The Marshall Liberal Government will get tougher on those trespassing on agricultural land in new legislation which will be introduced to State Parliament today.
Following broad consultation with primary production industries, justice sector stakeholders and the community, the new laws aim to better protect South Australia's farmers from vigilante activists through a new aggravated trespass offence.
"There are already a number of trespass offences in South Australia, but these do not adequately cover the additional risks posed to farmers and food producers," Attorney-General, Vickie Chapman said.
"Trespassing on agricultural land can introduce food contamination or present biosecurity risks which can be extremely detrimental to those businesses - this is why we need an offence that specifically recognises these issues.
"Our farmers are a critical part of our economy and they deserve to be protected from well-meaning but potentially destructive activism."
The new aggravated trespass offence would penalise a person who trespasses on primary production land and:
- interferes with the conduct of business
- does anything that puts the safety of people at risk
- increases the risk of biosecurity and food contamination impacts.
"We're also proposing an additional circumstance where the trespasser is accompanied by two or more other people - it goes without saying that groups can create far more damage than just one lone protester," Ms Chapman said.
"It's important that the penalties adequately match the seriousness of these crimes and those found guilty may face a $10,000 fine or 12 months imprisonment, plus compensation to the farmer."
Increased penalties for interfering with farm gates and farm animals are also contained in the new legislation to act as a further deterrent.
"The fine for interfering with farm gates has been the same since 2002 - we're now increasing the penalty from $750 to $1,500 and introducing a substantial new expiation fee of $375 in those cases where an on-the-spot penalty in warranted," Ms Chapman said.
"These amendments also cover interference with fences that allow animals to escape - this includes gates being removed or disabled, and includes a cattle grid, slip panel or any moveable thing used to enclose land.
"We're also increasing the maximum penalty for disturbing farm animals to $2,500 - this is clearly much more serious than simply leaving a gate open."
"The new Bill also doubles the penalties for existing farm trespassing offences when they take place on primary production land," Ms Chapman said.
Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone welcomed the introduction of the new farm trespass legislation into Parliament.
"The introduction of a new aggravated trespass offence and stronger penalties will send a message to protesters or activists that in South Australia, if you break the law and put our farmers and supply chains at risk, you will be penalised," said Minister Whetstone.
"Our primary producers are critical to the state's economy and that's why this new legislation is required to provide better protection to the industry.
"I'll continue to work closely with the Attorney-General, the livestock and other agricultural industries to ensure the new farm trespass laws provide greater protection for our primary producers."
Member for Finniss David Basham said farms were more than just businesses producing food and fibre.
"Farms are also family homes where in some cases many generations have lives," Mr Basham said.
"They deserve the full protection of the law from activists who would invade them and threaten a family's property, livelihood and safety.
"Eating meat and consuming animal products are legitimate choices in a free South Australian society and farming to meet this demand is a legitimate pursuit which contributes many billions of dollars to the State's economy. Activists who don't agree are free to protest about it within the law, but illegal trespassing and property damage in the name of their causes is not acceptable and must stop immediately.
"South Australia has some of the strongest animal welfare legislation in the world. If activists are aware of breaches, the appropriate course is to report it to the authorities rather than break the law themselves. The rule of law is and always must be paramount."
Keeping the law and our policies relevant is a key priority in the Government's Justice Agenda.