New Bill Aims at Protecting Australian Primary Producers

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The introduction of the Bill is a step towards protecting Australian farmers and agricultural businesses from trespass or property damage/theft incited through the online distribution of activist materials.

In light of the vital role primary producers play in the Australian economy and indeed internationally, it is therefore no surprise that the Australian Government has taken action to safeguard farmers and agricultural businesses in light of recent activist groups targeting abattoirs and farms (enabled and encouraged by personal information shared online), by introducing the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 (Cth) into the House of Representatives on 4th July 2019.

Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 (Cth)
While trespass on private property is a criminal offence under existing State and Territory legislation, the Australian Government has identified the need to strengthen protections for farmers and agricultural businesses.

The Bill, if passed, will amend the Criminal Code Act 1993 (Cth) to introduce two new offences relating to the incitement of trespass or property offences on agricultural land, such as the dissemination of information through a carriage service, such as the internet, to encourage others to unlawfully trespass, or unlawfully damage property, on agricultural land.

The two new offences are being defined as “offences relating to the use of a carriage service”:

  • For inciting trespass, property damages, or theft, on agricultural land; or
  • For inciting property damage, or theft on agricultural land.

Trespass
Under the Bill, a person (the offender) will commit an offence by using a carriage service for inciting trespass on agricultural land if the offender:

  • Transmits, makes available, publishes or otherwise distributes material; and
  • Does so using a carriage service; and
  • Does so with the intention of inciting another person to trespass on agricultural land; and
  • Is reckless as to whether:
    The trespass of the other person on the agricultural land; or
    Any conduct engaged in by the other person while trespassing on agricultural land could cause detriment to a primary production business that is being carried out on the agricultural land.

If an offender is found guilty under this provision, they could incur a penalty of imprisonment for up to 12 months.

Property damage or theft
Under the Bill, a person (the offender) will commit an offence by using a carriage service for inciting property damage or theft if the offender:

  • Transmits, makes available, publishes or otherwise distributes material; and
  • Does so using a carriage service; and
  • Does so with the intention of inciting another person to:
    Unlawfully damage property on agricultural land; or
    Unlawfully destroy property on agricultural land; or
    Commit theft of property on agricultural land.

If an offender is found guilty under this provision, they could incur a penalty of imprisonment for up to 5 years.

For the purposes of this section, theft of property is committed by a person if:

  • The property belongs to another person; and
  • The person dishonestly appropriates the property with the intention of permanently depriving the other person of the property.

Protections for journalists and whistleblowers
Significantly, the following exemptions have been included in the Bill for the purposes of ensuring journalists or whistleblowers are protected from lawfully disclosing animal cruelty or mistreatment, or other criminal activity.

The Bill has been referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee, which will report on the Bill by Friday, 6 September, 2019.

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