist".

"A community order made pursuant to the minimum penalty must contain a direction prohibiting the offender from attending specified places - for example, animal farms - and require that the offender undertake unpaid community service," Mr Quigley said.

"A person who commits another offence while subject to a community order and who breaches a condition of the community order may be resentenced for the original offence.

"This will allow penalties to be escalated for repeat offending to the maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment or a $24,000 fine."

Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said modernising the animal welfare inspection regime meant people could 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," Ms MacTiernan said.

Under the current Animal Welfare Act 2002, inspections can only occur where suspicion of cruelty exists.

The "lack of transparency" in intensive production facilities has been seen as the reason activists trespass to capture footage or evidence that creates suspicion of cruelty to allow a legal inspection to take place.

The new legislation seeks to remove that incentive.

Liberal Party South West MP Steve Thomas said there were "disgraceful double standards on display" by the State government.

Dr Thomas said by continuing to link the protection of farmers going about their lawful business "with Labor's animal rights agenda", the government was "engaging in victim blaming at its worst".

"In doing so, the Agriculture Minister is giving farmers the message that they only deserve protection if her agenda is met," Dr Thomas said.

Along with members from The Nationals WA, he has repeatedly called on the government to present two separate bills - one for the immediate protection of farmers and a separate animal welfare bill.

"Alannah MacTiernan has repeatedly snubbed our farming community by pushing Labor's animal rights agenda, despite being unable to prove the existence of widespread animal cruelty," Dr Thomas said.

"This was highlighted two years ago when two thirds of her animal rights bill - the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill 2017 - was rejected by the Parliament."

Liberal Agricultural Region candidate Steve Martin, Wickepin, chimed in, saying the government was "pandering to animal activists by linking changes to animal welfare law with much needed tougher sanctions on farm trespass".

The Nationals WA accused the government of introducing "carrot and stick" legislation, with agriculture spokesman Colin de Grussa claiming the bill had muddied the waters between two separate and distinct challenges for the agriculture sector.

"We firmly believe that trespass and animal activism are rural crime issues and should be treated separately from the proposal to increase inspection powers linked to animal welfare," Mr de Grussa said.

His party strongly supports tougher penalties for criminal activists but rejected the notion that a rural crime issue and an animal welfare issue were intrinsically linked.

"We hold concerns that the Labor government has brought forward a bill that will divide the agricultural sector and the wider community.

"Previous attempts to introduce expanded inspection powers in the form of designated general inspectors had been rejected by the agricultural industry and a parliamentary committee in 2018.

Fellow National, Roe MP Peter Rundle said in recent months "we've seen activists walk out of court with no jail time and no fines, openly declaring their intention to continue committing crimes against one of WA's most important industries".

"When given the opportunity to confront this alarming behaviour the Labor government has instead turned the tables on the farmers and said they must sign up to increased scrutiny in exchange for protection," Mr Rundle said.

"I'm very concerned about the designated general inspectors and what powers of entry and inspection they will have.

"Are they using the entry to abattoirs and intensive industries as an entrée to then flow on to our broadacre farms as main course?"

Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA president Tony Seabrook said his association provided a submission on the proposed legislation but it had not been acknowledged and appeared to have been ignored.

"It looks like we will get the bill in the same shape and form as the original proposal," Mr Seabrook said.

"I think two years jail is enough deterrent but $24,000 may not be enough when they can just crowdfund that and walk free."

Mr Seabrook said those who had been found guilty of offences last year were just "slapped with a feather duster" by the courts.

He said the powers that general inspectors were being given on "the right of entry are significant" and wasn't convinced that they were necessary.

WAFarmers chief executive officer Trevor Whittington said only a government that was not really committed to defending farms from anti-farming activists would join two completely different bills and attempt to jam them through as a single bill.

"This is a political ploy pushed by activist organisations which are attempting to solve a problem that does not exist, besides DPIRD animal inspectors have all the powers to conduct inspections as required," Mr Whittington said.

WAFarmers president Rhys Turton said he agreed with the changes to the farm trespass side of the bill, but said the majority of his members were not affected by the amendments affecting intensive animal production facilities and therefore didn't have a position on it.

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