Farm trespass, surveillance and the Biosecurity Bill 2015

12 Aug 2015


In recent years the farming community has been concerned about the increasing use by animal welfare activists of covert surveillance of farm properties. Several incidents have allegedly involved unauthorised entry and installation of hidden cameras; in one case, Animal Liberation used a drone (otherwise known as an “unmanned aerial vehicle”). Farmers complain that this conduct constitutes an intrusion on their property and privacy rights, as well as causing biosecurity risks for animals. Conversely, animal welfare organisations maintain that there is inadequate policing of animal protection laws and they point to cases where covert surveillance has uncovered animal cruelty.

In December 2014, the NSW Government released a Farm Trespass Policy which has several elements including significant penalties under proposed new biosecurity laws. On 12 August 2015, the Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair introduced into the Legislative Council the Biosecurity Bill 2015. The Bill has not yet been debated. At the federal level, Liberal Senator Chris Back has introduced a Private Member’s Bill which would create several new offences including: failing to provide to relevant authorities within 5 business days recorded material of malicious cruelty to animals; and engaging in conduct that damages property used in carrying on an animal enterprise.

There have been similar debates in the United States and new laws have been enacted or proposed in response at the Federal level and in several States. These laws vary but include offences such as: entering a farm to take pictures by any means with intent to damage the enterprise; farm employees failing to submit a recording of suspected animal abuse to police within 24 hours; and entering a farm under false pretences or applying for employment at a farm with intent to record farm activities. Supporters of these laws describe them as “farm protection” laws while critics refer to them as “Ag-Gag” laws.

This paper looks at the debate in NSW and Australia, examines the current legal position in NSW in relation to unauthorised entry on to farm properties and farm surveillance, and outlines the NSW Government policy and legislative response. The Private Member’s Bill in the Senate and the Biosecurity Act 2014 (Qld) are also discussed, as are Law Reform Commission reports on privacy law.

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