FILE: Terania Creek protests, 1979. The Nature Conservation Council said if these laws had been in place during that time, Terania Creek would not have been successful.
FILE: Terania Creek protests, 1979. The Nature Conservation Council said if these laws had been in place during that time, Terania Creek would not have been successful. The Northern Star Archives

'Sneaky attack': New bill creates divide

WITH the introduction of the new Right to Farm Bill by the NSW Government, many farmers have been breathing a sigh of relief as the new legislation promises to protect them against trespassing.

The NSW Farmers Association has been the most vocal after the bill passed earlier this month.

NSW Farmers' chief executive Pete Arkle said the passage of the bill was a "win for farmers and local food and fibre production".

"The debate around new laws has clouded their intent. They are simply about providing some protections for our family farms from invasions of animal activists and illegal trespassers," he said.

"Farms are a home and farms are a business, and just like residential homes and businesses, farmers want some laws imposed on people who enter their property without any notification."

Mr Arkle said the release of the Aussie Farms map at the start of the year had highlighted the desperate need for farmers to be afforded greater protections.

"This highly misleading map encouraged people to trespass on family farms without any consideration of privacy or the impact on families, their employees and animals," he said.

"Ill-informed animal activists are not the only concern for farmers in terms of farm trespass. Farmers also have to deal with illegal hunters and other people entering their farms without any notification".

He said the bill included new laws protecting agricultural practices from the "vexatious nuisance claims that are causing conflict and increasing production costs for farmers".

"This is an important first step toward enshrining a regional planning act framework that gives certainty to a right to farm," he said.

However, not all are happy with the new legislation.

The Nature Conservation Council claims the passage of the Right to Farm Bill could have serious impacts on peaceful protest in forests.

Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said the bill quadrupled the maximum penalty for aggravated unlawful entry of enclosed agricultural lands from $5,500 to $22,000, with three years' imprisonment.

He said part of their concern was agricultural land included farms, abattoirs and "a business or undertaking for forestry".

"This is a sneaky attack on the right to use peaceful protest to protect public native forests," Mr Gambian said. "If these laws had been in place in the 1980s and 1990s, World Heritage-listed rainforests on the north coast, such as Terania Creek, would have been turned into telegraph poles and toilet paper.

"It was thanks to the democratic right to protest and the bravery of environmentalists that those irreplaceable forests are still standing."

Mr Gambian said the timing of the new law was "suspicious".

"The government is right now considering letting loggers into old-growth forests that have been protected for more than 20 years," he said.

"The extreme penalties in the new Act will make people less willing to participate in peaceful protest - a basic human right enshrined in international law.

"Some people might be willing risk $5500 and a criminal record to have their voices heard. Far fewer would risk $22,000 and three years behind bars."