Are harsher penalties the answer to tackling animal activism?

In light of recent disturbances, the Queensland Government’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries set up an Animal Industries Security Taskforce. Made up of representatives from the Department, The Queensland Police Service (QPS) and national and state primary industry groups, the taskforce is designed to help protect the rights of farmers and other livestock industries targeted by animal activists.

Minister Furner’s commitment to harsher penalties for animal activists who break the law was one outcome from the taskforce’s first meeting. The rapid response to recent events shows the Queensland Government’s determination to keep our farmers, their families, workers and livestock safe and is to be commended.

However, there is still a lot of criticism from farmers of the current laws surrounding trespass, break and enter and wilful damage to property and of the ability and willingness of the police to prosecute. Much of this criticism comes from a lack of understanding of the police’s powers to act and the process required to prosecute.

The government’s announcement of greater fines (of more than $600) and potentially jail time for those considered to be a threat to biosecurity and animal and worker welfare, is good news for the livestock industry, but the question remains as to whether harsher penalties will deter these individuals.

The animal activist groups responsible for the recent disruptions are highly coordinated and tiptoe very closely on the right side of the law.

In statements prior to events, activist organisers are clear that demonstrations are to be peaceful and that violence will not be tolerated. They have also been instructed to leave once formally asked to do so by property owners and police.

So, it is unusual that these demonstrators break the current laws for which they could be penalised.

The fact remains that the onus is unfortunately on the victim to ensure that these people are prosecuted. For the police and courts to do their jobs, a formal process must be followed. Firstly, the property or business owner must report the incident to the police (via their local police, PoliceLink or in case of an emergency 000). Secondly, they must make a complaint as to the law which has potentially been broken. It is only after that point that the police can begin the arduous task of prosecution.

Certainly, the law is not black and white. Trespass relates to entering land whereas break and enter relates to entering a dwelling or place (calf sheds for example). Contrary to popular belief, trespassing, regardless of city or rural location is not an indictable offence whereas break and enter is in most instances.

It seems that a legal degree is required to even determine whether someone is committing an offence or not!

We can sympathise with the DAF and QPS officers sent out to these disturbances. As much as they want to crack down on demonstrators who intimidate and terrorise people who simply want to go about their business, they are bound by the limitations of the law.

Animal activists will continue to walk the fine line between legal and illegal activities. While we hope that harsher penalties will deter demonstrators we may need to make the laws surrounding trespass and break and enter more clear cut and simpler to prosecute.

QDO Executive Officer Eric Danzi

Vegan demonstrations backfire.

For the past two weeks, Aussie Farms and other animal activist groups had been threatening to hold widespread protests and demonstrations and yesterday made good on that threat. In Queensland, an abattoir and one dairy farm was visited by the group.

The demonstrators’ signs said that these were peaceful protests. That they may not have resorted to active violence is neither here nor there. Their very presence in such numbers was enough to cause concern.

These groups swarm over properties, ignore requests of being asked to leave, terrify the livestock in the yards and harass farmers, their family and staff.

The calmness and restraint shown by those who were attacked should be praised. Farmers across Australia spent an anxious weekend on high alert expecting to be targeted by the groups.

Like most Australians, we believe that everyone has the right to their opinion and to follow their beliefs and that people also have the right to peacefully protest so long as they obey the law. What we cannot agree with or tolerate, are persons who believe that only their opinions and beliefs are valid and who are prepared to undertake illegal and often dangerous activities to make their point. And we were not alone.

The demonstrations were designed to gain public sympathy for the vegan movement and to supposedly show inhumane practices of intensive farming. From the footage shown yesterday, the demonstrations did anything but what they were intended.

Any initial sympathy and support by the average Australian soon turned to annoyance and outrage as the demonstrators overstepped their mark.

Not only did the demonstrators trespass and damage property, they also disrupted peak hour in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD. Using a high traffic area may have given the activists the public attention they craved, but their actions backfired when emergency services had to be re-routed due to the demonstrator’s vehicles blocking access points and commuters were made late.

The Queensland state government last week, started the process of toughening up trespass laws to protect farmers and businesses. While the rules that have were announced are a start, they need to ensure that privacy and property is protected without farmers having to wait until after the damage is done and they need to ensure that farmers can protect themselves without having to wait for authorities to intercede.

Yesterday’s public reaction to these demonstrations does not mean that vegans don’t have a place in our society or a right to voice their beliefs; but it does mean that people will not accept being bullied or shamed into changing their ideas.

QDO Vice President Matt Trace