New laws to deter trespassing on farms have passed through the Legislative Council, introducing on-the-spot fines of more than $1000 for an individual and more than $8000 for an organisation.
More serious offences could also see fines of up to nearly $11,000 for an individual and up to nearly $50,500 for an organisation.
The Livestock Management Amendment (Animal Activism) Act 2021 passed through the parliament without amendment on Tuesday, despite some MPs arguing that the bill either didn't go far enough to deter trespassers, or bring farmers who are cruel to animals to account.
These new fines, which will come into effect later this year, were a state government response to an inquiry established in 2019 following break ins from trespassers at the Gippy Goat farm, Yarragon.
Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said the recently-passed fines were the toughest in the nation.
"Farmers and workers in the agricultural industry should be able to do their work without fear of being targeted by animal activists," Ms Thomas said.
"This sort of activity is highly distressing for farming families and puts the biosecurity and safety of animals at risk."
Nationals MP Melina Bath introduced amendments which aimed to increase those fines to nearly $20,000 and ensure farmers' river frontages were included blocked by the Labor government, the Greens and Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick.
Despite the claim of being the toughest in the nation from Ms Thomas, higher fines and jail sentences are given out in NSW for similar offences.
That state's Right to Farm Bill 2019 can impose higher fines of up to $22,000 for anyone who unlawfully enters and disrupts "enclosed lands" in NSW, along with up to three years in jail.
Trespassers on NSW farms that have biosecurity plans can also be given on-the-spot fines of $1000 while the potential for maximum fines can be up to $220,000 for an individual under the NSW Biosecurity Act.
During debate in the Legislative Council on Tuesday, Liberal Member for Western Victoria Bev McArthur said she did not oppose the legislation but called out the regulation differences between the states, and criticised the time it took to introduce the bill.
"This legislation is disappointing, and perhaps indicative of this government's view of regional Victoria, that it has taken so long to get where we are today," Ms McArthur aid.
"Queensland and NSW both introduced stronger on-the-spot fines by the end of 2019, and other states have implemented stronger protections in the intervening period."
Mr Meddick also said in debate that the bill was "masquerading as a biosecurity protection against a group of people whose actions have never caused a proven biosecurity breach".
"This bill is nothing more than an ag gag bill, and this government should be ashamed," he said.
"Where is the bill to bring in mandatory CCTV on the kill floor of slaughterhouses, also recommended by the inquiry?"
Peak industry bodies representing farmers and agribusinesses and animal welfare organisations will continue to be consulted before regulations are finalised.
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