Australian State Gets Tough With Animal Rights Trespassers

by John M. Simpson.

On November 13, 2019, the Parliament of New South Wales passed legislation aimed at dealing with the increasing threat to farmers and their operations posed by animal rights activists in Australia who have taken up physical property trespassing as a tactic to get their various points across.  The measure, entitled the Right to Farm Bill 2019, increases the criminal penalties for aggravated trespass and creates a new offense for inciting aggravated trespass.

As we reported previously, animal rights activists in Australia have become more aggressive in their tactics against farmers and other animal enterprises.  One such group — Aussie Farms — recently created an internet-based interactive map that published details about farms and other animal-based business enterprises, including the precise grid coordinates at which such businesses can be located.  As reported by the Minister for Agriculture, trespass on farms and rural properties has increased by 27% since 2014.  As the Minister observed:

The tactics of animal rights groups who trespass on farms are becoming more organized and more aggressive, including illegally installing recording devices, conducting mass on-farm protests, illegally removing stock, and collecting and publishing farm locations and data.

In response, the Right to Farm Bill amends the Inclosed Lands Protection Act of 1901 in the following respects, as described in the bill’s Explanatory Note:

  • Aggravated trespass (which is already proscribed) includes circumstances where the defendant “hinders, or attempts to hinder, the conduct of the business or undertaking.”
  • Damaging property or willfully releasing animals while on the land are two new elements of aggravation.
  • The penalty for aggravated trespass is increased from $5,500 to $13,200 or imprisonment for 12 months or both.
  • The penalty will be $22,000 or 3 years imprisonment or both if the offender was accompanied by two or more persons or the offender did something that gave rise to “a serious risk to the safety of the offender or any other person on the inclosed land.”

Presumably in response to activities by groups such as Aussie Farms, the Right to Farm Bill also creates the new offence of “directing, inciting,  procuring or inducing the commission of the aggravated offence.”  The maximum penalty here is $11,000 or imprisonment for 12 months or both.

Commenting upon the aggravated trespass amendments, the Legislative Review Committee’s report noted:

[T]he penalty increase is designed to better reflect the severity of the offences as well as the impact such offences have on farmers and primary production activities.  It is also to account for the risks caused by trespassing on agricultural land and interfering with agricultural equipment and infrastructure.

Regarding the new offense of inciting an aggravated trespass, the Committee observed:

[T]he purpose of this offence is to address a gap in the legislation where people incite or direct trespass without actually committing it themselves.  Given that there is a public interest in protecting the rights of farmers from trespass on their land and the attendant risks to themselves and others that may eventuate, the Committee makes no further comment.

The Right to Farm Bill awaits assent by the Governor.

The trend of physical facility invasion by animal rights activists has increased in the past several months in the United States, Canada and elsewhere.  It will be interesting to see if similar measures are enacted in other jurisdictions.