The Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association Executive Director, Mathew Munro tells the government, don’t forget the trucks. When the Federal Parliament forgets to protect the trucking sector, the ALRTA is there to remind them.
Over recent years, it has become increasingly evident that vegan activists are using dedicated websites and Facebook pages to incite individuals to engage in illegal acts such as breaking and entering, trespassing and harassing people who are conducting legal farming, processing and livestock transport activities in Australia.
For example, Aussie Farms Inc publishes information detailing the location of more than 3,000 livestock farms and processors where it alleges animal abuse is commercialised. Individuals are encouraged to capture images or videos at these sites to upload onto the Aussie Farms online sharing platform. Consequently, individuals incited by Aussie farms have engaged in a range of illegal acts in an effort to obtain images and videos.
To combat this problem, on July 4, 2019, the Federal Government introduced the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 (‘the Bill’) which would establish two new offences relating to the use of carriage services (i.e. websites, Facebook pages and so on) to incite trespass or property offences on agricultural land. These offences carry serious maximum penalties of up to five years imprisonment.
Bravo! It’s about time governments took concrete action to protect legal farming, processing and livestock transport activities from vegan activists who are hell bent on economic terrorism.
However, there is one small problem. The Bill doesn’t protect trucks at all. Most alarmingly, it might even make matters worse.
While the objective of the Bill is laudable and well-intended, the scope is limited to the incitement of illegal acts on agricultural land only. The Bill defines agricultural land as including farms, feedlots, sale yards and processors. It does not extend to heavy vehicles on public roads that are servicing agricultural land.
Most businesses that fall within the definition of agricultural land are highly reliant on trucks to move agricultural produce to or from their premises. In particular, abattoirs have very limited livestock yarding capacity and are often restricted in their ability to feed and care for livestock for extended periods. Trucks deliver livestock on a regular schedule to ensure a sufficient continuum of supply for operational purposes.
In circumstances in which vegan activists are prevented from entering agricultural premises (for example by onsite security or police), it is normal practice for activists to instead target any trucks servicing the premises during the protest period.
Trucks attempting to enter or leave agricultural premises are physically exposed and extremely vulnerable to activist activities. Over the past 18 months there has been repeated incidents across Australia during which trucks were specifically targeted by vegan activists.
Typically, the activists form human chains to prevent movement of vehicles, they climb onto bull bars and trailers, they insert their own limbs into trailers to take photos of animals, they bang on doors and scream verbal abuse at drivers, and all the while they challenge drivers to respond so it can be recorded and posted online. In some cases, activists have even attempted to steal the keys of a truck while it was in motion or remove the pins that secure the tail gate so animals can escape directly into the road corridor.
These activities directly threaten the safety and welfare of livestock, drivers, members of the public and the protestors themselves. While ALRTA supports the right of individuals to protest peacefully, advocate or engage politically, such activities should not interfere with lawful business activities or put the safety of people or animals at risk.
Just as is the case for businesses operating on agricultural land, incitement of illegal activities involving trucks servicing agricultural land is a problem of national significance. If the Bill is passed in its current form, activists will continue to incite illegal activities against trucks with impunity, and may even be incentivised to more actively target trucks in future because of the relative lack of regulation in this area.
Addressing this unintended consequence is necessary to protect trucking businesses, but also to protect the interests of businesses operating on agricultural land, a key objective of the Bill.
The Bill has been referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for review. The Committee will consider the Bill and may make recommendations to amend the Bill as appropriate.
On behalf of the six state associations and 700 grass roots members around Australia, the ALRTA has asked the Committee not to forget the trucks.
Specifically, the ALRTA have sought an amendment to establish an additional offence that would apply where a person uses a carriage service to transmit, make available, publish or otherwise distribute material with the intent to incite another person to unlawfully impede, interfere, harass, damage, deface (and so on) a heavy vehicle engaged in moving goods to agricultural land or from agricultural land.