Victoria targets farm trespassers with fines

By Country News

Animal activists caught trespassing on farms in Victoria will be handed some of the nation's heaviest fines.

The Victorian Government announced on Thursday it will support almost all of the recommendations from an inquiry into the impact of animal rights activism on the state's agriculture.

Legislation will be introduced to create new biosecurity offences, where farm trespassers can be fined on the spot.

The government says the fines will be among the heaviest in Australia, but it will decide exactly how the new offences work after a review into Victoria's existing biosecurity laws.

It will also take inspiration from the penalties in NSW, where there are now $1000 fines for trespassing, and fines of $220 000 for individuals and $440 000 for corporations who breach biosecurity laws.

The Victorian Government will also consider making security cameras within abattoirs mandatory.

However, it wants to see what the industry thinks of the idea and explore other potential pitfalls.

“This includes examination of privacy issues, footage security (recording, use and storage), costs and transitional arrangements,” a report laying out the government's response to the inquiry, released on Thursday, said.

The only recommendation rejected outright by the government was codifying public interest exemptions in Victoria's Surveillance Devices Act, to make it clearer when businesses are protected, or not, from unauthorised surveillance.

“Deciding whether the public interest exemption applies is a matter for the courts to determine on the merits of an individual case,” the report said.

Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes said the inquiry had confirmed the "huge emotional impact" trespassing could have on farmers, their families and country communities.

“Farmers consider their entire property to be their home and no-one should have their home endangered with threats and intimidation,” she said.

“That's why when an animal activist trespasses on a farm it is against the law.”

Opposition agriculture spokesman Peter Walsh said the government's commitments were a win for Victorian farmers.

“Establishing and enforcing on-the-spot fines will go a long way to restoring farmers’ confidence and fixing Victoria's broken farm trespass laws,” he said.