Thursday, 12 September 2019

Doorstop Media Conference, Parliament House, Canberra



Subjects: Agricultural trespass laws; Government legislative agenda, integrity commission

MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Well, today is a victory for common sense. Today, we see the farm trespass bill pass the Australian Parliament to put an end to the militant animal activists who've been terrorising our farmers and our food processing industries over recent years.

We as a government stand with our productive capacity as a nation, the 1.6 million Australians that work in food and fibre production, and we want to say we stand that you can go to work safely, that you can produce food safely, and that you should not be subjected to intimidation, harassment, theft and to have your livestock damaged. Throughout the course of the inquiry into this bill, there was numerous examples of conduct which just was beyond belief - that certain Australians thought that their belief system, the way they thought we should produce food, was somehow how we all should, and were seeking to impose that on everyone through threats and intimidation. We heard about farmers and primary producers and their families feeling mental anguish and stress, and the economic impact that these activists have been having, when in their hundreds they flood on farms with no notice. The terrible animal welfare outcomes that occurred, sheds of chicken suffocating, piglets drowning, not as a result of farmers' processes but as a direct result of the invasions by these animal activists.

Now, I know vegans. I like vegans. I have no truck with vegans. What I do have truck with is people and Australians who think that it's somehow okay to break into someone's home, on their farm and their local business, and disrupt that, destroy their livestock, steal from them, harass their workers and their family. It's not okay and today, the Australian Parliament said it wasn't okay. It was great to see the Labor Party put their differences aside and actually get behind and support common sense. It's a great win for Australian farmers and indeed, the broader Australian public and common sense.

Any questions?

QUESTION: Do you think you've struck the right balance in making sure that people who do expose legitimate animal cruelty are protected through this legislation?

MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Yeah, absolutely. We were really careful to make sure in the construction and the drafting of the legislation, that the right to discover and disclose aspects of animal cruelty will absolutely be protected, as will the right of journalists to report and investigate those types of impacts. As a government, we've been really clear across the whole suite of measures that we back strong animal welfare standards in this country. Australia is known worldwide for the sustainability of our resource management in fishes and forestry, but increasingly as with great animal welfare outcomes. So, if you see poor animal welfare outcomes, you need to report them straight away to the appropriate authorities rather than take matters into your own hands. It's not okay. You're not protesting, you're a criminal.

QUESTION: And how many crimes will- what number of farm trespassers do you believe will be stopped while introducing these new laws today?

MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Well, they've been introduced today. So, websites like Aussie Farms are on notice. Animal activists who seek to incite others to trespass and break the law are on notice; that as of the Royal Assent being granted to the legislation passed through Parliament today, they'll be subject to up to five years' jail time. We're taking seriously this threat, and we're encouraged by state governments actually beefing up their own trespass laws to ensure that people that are thinking that this is an okay activity to do on the weekends with their mates will feel the full strength of the law through both appropriate state and federal legislation.

QUESTION: So will the founder of Aussie Farms, Chris Delforce, will he be facing court, can you confirm that?

MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Well, once this law is enacted and gets its Royal Assent, if Chris - if Delforce wants to run around, calling national days of action for people to head on to farms, into saleyards, in abattoirs, to seek to disrupt, destroy, economically impact businesses that are lawfully running, harass and intimidate workers and family members, then yes, he will feel the full strength of the law because it is not okay.

What we've got to realise is this is not about peaceful protest and Mr Delforce has made that clear in his public commentary, particularly in the Victorian Parliament's inquiry into the trespass laws around this matter, that he wants to see the end of livestock production in this country. Now, that's a $16 billion industry. It underpins not just local economies through Australia in regional areas but indeed our entire national economy. We are a great beef - red meat-producing nation. We are very proud of that. We export most of it. So Mr Delforce's desire to actually shut down our beef industry and our agricultural productive capacity needs to be withstood. So, he needs to think very, very hard before he calls another national day of action because he'll be feeling the full force of the law.

QUESTION: And given that state jurisdictions have been reviewing their on-farm trespass laws and that the organisers of the Aussie Farms website say they will not be deterred and won't take the map down just because this legislation has passed the Parliament, is it really relevant?

MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Well, I'm happy to say absolutely it's relevant, because if after this law has passed Parliament, as I've said, his website - he will be feeling- Aussie Farms will be feeling the full force of the law and will be subjected to upwards of five - sorry, as a maximum of five years' jail term. If he seeks to incite people to trespass, to break the law, because that's what he will be doing. So you say it's not relevant; you know, if he wants to put that material out there, that is exactly what will be happening: he'll be heading to court.

QUESTION: Can you expect Aussie Farms to take them down any time soon? Is that the hope?

MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Absolutely. I don't think it's right that a website like that exists. I think farmers and primary producers deserve to have their privacy protected and to not be subjected to hundreds of strangers rocking up on their property, creating a biosecurity risk, harassing their workers and their families, and causing the atrocious animal welfare outcomes that we've seen that have occurred as a result of these actions. I mean, it is just ridiculous and I look forward to tough action in this area. Bring it on. You think that's okay, to behave that way? To incite that sort of behaviour on our family farms, our saleyards and the like? Well, you will feel the full force of the law.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: And look, I think, well done to Bridget, this was an election promise on the first day of the campaign and it is eminently common sense. But the point that you raise, I think, is this: what is the difference before and after this legislation receives Assent? Well, before this legislation receives Assent you could run a website which incited people to trespass and people could engage in that trespass with quite devastating consequences for family businesses and for farming. And you as the owner, operator and runner of that website could wash your hands of it. Now you can't.

And I would have thought that individuals like Mr Delforce and others who would want to run websites like this would be very well advised to read personally and have their lawyers read the new laws that have been passed into effect, because they make it very, very clear that if those websites operate in a way that incites people to trespass with a reckless intent as to the damage that can be caused, then you now, for the first time, face a very serious criminal penalty. And that, we would be very surprised if that does not change behaviour.

QUESTION: Just one for you, Attorney-General. Users of Pokemon Go and other augmented reality games - will they be protected under these laws if they want to go catch a rare Pokemon?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well look, I mean, the laws are very clear in what they say. But could I just advise players of Pokemon, of which I am not one: you might want to think before you step over the fence into private property. First of all, that is trespass with or without these laws, right? But secondly, for the maintainers and operators of those websites, read the law and understand that if you encourage people and incite people to trespass, for whatever reason, and you are reckless as to the fact that that causes damage then you face, potentially, a law preventing that. Of course, there's always discretion in the exercise of prosecution and investigation. Frankly, we're not really interested in nerds playing Pokemon. We're interested in militant, unlawful activity which is designed to shut down legitimate farming and family businesses.

QUESTION: Can I just ask, what's the next legislation the Government's likely to have passed through the Parliament?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The next piece of legislation? Well, I'm very much hoping that it will be the minimum mandatory terms of imprisonment for child sex offences; another part of our election campaign; very important legislation; legislation that the Labor Party will need to make their mind up on. And as soon as they do, and the sooner that they do, the sooner that will go through Parliament. But very important legislation.

QUESTION: Will that be next week? Is that the plan?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think it will likely be debated next week.

QUESTION: And, actually just on that, you were asked yesterday about the Commonwealth Integrity Commission. How close is that legislation to coming into Parliament?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Some people missed Federation Chamber, but as I was saying in the Federation Chamber, it's a very complicated piece of legislation. I mean, people have noted that there are complications say for instance, the Religious Discrimination Bill- that's about 50 pages. I've got an advanced early draft of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission - it's over 300 pages. But I would expect that we would have that before Cabinet and out in a draft form for consultation by the end of the year. And I would expect that that consultation will take some time because it is complicated legislation, and it's just an area where you have to get things right. There's probably no more important new Commonwealth body that's been created, at least in the last decade, than this. And it just has to be done carefully and in a calm, sober and scholarly fashion outside of all the drama and rhetoric. And look, one of the things that has happened this week is the proposition I think that's been put by Labor and the Greens and others; that if you prefer or argue that one model for an Integrity Commission is better than another or more appropriate than another, that must mean that you are anti-integrity. I mean, it's just absurd. So, this is going to be a sober, careful process and it will require a lot of consultation around the country.

Thank you all. Cheers.