‘Weak’ laws fail to deter animal activists

‘Weak’ laws fail to deter animal activists


Politics
Aussie Farms director Chris Delforce is one of the people behind the map that names and shames Australian farming operations, and encourages activists to take photos and videos of listed properties.

Aussie Farms director Chris Delforce is one of the people behind the map that names and shames Australian farming operations, and encourages activists to take photos and videos of listed properties.

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Are Victorian farmers safe from animal activists?

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The man behind the map that names and shames Australian farmers, Chris Delforce, has had his fair share of run-ins with the law.

But to this day, the Aussie Farms director has not faced any significant repercussions, raising fears Victoria’s own privacy legislation is too weak to protect the State’s farmers.

In 2015, Mr Delforce’s home in Adelaide, SA, was raided, as well as a property in Ryde, NSW, owned by fellow activist Dorrottya Kiss, in relation to piggeries throughout southern NSW being repeatedly targeted and invaded, and the publication of recorded material aimed at portraying legal farming practices as animal cruelty.

Electronic recording devices were seized as evidence, and an extensive investigation by NSW Police followed.

Initially, Mr Delforce faced 17 charges of break and enter to commit a serious indictable offence, which carried a prison term of up to 14 years.

These charges were later withdrawn after the case was given to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and he instead faced six charges for publishing material obtained from a surveillance device, and four charges for using a surveillance device to obtain footage.

Ms Kiss faced two charges of installing, and the use of, an optical recording device without consent.

All charges were under the NSW Surveillance Device Act.

But in August 2017, the judge dismissed all of the charges against them due to non-compliance with prescribed police investigative and charging procedures, where charges had been laid seven months prior to consent being issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions in NSW.

As well as the charges being dropped, Mr Delforce and Ms Kiss were awarded costs totalling $56,000.

READ MORE: Join the campaign: Aussie farmers need our support

A year and a half later, Mr Delforce’s map calls for people to upload photos and videos taken of the properties listed on the map; the only way this could be done is by trespassing.

Currently, in Victoria, Section 9 of the Summary Offences Act 1966 makes it an offence to enter private premises without the consent of the owner or occupier; this carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment.

There are a range of other summary and indictable offences that may apply to individuals trespassing on farming land for the purpose of protesting, including wilful damage of property, criminal damage, entry likely to breach the peace, contamination of goods and unlawful assembly.

But a spokesperson at one Victorian abattoir, who had been the victim of multiple animal activist break-ins in recent years but wished to remain anonymous, said while police had adequately dealt with the situations, the activists only got a “slap on the wrist”.

“We were broken into and the activists got charged, but not long after, they came back and broke in and did the same thing again,” the spokesperson said.

“The system’s letting us down; it’s really disappointing.”

The spokesperson said punishments for trespass should be stricter in Victoria, particularly with the Aussie Farms map circulating and encouraging photos and videos be taken of farms and other agricultural operations.

Several other producers, butchers, restaurants and processors, known to have been targeted by animal activists, declined to comment on the issue for fear of further harassment.

In the wake of Aussie Farms’ map, Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud called on state governments to create tougher trespass laws.

Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes has come out in opposition of the Aussie Farms map, and indicated the Andrews Labor Government was currently in the process of reforming its Prevention of Cruelty to Animals legislation.

This was something the government committed to addressing last year, and Ms Symes hoped it would be complete by the end of this year.

She did not indicate whether the government would re-assess its current privacy laws, but said trespass on farms would be taken seriously.

"Activists who do the wrong thing, be it either trespass or false representation, will be dealt with, and this behaviour is unacceptable and puts hard working farming families at risk,” she said.

Pressure is also mounting on the Victorian government to revoke Aussie Farms’ charity status.

Mr Delforce was contacted for comment but did not respond.

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