SUBJECTS: Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019.
SELINA GREEN, PRESENTER:  Now the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 is set to be up for debate in Parliament next week.  It has certainly been proven to be contentious on both sides of the argument. There are some concerns being voiced about the impact this legislation could have even in circumstance that could hurt farmers.  Australian Labor Party Senator Kim Carr has questioned whether the provisions of the bill might actually be used against farmers – for example, if you are a farmer who has been involved in a group like Lock the Gate Alliance. Senator Carr has asked whether those in favour of the Bill have considered the implications. Senator Carr joins me now, Senator Carr, good morning and welcome to the program. 


GREEN: Could you explain more about the concerns that you have raised about this bill and what it means for farmers?

CARR:  This is a bill that was introduced in response to an election promise that was made by the National Party in the last election and it was supposed to deal with matters of trespass that farmers have rightly been concerned about over recent times.  Matters raised concerning that bill included whether or not the current state legislation has been properly dealt with, because this bill does not deal with trespass it deals with incitement.  It deals with anybody that’s accused of using a telephone or the internet to encourage people to take action on animal welfare or other grounds. My concern was that in the past we have seen farmers take action to protect their land from mining companies, from companies that want to put pipelines across their land. We have seen farmers take action against vegetable processers – potato farmers have blockaded facilities.  We have seen a number of farming groups take action that preserve prime agricultural land and I wonder whether or not people acting in haste had thought about the implication. Workers in abattoirs are covered by this, there are people that are concerned in the cities – this is not just a bill that covers agricultural land, it convers food production facilities in the cities as well.  And so there is a range of people that in the past have drawn to public attention the public health issues, not just animal welfare, issues about people that are undertaking action which damages the nation’s reputation by running meat substitution rackets,  by running drugs in abattoirs,  or by running firearms through meat distribution networks, The bill also affects people who have been engaged in industrial matters to protect their wages and conditions.  All of these things I don’t think have been properly considered when the bill was drafted. There is the question about agricultural research; this bill does not protect agricultural research facilities.  So there is a range of people who I think need to think again about these matters and what the consequences   are of acting hastily without thinking through the implications of what is said.              

GREEN:  There has been a lot of debate around this has been focussed on the issue of trespass but this is not a Bill that directly focuses or deals with the issue of trespass, are there other actions that could fall under this?

CARR: This is a Bill that deals with incitement, not trespass, incitement.  You see, trespass is a state matter.  Most of these issues are covered by state legislation; in fact all of these issues are covered by state matters already.  Some of which go back to the early nineteenth century – the combination acts, and sedition and incitement are often very murky questions in common law and we have a long history in this country of people who have felt the need to protest and have faced criminal sanctions for protesting.

So there are some other issues that may not have been properly considered when people have rushed to try to deal with one problem, and it is rightfully so that people should not be subject to biohazards and other consequences of people invading their land, but there are knock on consequences which may not have been though through.

Workers on the job who blow the whistle I don’t think are properly protected by this Bill.  Workers who act to preserve Australia’s international reputation from bad practices that go beyond issues of animal welfare and go to issues of public health, issues that go to criminal activity – all of which we have seen in the meat industry for a great deal of time in this country, and have been subject to royal commissions which have seen quite substantial public criminal questions dealt with.

So it’s not just the question of dealing with a few ferals as some people would like to present it.

GREEN: I’m speaking to Labor Party Senator Kim Carr this morning.  I know that some things like Lock the Gate and anti-fracking protests have been taken up as a cause in this region.  But as it stands what sort of impact could the Bill have on farmers in this part of the world who for example form part of those groups and take actions through those kinds of activities?

CARR: Well I think people should have a look at this.  They should have a look at what the word “incitement” means.  Because under this Bill there is a reverse onus of proof.  This is a Bill that means that you have to prove your innocence in effect.  If you publish something, if you’re a journalist, I don’t think you are adequately protected for publicising these matters.  There is not adequate protection, in the way I read it, for whistle-blowers who draw attention to the problems which emerge with people doing the wrong thing with agricultural land.

So you see there is a more substantive set of issues here than a knee jerk reaction the National Party has brought up during an election campaign and I don’t believe that farming organisations have thought enough about this, particularly those who are concerned about the need to protect prime agricultural land.

GREEN: So what should happen here? Is it your thought that this Bill should be put on hold until these issues have been addressed?

CARR:  Well, I think we should have a look at this in terms of our report, the Senate report.  The Labor Party will be considering its position. I will be making my views clear to the Senate and I trust that other senators will have a look at this when the Bill comes before the chamber for consideration.

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