Rural crime soars 60 per cent

Rural crime soars 60 per cent

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CRIME SCOURGE: VFF livestock president Leonard Vallance says Victorian police are not equipped with the right tools and training to deal with rural crime because it is low on the list of government priorities.

CRIME SCOURGE: VFF livestock president Leonard Vallance says Victorian police are not equipped with the right tools and training to deal with rural crime because it is low on the list of government priorities.

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Rural crime has grown 60 per cent in five years and the Victorian government is failing to keep up, farmers say.

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Specialist farm insurer Achmea has revealed that rural crime has soared 60 per cent in five years.

And according to Victorian Farmers Federation livestock president Leonard Vallance, rural police are stretched too thin to respond.

"If you have a quiet chat with any AGLO [Agricultural Liaison Officer], they'll tell you their first priority is to deal with the druggies, then domestic violence and, if there's any time left over, they're expected to be out on the highway booking people," Mr Vallance said.

"Apparently, doing 103 kilometres an hour is a more serious crime than stealing sheep, fuel or a mower."

Fifty AGLOs are Victoria's answer to rural crime.

Unlike their counterparts in NSW and Queensland, none are dedicated to the role.

Mr Vallance said adding to the challenges were the reluctance of many in rural communities to report crime, a dearth of equipment and training, and the difficulty of tracing stolen commodities.

"A wool bale fits neatly into the back of a ute, it might be worth $500 and once it's repacked, nobody can identify it," he said.

"Stolen sheep are quickly rehomed, shorn, had their ear tags removed or sent to abattoirs."

Mr Vallance believes the movement of livestock presents an opportunity for police, given better training.

"The AGLOs need ear tag scanners, stock assessment training so they know what they're looking for and training on national vendor declarations," he said.

"When they stop a livestock truck, they should be looking at all those things, not just the driver's licence and road-worthiness of the tyres, but most police have never even heard of an NVD.

"We don't want to criticise police members doing their best because we go away from meetings with police feeling they've got the same sense of frustration we do but they just don't have the resources."

Criticism of the AGLO program, however, is not new and Victoria Police has for months said it is reviewing its performance.

Victoria Police Acting Superintendent Paul Phelan said little had changed.

"The review into the Victoria Police Agricultural Liaison Officer program is ongoing," Superintendent Phelan said.

"If there are changes to the role of the AGLO which affect the community, we will communicate these accordingly.

"Our review is comprehensive, looking at the way the AGLO role is currently performed and governed in order to determine its effectiveness in responding to rural crime.

"It is also considering available intelligence holdings and stakeholder feedback.

"At this stage, we will not be establishing a dedicated stock squad and we're reviewing to ascertain what further training was required with the AGLO program rather than bringing in a new system.

"We have a focus in our review on crime prevention and we're engaging with a number of external and internal stakeholders as well as community members.

"We will not rush the review or its recommendations as we want to ensure we have the most effective model in place to investigate and prevent livestock and farm theft in Victoria."

Mr Vallance was dismissive of the Victoria Police response.

"That's a very motherhood statement," he said.

"It looks like the review's never going to end so we'll never get any real action.

"We engage with AGLOs quite a bit and they share our frustration that the government's priorities do not include rural crime but when it gets up to cabinet level, that's when it gets lost."

There appears to be inertia, too, when it comes to the security of tractors and other types of agricultural equipment.

Many makes, including top-selling Massey Ferguson and John Deere, are universally keyed as a contractor, who preferred not to be named, explained.

"You can drive away my $400,000 harvester with the key from my dad's new $25,000 ride-on mower," the contractor said.

Tractor and Machinery Association Association of Australia executive director Gary Northover said the association had no position on the issue.

"Improved security is not something we as an industry have discussed and it's up to the individual manufacturers to address," Mr Northover said.

The National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council represents insurers, police and government.

Its chief executive Geoff Hughes said the impact of farm equipment theft was higher than crime figures suggest.

"While the frequency of equipment theft is relatively low, at less than one in 25 of all vehicle thefts, the cost of an incident can be high with a single item worth tens of thousands of dollars or more and the related impacts on lost productivity," Mr Hughes said.

"Due to large gaps in victims' reports and police recording capabilities, it is difficult to measure overall impacts.

"There has been little recent research on the extent of farm crime generally.

"A national survey in 2005 found that around one in five farms experienced a crime incident at least once in the previous 12 months.

"From the sample who replied, farm crime was estimated at the time to cost the Australian economy at least $70 million annually."

In respect to tractors, Mr Hughes said:

  • 94 were stolen nationally in the 12 months to March 2019 (14 fewer than in the previous period)
  • John Deere (21) and Massey Ferguson (11) were the prime targets with no other brand breaking into double figures
  • Just three states - Victoria (30), WA (29) and Qld (19) - accounted for almost eight in 10 thefts nationally
  • Two in three stolen tractors are unlikely to be recovered
  • It is most likely the unrecovered vehicles are being sold to other farmers or farm contractors domestically

Mr Vallance said it was important farmers report every incident to police, so statistics reflected the true scale.

Achmea risk specialist Peter Nicholas encouraged farmers seek advice about security measures such as signage, lighting, gate monitors and cameras.

"We specialise in farms and understand the risks are quite different to residential property," Mr Nicholas said.

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