FARMERS ARE being urged to prepare submissions for a Victorian parliamentary inquiry which will look into how to protect farms from invading animal activists.
The inquiry follows a series of farm invasions around Australia, and a public demonstration in the Melbourne CBD which shut down traffic for hours.
Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes expressed concern about the trespasses but said the incidence of farm invasions was “fairly low”.
“But I accept people are concerned about it,” Ms Symes said.
“I don’t want our hard-working farmers to be living in fear.
“We’ve been very firm in our response.”
Ms Symes said there were already offences that carried significant penalties, including fines of up to $4000 or six months’ imprisonment.
She had already met with Victoria Police to discuss how they would respond.
Ms Symes said the Victorian Government had broadened the inquiry first proposed by the Nationals, and the motion eventually carried was modified.
The Legislative Council committee conducting the inquiry has only two MPs with farm experience, but Ms Symes said committee members did not necessarily have to have a close connection with an issue to deal with it effectively.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said establishing the inquiry was a win for farmers, their families and regional communities.
“This inquiry is an opportunity for parliament to work together to deliver the laws and penalties that our communities expect and demand,” Mr Walsh said.
“Our farmers and communities are demanding action which is why the Liberal Nationals have fought to establish this inquiry.”
He said Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath had taken a lead in developing the debate.
Ms Bath, who is also sponsoring a petition to fix farm trespass laws that has gathered nearly 5000 signatures so far, said the inquiry was the first step to deliver the change communities had been calling for.
“The Liberals and Nationals are standing up for the rights of farmers, their families and farm businesses who continue to be relentlessly targeted by law-breaking activists,” Ms Bath said.
“While the agriculture minister tried to avoid fixing this issue, ongoing pressure from communities in Gippsland and across the state has forced the government to act.
“I stand with our farmers in stating that only tougher laws with appropriate penalties will provide the necessary legal protection for our primary producers.”
The Animal Justice Party member of the Legislative Council, Andy Meddick, spoke against the inquiry.
Mr Meddick’s party is against animal farming and wants to see the dairy industry wound down.
Mr Walsh said it was disappointing that not all parties had supported the inquiry.
“While Labor finally saw the light and realised they can’t keep ignoring farmers, unsurprisingly The Greens again failed to back the industry,” Mr Walsh said.
The committee is inviting written submissions by Friday, August 2, and will then conduct public hearings.