It’s time for action on anti-farm extremists

This week we saw what could be the most widespread, coordinated attack on Australia’s food supply chain in our history.

At least half a dozen processing facilities were broken into, with extremist protestors chaining themselves to equipment and taking hours to remove.

This brand of reckless criminal behaviour poses real risks to the safety of our food, the welfare of the animals in these facilities; and the safety of staff and the extremists themselves. That’s not to mention the direct financial cost to these law-abiding, family-owned businesses.

This week’s attacks follow a bombardment of activist trespass incidents on farms in recent months – spurred on by the publication of an online map which highlights farm locations and encourages extremists to take the law into their own hands.

We’ve seen groups as large as 100 people clad in black uniforms, storming onto farms while streaming live on social media platforms. Their tactics are simple: to bully, threaten and intimidate.

It’s important to remember that these properties are not just places of business, they are also family homes where right now farm kids should be enjoying their school holidays. The organised and systematic terrorising of these families in their own homes says a lot about how far these groups will go in the name of their radical beliefs. This was further highlighted by this week’s Melbourne CBD protest, where children were used to prevent police from using force.

I say radical beliefs, because not for a moment are we talking about basic dietary preferences. As a farmer I support a person’s right to eat whatever they please, but instead we’re faced with groups who oppose everything from aquariums to the ownership of domestic pets (including guide dogs).

We’re talking hardline extremists who in no way represent the views of reasonable Australians.

Fiona Simson, NFF President

They’re so dogged in these beliefs that they’re willing to play Russian roulette with Australia’s food supply – risking the introduction of pests, diseases or contaminants to our highly regulated food supply chain.

I should be clear for the record: our industry has nothing to hide. Our farming practices are some of the world’s best, and we’re constantly innovating and improving with the community’s expectations in mind. In fact, we’d love more people to take an interest in farming and experience what we do, but trespassing on private farms is not the way to do it.

The most alarming part of the extremist onslaught is that the law has proven powerless to help. More often than not, despite overwhelming evidence provided by their own footage, no arrests are made. Those who have been charged are given a fine equivalent to a parking ticket, and sent off with no criminal record. As a result, reoffending is the norm.

In an extreme example, we saw the theft of livestock by trespassing protestors attract a fine of just $1 under Victoria’s biosecurity laws. The victim in that instance, the Gippy Goat Café, announced over the weekend that it would shut its doors, because it could no longer ask its staff to endure the constant threats and harassment being levelled at them by so-called activists.

As farmers, we’re watching these events with despair. First, the authorities and internet giants say they’re powerless to prevent the publication of our home addresses on an extremist attack website. Then, dozens of farm raids yield only a handful of arrests. Then finally, we discover that the price of our privacy – not to mention the safety of our staff, families and livestock – is as low as $1.

Surely then, governments are acting quickly to address this calamity? Not exactly…

Fiona Simson, NFF President

To date, only the Queensland Government has announced it will toughen penalties for these offences, notwithstanding sympathetic murmurings from other leaders around the country. Aussie Farms and other groups coordinating these attacks remain registered charities – a privilege that should have been revoked months ago.

To its credit, the Federal Government has joined us in calling on the states to act, while using its powers to bring the publisher of the Aussie Farms map within the scope of the Privacy Act. The Prime Minister yesterday also committed that the Commonwealth would join those affected in a civil suit – something the industry is actively exploring.

The net effect of these responses though has been, at best, piecemeal. What’s needed is a coordinated, national response to what is a glaringly national issue. The Federal Government has a coordinating role to play here, to ensure we identify and plug the gaps that are allowing these extremists to ride roughshod over law-abiding farmers – regardless of their jurisdiction.

With a Federal Election just weeks away, now is the time for all parties to clarify where they stand on this. Will they commit to leading a national solution that protects our farms? Or will they leave us to try our luck with the states and any civil proceedings we can mount?

The organised criminals leading this assault on our farms are well resourced, and savvy enough to exploit any loophole we leave open. Unless the response from governments across the country is equally well coordinated, we’ll be leaving our farmers – along with their families, staff and livestock – perilously exposed.

Fiona Simson

Fiona Simson

Fiona Simson is the President of the National Farmers' Federation and a farmer from the Liverpool Plains.

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