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Drone wars: the new push by activists to invade farm privacy

Crowd funding is cool. But in the wrong hands, it can be a catalyst for genuine harm.

The Wilderness Society recently launched a crowd funding campaign to buy drones, so they can get footage of farmers clearing farm land and launch an aggressive social media campaign against what they claim is a “mass deforestation crisis”.

In the space of one week, the campaign raised almost $30,000. Enough to buy the drones and then some.

Here’s their plan.

The Wilderness Society recently launched a crowd funding campaign to buy drones.

The campaign will be light on facts and full of emotion. It won’t make any attempt to first ask the farmers what they’re doing, or why, or if it’s ok to film them and their employees. It won’t look beyond the surface, or try to work out whether what is happening is within the bounds of the law.

It will film people at work, on private property, without their consent. It will hurtle them into the spotlight, unwitting players in an ideological game. It will encourage the community to chastise Australian farmers and their employees; to shun them, to threaten them and call them names. It will humiliate them in the court of public opinion, to make sure their voice is lost in the debate over sustainable native vegetation management.

Many good Australian farmers already know how this feels. In one pig farmer’s case, animal activists snuck on to her property in the middle of the night, balaclavas and all. They installed cameras in hidden places and pressed record. After filming for over a year, they obtained footage they knew would have shock value - of injured animals, all penned in together. They released the footage online and called for the pig industry to be shut down. The farmer was targeted with vile abuse and death threats. Even her children were threatened. They started having nightmares about strange people sneaking around at night. Relationships between the family and her community suffered as her reputation was dragged through the mud.

What the activists didn’t know, and didn’t share, was that the footage showed animals in a safe area recovering after treatment. Their injuries were the result of interaction with other animals, which all pig farmers know is not desirable, but happens from time to time and needs to be managed.

The fact that this context was missing when the illegally obtained ‘shocking footage’ was released, allowed the farmer to be cast in the worst possible light for political gain.

What this tells us is that we all need to think twice before taking cameras to the air with no regard for the consequences, either for ourselves or for others.
Fiona Simson, President, NFF

We can’t simply rely on the law to protect us, because in the age of social media, the horse will have bolted long before the courts catch up. And despite their enormous resources, state and federal governments too often lose sight of the science while looking anxiously at what can be done to appease unrelenting activists.

Drones are a great innovation that can and will help boost farm productivity if we harness their potential in the right way. But we do need to think carefully about how, where and when they can be used in the workplace, and by whom, and to what end. What will the Wilderness Society say if one of their drones brings down a small aircraft mustering cattle, killing the pilot on board? Will their insurance cover it?

At the end of the day, we all rely on farmers to feed and clothe us. Farmers have an important economic role to play, which benefits us all. This year alone, Australia’s agricultural production value is tipped to smash records and hit $64 billion. We need to support our farmers, not continually find new ways to drive them out.

The Wilderness Society campaign highlights the need for governments to get serious about protecting our fundamental rights and freedoms in the face of ever-emerging new technology. Zealous conviction cannot be allowed to trump rational debate or to put at risk the value of consensus driven, evidence-based policy which has as its end game a more profitable, productive Australia.

We all have the right to quiet enjoyment of our land. Drones won’t change this, unless we let them.

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