Livestock SA has continued its call for further action on the introduction of stronger trespassing laws within the state.
While there has been some movement at a federal level, with a new bill recently being introduced by the Coalition Government with greater penalties for offenders, it needs to be followed up with tougher legislation in SA.
The issue of trespassing became a significant concern for many producers earlier in the year after Aussie Farms published an online map detailing the locations of farm properties across Australia.
This was then followed by an array of farm invasions, with Aussie Farms ignoring calls to take the page down.
Trespass laws in SA are currently an amalgam of the common law and statute addressing particular types of trespass captured in the Summary Offences Act and the Criminal Law Consolidation Act.
There is an inadequate legislative structure around the law of trespass in SA, particularly to deal with the magnitude of trespass under the guise of ‘animal liberation’, as has been demonstrated in recent times in other jurisdictions.
New South Wales have responded to the issue of farm trespass by announcing legislation that will see on the spot fines of $1000, biosecurity breach fines of $220,000 and corporate fines of $440,000.
Currently people trespassing on land can only be banned for a period of 24 hours. If trespassers interfere with gates or disturb farm animals, there is only a maximum fine of $750. This penalty does not reflect the magnitude of the adverse impacts that can flow from either of these offences, particularly if the offender is acting with a malicious intent.
Livestock SA believes these laws should be overhauled. In particular, Livestock SA believes property owners should be allowed to issue banning notices to trespassers to ward them off the land for at least two years.
The breach of such a notice should be treated as a crime with a substantial penalty associated with the breach, including a term of imprisonment.
It is envisaged that where a farmer is able to identify an individual who is trespassing, or a person in the company of such an individual, the owner can issue a simple notice in writing advising that person that, in the opinion of the landowner, the individual has trespassed and they are restricted from doing so for a period up to two years in duration.
The notice should clearly identify the property in question, the duration of the ban and, where possible, sufficient material to identify the person who is subject to the ban.
Where a person who is subject of such a notice again engages in a trespass on the farmer’s land, then that person should be subject to a criminal charge of failing to comply with a trespass notice.
Nothing in the existing legislation addresses the issue of drones specifically. The original common law concept was that your aerial rights extended indefinitely above your land.
Livestock SA understands current Australian law may be subject to challenge and likely to the English standard that a land owner’s rights in the air over the land should be limited “to such height as is necessary for the ordinary use and enjoyment of his land and the structures upon it.”
In Australia it is not clear how high that limit is. One expert has considered that and suggested it would not be much higher than 200 metres above roof level.
It is important that this lack of certainty is addressed as in the coming years there will be an increasing amount of these forms of aerial vehicles in operation.
Trespass laws should be strong enough to protect the farmers who are going about their job of feeding a nation.
There is not even the slightest regard given for important issues such as biosecurity and other farm practices that are designed to protect tens of thousands of South Australian jobs and the health of all South Australians.
Our society has all of the structures in place that enable people to talk about and bring about change. Breaking into farms and damaging or stealing property is not a legitimate pathway to those ends.
Livestock SA advises producers that if their farm is invaded by protestors, it is best to not physically retaliate.
While you have the right to use reasonable force to prevent a person entering your farm, it is not recommended as the chances of escalation are too high. Instead, call your local police station.
Tell intruders in a loud and clear voice that they are trespassing and they should leave your property immediately. If you can record yourself doing this and any responses you may get, so much the better.
National Farmers Federation President Fiona Simson will further discuss the risks to animal agriculture by activism, farm invasion and public policy at this year’s GROWING SA Conference on August 26-27.
Details: Register now at www.growingsa.com.au
– ANDREW CURTIS, Chief Executive Officer, Livestock SA