Opinion: Laws must change to protect Aussie farmers

Late last month, a social media storm erupted when an animal activist group branding itself as a charity, targeted farmers and others in the livestock supply chain by publishing a map detailing their locations.

The map on the Aussie Farms website not only revealed the addresses of thousands of farms, feedlots, processing facilities and even zoos, it also published personal and business details of many of the farm owners.  

I think the whole thing is going to end badly and I think that’s what they want - a martyr for their cause. They are acts of terror. They may only be terrorising a single family or a business but they are still acts that are intended to intimidate.

If that invasion of privacy wasn’t enough, the website called on members of the public to upload photos and videos from the locations pinpointed in the hope of exposing animal cruelty. 

Let’s be clear.

The vast majority of farms in Australia are owned by families and in most cases, these families live on the very farms that have been identified. 

The response from farmers, farm lobby groups and even the federal government was swift and damning. Yet, frustratingly, the website remains active and, apparently, perfectly legal. 

Nine Agricultural Media, which publishes Australia’s leading agricultural mastheads including The Land and Queensland Country Life, has since launched a public campaign calling for three key outcomes. 

The #protectourfarms campaign wants:

  1. The charity status of Aussie Farms revoked
  2. Stronger privacy protections for farmers
  3. Increased penalties for trespass 

What needs to be done?

The federal government needs to create new laws to enable farmers to sue for significant breach of privacy.

Giving individuals the power to sue for breach of privacy would open up a new avenue of justice against animal activists who trespass on private property. Farmers could at least take action in court if images obtained under trespass where used against their will.

Under current laws the police must take action and to do so, they need evidence of a break in. To avoid justice, trespassers can simply wear a balaclava to hide their identity, which makes it very hard for police to lay charges.

So can we fix it? 

The answer is yes, we can but we need strong action from the federal government. 

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud initially said the federal government didn’t have the powers to take down Aussie Farms and called for state governments to create tougher trespass laws. 

But the states are also passing the buck and to date, no one at a state or federal level has committed to doing anything about it.

Where will it end? 

Many of whom live on the farms “named and shamed” on the map with their families are in fear that those with ill-informed intentions will come onto their property at any time. 

One Queensland farmer whose property and business details have been revealed said she feared what might happen if a trespass incident went bad.

“I think the whole thing is going to end badly and I think that’s what they want - a martyr for their cause,” she said.

“They are acts of terror. They may only be terrorising a single family or a business but they are still acts that are intended to intimidate.”

Activism or terrorism? 

Extreme, or even militant, animal activism is certainly not new in other parts of the world. There have been a growing number of cases in recent years including some particularly heated clashes between butchers and vegan protesters in France last year.

But animal activism has not yet reached the militant level in Australia.

Should we wait until we have a major incident before we act? Do we really want to tolerate that sort of activism against our farmers?  If not, let’s move now to make sure the rights and privacy of our farmers are indeed protected. 

Penelope Arthur lives on a farm outside Roma, Qld. She is national agricultural news editor for Australian Community Media.