SECOND READING DEBATE - Right to Farm Bill 2019
Updated: Apr 4
When I was a young woman, expecting my first child, I lived in Walcha on the New England Tablelands with my husband and his parents.
My husband and I lived in a house that was between the motel that my parents-in-law owned and the local hospital and we would often stay overnight at the motel.
On one occasion my husband and his parents were away on tour and I was managing the motel by myself. I woke up in the middle of the night to hear people moving on the street below.
A couple of weeks previously a friend from Sydney had called me telling me he was working with NSW Police. He said he was surprised to hear that there had been a huge increase in theft and malicious damage in my tiny village of 1,600 people.
He asked me, "What's happening up there?" But I already knew—news travels fast in the country. Many local business owners had had their shops broken into, mainly for small change, lollies or cigarettes. Sometimes a lock would be broken or a window smashed which would cost $1,000 to repair—things that seem to be a part of doing business.
On that night I was not sleeping well. The motel was one of the only businesses in town that had a residence as part of the business. There was one police officer in the town at night, if they were not working hard somewhere else in the district.
When the thieves got into one of our sheds at the back of our property I tried to tell myself it was okay and at least they had not got into the office, which was only a staircase away from where I was sleeping.
The thieves did not do much damage. I did not see them and they did not hurt me. They just opened a box of Christmas decorations and left them out in the rain. But it still worried me. They had walked past the office, past my bedroom, into the courtyard and down to the very back of the yard. They had had time to go exploring our property while I was sleeping alone. Would they come back?
This was back in the day when we did not have CCTV on a business in a country town. We did not even have an alarm on the premises because we were always around to hear if someone had got in. By the time we left, we could not even remember the combination for the safe because we had not used it in 20 years. But I cannot forgot the sense of unease and of walking around the streets wondering which of our neighbours in our small community had been in our place while I was asleep and whether they would come back.
It was a fear that dogged me the rest of the time that I lived at the motel. It made the nights when the restaurant team went home feel lonely and worrying.
This feeling would be familiar to anyone who has had their home burgled—the feeling of invasion, of fear and of wondering what would have happened if you had confronted the trespasser or thief. But it is different when you run a business from your home. An invasion of your professional space is also an invasion of your personal space.
I have spent more than 15 years of my life working and living at home. It is convenient because you do not have to commute, but it makes you a bit more of a target for things like theft. Also these days if you live on a farm and if someone decides that they do not like your farm or what you are doing on your farm, they may decide to trespass and to put your livelihood, and more importantly your peace of mind, at risk.
People who have an ideological objection to the way that you and perhaps multiple generations of your family have lived might even target you and might put photos of your property on the internet. They might even encourage people to trespass on your property. They might even encourage people to do that in large groups. They might harm your animals or family pets, damage your machinery, equipment or buildings or cause a biosecurity risk that costs you dearly.
That is not right and it is not fair.
The Right to Farm Bill 2019 before us today purports to meet a key Coalition election commitment from the 2019 election, in response to one of the five pillars of the NSW Farmers' election ask: $10 million to legislate a Right to Farm, including through a Regional Planning Act and to tackle farm trespass and illegal surveillance.
However, the bill before us does not properly meet those objectives. The illegal surveillance aspect of the commitment was recently addressed in a Federal bill, which was supported in principle by Federal Labor and referred to a Senate committee to address deficiencies and unintended consequences in that jurisdiction.
Importantly for farmers, this bill completely ignores the primary concerns of the majority of farmers around regional planning legislation and the risk of prime land being urbanised or encroached upon by development. This bill does not address a single planning issue, such as when developers ride roughshod over farming communities and local councils and use the seniors housing State Environmental Planning Policy [SEPP] to develop prime agricultural land into retirement villages.
As I go around the State, that is the primary concern around right to farm that farmers raise with me. In fact, if we look at the international legislation on right to farm, we see that it always goes to the planning issues.
This bill is poorly crafted and the Minister's second reading speech was intended to do nothing more than polarise animal activists and farmers without upsetting the Government's key developer lobby by stopping the urbanisation of prime agricultural land—the major concern of farmers.
The University of Technology in Sydney, on behalf of the Department of Primary Industries [DPI], has completed a whole body of work on councils' approaches to resolving these planning and zoning conflicts and that work has been ignored by this bill. But I will turn to that later.
This bill conflates the tort of nuisance, which is sometimes used against farmers to restrict their activities as a result of the failure of this Government to address planning issues, with the actions of activists who trespass against farming families. It does so in such a broad way that it raises serious concerns about the impact of the legislation on other forms of legitimate, peaceful protest on public lands and even perhaps on industrial action.
The proposed legislation falls far short of the Government's election commitment and will potentially diminish support in the community for farmers who face claims of nuisance and illegal trespass.
Importantly, one wonders if the Attorney General, within whose jurisdiction the Inclosed Lands Protection Act sits, has even had a hand in crafting this legislation, because despite it being called the Right to Farm Bill it has the potential to reach far beyond that, limiting the rights of: farmers protesting mineral exploitation on primary agricultural land; people belonging to unions protesting unsafe work practices or unfair pay and conditions; environmentalists trying to stop this Government from ripping out all our forests; Knitting Nannas seeking to protect our environment for their grandchildren and future generations; or even perhaps students protesting about a lack of action on climate change on their own school grounds; nurses protecting against dangerous health policies; or in fact potentially anyone who wants to exercise their implied freedom of political communication.
I turn to the detail of the bill. Clause 4 is essentially about limiting the tort of nuisance. It establishes what is called the "nuisance shield".
The University of Technology Sydney [UTS] Institute for Public Policy and Governance conducted the Right to Farm-Agricultural Land Use Survey, which was commissioned by the Government, and a report was delivered in October 2018. When I first went to the DPI website, looking at where the Government might stand in relation to this legislation, I saw it is all about planning. There is nothing about what is in the rest of the bill.
Over a three-year period the report surveyed 44 local government councils on their experiences in resolving complaints against agricultural activities. While most council respondents were aware of the Government's right to farm policy on the DPI website—as was I—only 9 per cent of them appeared to be intimately familiar with the policy.
The report found that only three of the 44 councils that responded to the survey had adopted their own right to farm policy. We know there is much more work to do in this space.
I note the presence of the member for Coffs Harbour in the Chamber. This is a big issue in his electorate. I went up there about a month ago and people were talking about the proliferation of blueberry farms and the conflict that brings.
It would be interesting for him to go back to his community and ask them about the 12-month limit. I hope he has read the bill in relation to this aspect. If new farm activities are commenced, they will not be shielded by the tort of nuisance. I hope he has read that.
One of the significant findings of the UTS report was just under one-third of council respondents indicated that they resolved all these complaints on planning issues in-house, in-council. In other words, they did not go to tort and did not go to court.
Just over half of those referred land use complaints to the NSW Environment Protection Authority [EPA] and other complaints were commonly referred to Local Land Services, NSW DPI and the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage [OEH]. It appears that nuisance complaints against farmers do not usually escalate to common law actions involving tort, yet this is the very first aspect that is addressed in the Government's proposed legislation—put up a shield to protect farmers.
There is an argument that residents in more urbanised areas are increasingly using civil litigation to resolve neighbourhood arguments in general, but the Minister in his second reading speech did not give any evidence as to whether or how much this is occurring in relation to farms in rural, or even peri-urban, environments, nor did he give examples of such complaints under the common law.
In his second reading speech the Minister mentioned not letting "a different standard be applied to farmers just because they are farmers"; however, this is exactly what the bill is seeking to achieve. Further, the people whom I spoke to in Coffs Harbour who are concerned about what is happening there with farming practices are not going to be happy when they see a shield put up protecting farmers against an independent decision-maker making a decision about who is in the right.
This is important when one recalls that one of the findings of the UTS survey was that communication and engagement are more useful in resolving conflict between neighbours, not shutting them down, not putting up a shield against them. It is unclear how providing that legal shield will help to open practical communication and engagement between neighbours.
Practically, when one looks at it, the nuisance shield could also require a decision-maker to determine what constitutes lawful activity, which undermines the effectiveness of the proposed section. This underlies the rhetoric before reality approach that has been taken in the drafting of the bill.
Clause 5 of the bill relates to requiring courts not to make an order to cease where another order is available. This part of the legislation proposes what appears to be a reasonable path, allowing commercial agricultural activities to continue in a way that is unlikely to significantly disturb the other party to the proceedings. However, again there is little indication in the Minister's speech.
One would have thought he had a really short time limit because he did not expand on any of these issues for the assistance of the courts which will have to interpret this legislation. He did not indicate what a significant disturbance might look like in practice or even what alternate orders might look like. There are no examples of what might meet this criteria. Again, it appears the Minister has misunderstood his role in the legislative process, which is to fully explain the intention and the situations that the legislation he is proposing will affect.
I now turn to the amendments to the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901. It is interesting because it is not in this Minister's jurisdiction. Where was the Attorney General on this? Essentially those amendments extend the definition of "trespass" by adding "hinder". It adds "damages property, or wilfully or negligently releases any livestock" to the definition of "aggravated unlawful entry" in section 4B of the Inclosed Lands Protection Act. It increases the maximum penalties for the aggravated offence in section 4B (1) and adds a new penalty for those who direct, incite, counsel, procure or induce the commission of an offence against section 4B, as outlined in proposed section 4C.
Despite the Minister's hyperbole about animal activists, parts of the bill are, in all probability, already covered under the Crimes Act, by security regulations and the Inclosed Lands Protection Act itself. However, in response to the escalating activities of animal activists, farmers and their families have undeniably felt threatened.
For example, in April 2019 nine activists had to be cut from equipment after they chained themselves to a conveyor belt inside an abattoir at Goulburn at 2.30 a.m. Similar protests where activists chained themselves to machinery occurred on the same day across Australia. This coordinated protest caused a great deal of anxiety for farmers and their families, particularly in the light of the emergence of the Aussie Farms website which shows the location of hundreds of farms and abattoirs as well a satellite and other photos of the properties.
The website encourages people to upload farms or videos of animal exploitation but it also has photos of properties, sitting there doing nothing.
A farmer in the north of the State reportedly only found out that activists had been on his dairy farm after viewing a video on the site, which could only have been taken by a person trespassing on the premises. That is a form of invasion that is very serious and we need to do something serious about it.
Farmers in Victoria have alleged that activists have caused deaths to animals and biosecurity breaches on their farms. They allege activists were behind a 2018 incident in which chickens were let out of their pens resulting in the deaths of 200 laying hens which were attacked by predators and costs of more than $40,000.
We must remember that these are allegations but that is what is alleged.
A break-in at another family-run piggery resulted in cut fences, broken doors and a biosecurity breach resulting in a respiratory problem to the pigs, mycoplasma, which required vaccination of all the animals on the farm at great cost to the farmer.
Labor supports industrial action and peaceful protest. We are a party that was born out of agitating for workers' rights to ensure that workers get a fair go. However, some of the highly publicised actions that have been undertaken by groups on agricultural enterprises have been highly dangerous to the activists themselves and to concepts of work health and safety and particularly harmful and frightening to the operators of farming activities and their families.
Farms are not just workplaces; they are also homes where people live, play and rest. These people should have the right to feel safe—currently they do not. I have friends on farms who have installed CCTV on their farms, are putting additional locks on their doors and are installing alarms on their houses, sheds and outbuildings.
While defenders of animal activists have said they are not intending to threaten the people undertaking such agricultural activities, the impact on these farmers and their families does not concur with the stated intentions of the activists. It is understandably frightening to be living on a property that is remote from neighbours or law enforcement when there are media reports of sometimes large groups of activists removing animals from and/or damaging properties in the middle of the night.
In addition, there are very well-founded concerns regarding biosecurity breaches and the extremely high costs resulting from such breaches or stock losses to farmers and owners, who are often small family businesses. In the context of the current drought, these costs may put farmers or owners at actual risk of closure. These costs are just another burden that is often too difficult to bear.
There has been a lot of media coverage of animal activists' activities on farms and other agricultural enterprises over the last few years, which is mostly blamed on weak or inadequate penalties for failing to deter these activists or for awarding insufficient penalties for those charged with such trespass. There was criticism, for example, in the mainstream media of low penalties in cases where activists who stole livestock in Victoria were given a $1 fine and where an activist who trespassed on a property on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland twice received only a $200 penalty.
While the maximum penalties have significantly increased under this bill, including imprisonment, such penalties are reserved for aggravated offences. There is a view, however, that an increase in financial penalties or the threat of imprisonment will not provide a deterrent to activists. We just do not know but what is clear is that there is a wide continuum of trespass behaviour and consequences of that behaviour for farmers, from someone negligently leaving a gate open and stock escaping to a child waking up in the middle of the night to see a large group of people in hazmat gear outside their window or a farmer having to pay $40,000 to replace stock that is killed by predators after they have been illegally released.
There is no doubt that the coverage of farm trespass and perhaps increasing levels of trespass on farms is creating more fear in the farming community, just from the fact it is happening. Think of your own home and your own life—someone deciding that you should not have a pet because having pets is not in line with their beliefs and setting it free for it to be killed by a predator or damaging your chainsaw because you might cut down a tree on their fence line. Imagine the sense of invasion you would feel.
As Dale Kerrigan said, "A man's home is his castle" and so too is a farmer's property—theirs to live in, to play in and to work in, a sanctuary free of harassment, intimidation and fear.
It is difficult to legislate for the continuum of these offences and to anticipate every circumstance that might happen but an increase to the maximum penalty perhaps sends a message to the courts that there are some cases where it goes beyond the pale, that it is not acceptable for people to feel unsafe in their homes and that harassing someone at their place of residence is not a legitimate form of political protest. As always the courts will have the discretion to find that balance.
I turn now to the regulatory provisions of the bill. The Minister's second reading speech did not address any need for the savings, transitional and other provisions of the bill in proposed schedule 1.
The view has been expressed by people in the community that these provisions are perhaps wider than needed, particularly as proposed section 6 of the bill, the section dealing with inclosed lands, allows regulations to be made with no direction from the Minister as to what he is envisioning. There were no examples in the Minister's second reading speech of the kinds of regulations that might be enacted or, indeed, necessary under the legislation.
We have seen the Government frequently issue significant changes to regulations, particularly under the current Minister, including the recent imposition of on-the-spot $1,000 fines for breaches of biosecurity, despite there being no consultation with the community about it.
The Minister boasted in his speech on this legislation about the number of signs that have been put up on farms around the State, as if having a sign on a property meets a key performance indicator, KPI, for improving biosecurity. I think that not having breaches is more important than having signs.
We are talking here about a Minister who has dropped in a bill with no prior community consultation that increases the maximum penalty for an aggravated offence to $13,200 or imprisonment for 12 months, or both, or $22,000 or up to three years' imprisonment, or both, if the offender is accompanied by two or more persons when the offence occurred or if the offender did something that gave rise to a serious risk to the safety of the offender or any other person on the inclosed land.
These are very large penalties.
We should be cautious about giving a Minister who seeks to legislate the hubris and hyperbole of the far right against protestors—with such scant regard for unintended consequences and no direction in his second reading speech—the unfettered power to make regulations which could seek to potentially limit the implied freedoms of political opinion.
Using the Inclosed Lands Act to increase penalties for trespassers may have serious unintended consequences far beyond the scope of the right to farm. It could limit protestors against coal, gas and forestry or industrial action by trade unions. "Inclosed lands" means "any land, either public or private, inclosed or surrounded" in any way "by which its boundaries may be known or recognised".
The use of the word "hinder" in the expansion of the definition of "trespass" in section 4B is also problematic as it sets a very low threshold for trespass.
The Minister's second reading speech is silent on the bill's potential to capture the conduct of union officials and representatives who organise industrial action that takes place on the job, farmers who protest against mineral exploitation on their own land, or protesters, individuals or groups, such as Lock the Gate and Knitting Nannas and other activists, engaging in peaceful protests on farms, in forests or on other inclosed lands.
In 2016 Labor opposed the increase in fines in the Inclosed Lands Act that were introduced by the Baird Government. We argued against the increased fines on the basis that they were elevating "business interests above the interests of the community and private property owners".
However, it is difficult to mount such a persuasive argument in the case of well-funded animal activist organisations that are mounting protests against struggling farmers and their children, sometimes for no other reason than they do not think people should eat meat.
This bill goes far beyond that. The question could be asked, Is the inclosed lands Act, which is so broad and which encompasses so many spaces, the correct vehicle for achieving the purpose that has been stated as the intention of this bill? Are we going to see situations where young people who play on school grounds without permission or leave a gate open or teachers or nurses who protest at schools and hospitals are caught up in this legislation? Where does this end?
Labor worked with The Nationals to provide safe access zones because we agree there are places where protests should be limited but we did not try to change the Inclosed Lands Act. We did not make a rushed attempt, as this lazy Minister has done without the support of the Attorney General. The Attorney General has not shown his face in the Chamber during this debate.
We did not try to muck around with the Inclosed Lands Act. There are valid community concerns that any court trying to impose penalties in this manner could be open to challenge as per Brown v Tasmania. The Minister should be aware of this case because in 2017 the Parliamentary Library published a paper that discussed the implications of that case to the New South Wales inclosed lands Act. That discussion paper concluded: Brown v Tasmania demonstrates that, while the implied freedom of political communication protects the right to protest, this right is not absolute. Protecting businesses and their operations from damage and disruption by protesters is a legitimate legislative object. A law whose object is to prohibit damaging and disruptive protest activity will not be invalid, provided it is reasonably appropriate and adapted to advance that legitimate object. The Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014 (Tas), the subject of the High Court case, was not reasonably appropriate and adapted to advance that object because its practical effect was to deter protest of all kinds.
I will repeat that for the Government members:
... not reasonably appropriate and adapted to advance that object because its practical effect was to deter protest of all kinds.
Whether any part of this State's protest laws will be challenged on these grounds remains to be seen. If the Government is including maximum penalties of $22,000 or three years imprisonment, or both, it is going to open itself to that.
The second reading speech did not seek to carve out any forms of protest from this bill.
I call on the Attorney General to come forward and enter this debate and to justify why this bill should not be amended to ensure that the community or unions who are not protesting on farming land are not captured by the bill.
The definition of "agriculture" in this bill is very broad and encompasses a wide range of activities. I challenge the Attorney General to explain why he has allowed the agriculture Minister to swagger into the House with all guns blazing with a bill that potentially could limit the implied freedom of political communication and with no reference to what could reasonably be unintended consequences of the bill.
After all, this is the Attorney General's bill—or isn't it? Why has this bill been introduced in haste? The Labor Opposition thinks it might be because another political party in this place was talking about these issues. The other day the Minister was a bit embarrassed. Remember before the election Government members were talking about how they would save the dairy industry and appoint a Parliamentary Secretary for dairying?
Ms Sophie Cotsis: Yes, that is right.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: A few weeks ago the Parliament held budget estimates hearings. Very sadly, the Labor Opposition members asked the agriculture Minister a number of times, not just once—
Ms Sophie Cotsis: How many times, Jenny?
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: I don't know, a few times. The Labor Opposition asked him how many dairy farmers there are in the State. He said, "There's over 600".
Ms Janelle Saffin: Really?
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: There is not.
Ms Janelle Saffin: I know that.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: The member for Lismore knows that. Is she the agriculture Minister? No. Government members did not even know that on their watch the number of dairy farmers in the State has been dropping and dropping and dropping. The Government also was caught out when before the State election the Hon. Courtney Houssos and the Hon. Mick Veitch put forward the idea of a fresh food and dairy pricing advocate. That is a pretty reasonable suggestion because we know that there are a lot of problems with the supply chain associated with dairying. The agriculture Minister has had six months to put forward its own commissioner.
I recall that the Hon. Niall Blair jumped on board with Labor's policy and ran away with it as though it was all the Government's idea. The Government has done nothing. That became clear because the Hon. Courtney Houssos and I both gave notice of a motion to introduce a bill to establish Labor's advocate.
What happened after that? The Government announced its intention to appoint a dairy commissioner.
I should not really smile about this because this is actually pretty disgusting. In the budget estimates hearings the Opposition asked a few reasonable questions about what the agriculture Minister had been doing to achieve a good outcome for farmers by the establishment of a dairy commissioner.
The questions were not hard. Typically they were, "What is the role?" The agriculture Minister's reply was, "I don't know". "Who chose the dairy commissioner?" The reply was, "I don't know". "What was the selection criteria?" "What was the selection panel?" "Who was on it?" "What are the commissioner's duties?" The Labor members of the committee asked the Minister what powers the dairy commissioner would have.
The dairy commissioner established by the Government has no statutory powers because there is no Act. The dairy commissioner is just a guy working with the Department of Primary Industries.
Ms Janelle Saffin: Drinking a lot of milk.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: Yes, drinking a lot of milk. Very sadly, the dairy commissioner is within the department. Labor questioned whether being part of the department the dairy commissioner would have the appropriate power to speak out against the Government. We found out that the dairy commissioner is not just a public servant but a contract public servant being paid $800 a day. If he says something wrong against the Government he will be gone. The bill restricts the right of anyone to protest, so what would the Government do to its own commissioner who says, "Mate, you're not doing the right thing by the dairy industry"?
Ms Sophie Cotsis: Gone.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: Yes, gone. It is the same everywhere I go. Farmers put such faith in the Government and they are being let down every single time. This bill is an example of hubris and hyperbole in an attempt to legislate before the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party do. The Government is really worried. How many seats did the minor parties pick up?
Ms Tamara Smith: Three.
Ms Sophie Cotsis: They want to increase their seats.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: Yes. Labor took one seat off the Government because the voters worked out that The Nationals are doing nothing to help the farmers of this State. The Government has lost four seats over the past couple of years. Another one was Ballina.
How many seats will this Government lose before it works out that it is not doing the right thing by farmers?
This bill is ill crafted, ill thought out and a panicked response to a political threat—just like the establishment of a dairy commissioner.
There is no provision in the legislation for a statutory review by the Ombudsman. They do not care about the impact of this legislation. If the legislation had a review mechanism it would ensure that any unintended consequences would be properly addressed and that the legislation could be reviewed to ensure that it achieves its intended effect.
But the intended effect is to say in Ballina, Orange, Barwon, Lismore and Murray, "We have still got your back. We are going to stop all protests in the State and we are going to threaten people with prison terms. But about your planning issue, we're not even going to talk about that because we've got a few mates in the development industry"—and they have a Minister who has a really close relationship with them at the moment!
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Ms Felicity Wilson): The member for Canterbury and the member for Lismore will come to order.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: Labor is supportive of animal welfare and the prevention of cruelty to animals. We will always support the rights of animals to be treated humanely in all aspects with their interactions with humans. It was the Wran Labor Government that introduced the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979, and Labor has continued this work.
The Hon. Mick Veitch took a comprehensive animal welfare policy, including a long overdue review of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, to the last election and Labor supports the inquiry that is currently being undertaken by a committee in the other place, although the inquiry reference does not go far enough.
We know that farmers are humane. I have spoken to many farmers over the years and particularly in the last couple of months. They love their animals. I note the member for Port Stephens, the shadow environment is in the Chamber. Farmers despair at the damage being done by uncontrolled feral pests to our environment and the impact of wiping out our native flora and fauna. Farmers have talked to me in Parliament House about their upset with the Government's lack of support for our native flora and fauna.
I have seen the way farmers treat their animals; they are very caring and careful. They do not want rogues in the industry who do not treat their animals humanely. Labor cannot support the situation where farmers who are undertaking lawful farming activities on their own land feel under siege by people who have decided, without any evidence, that they are not behaving in a humane or lawful manner. That is why we have the RSPCA and police look at those situations.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Ms Felicity Wilson): The member for Tweed will come to order.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: Farming in Australia has always been a difficult job. Farming provides food and fibre to our nation and to people around the world. Farmers face significant biosecurity risks and with the increasing globalisation of agriculture this is expanding all the time. They have legitimate concerns about their personal safety and the economic loss caused by on-farm activist activities. Farmers have had a major setback from the drought. According to the Australia Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, the gross value of production from our agriculture sector was down $1.5 billion in past 12 months and $13 billion in 2017‑18, down from approximately $14.5 billion the year before.
It is an industry in crisis. The Government is asleep at the wheel. It does nothing on development that is encroaching on urbanisation, yet in this Chamber slings legislation around.
Mr Michael Johnsen: What do you think this is about?
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: I acknowledge the interjection of the member for Upper Hunter and faux parliamentary secretary for dairy—or was it agriculture last week when he talked to chicken farmers? Which one is it? I am not quite sure.
Mr Michael Johnsen: Do you support the bill?
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Ms Felicity Wilson): Members will not interject and the member for Maitland will not seek interjections.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: I am just responding. I am making my contribution and the member is interjecting. Unless Government members are pushed on matters they do nothing. That is the whole point.
Mr Michael Johnsen: We won't get pushed by you.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Ms Felicity Wilson): The member for Upper Hunter will come to order.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: Communities in this State have or are just about to run out of water and farmers have been struggling for years in dustbowl conditions trying to hold onto their farms, their properties and their lives each and every day. What is the response of the Government to this crisis? It has lobbed up with this bill, without proper consultation with the Opposition.
I have asked the Minister and his office so many times to tell me what the Government is going to do. I wanted to consult. Anyone who has dealt with me in any of my shadow portfolios knows that I am the queen of consultation.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Ms Felicity Wilson): The member for Tweed will come to order.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: I want to make sure that everyone in our community who is impacted by legislation has the right to say what the impact will be on them. That is what leads to democracy, that is what leads to good outcomes and that is what will make farmers be able to sleep safely in their beds at night.
But no, the Government lobs up with a bill, without having properly consulted with the crossbench, the Opposition and the broader community on legislation that has the potential to limit the implied freedoms of political opinion for everyone in our community, including the very farmers that this Minister says he is protecting.
I am sure the Minister hopes that this bill will distract from his Government's hopeless management of water over the last 8½ years and its lack of support for farmers and farming communities who are struggling financially to survive.
Obviously the Government members have not read the bill and have not worked out that it has nothing to do with right to farm. It is not about right to farm. It is about the right to kick protesters in the guts and to lock them up and throw away the key. That is what it is about. The Labor Opposition has huge concerns with this bill.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Ms Felicity Wilson): The member for Upper Hunter will come to order.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: This is not right to farm legislation. It falls far short.
Ms Kate Washington: We have been on calls, Madam Temporary Speaker.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Ms Felicity Wilson): The member for Port Stephens will come to order.
Ms Kate Washington: Are you going to put me on a call for calling them out?
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Ms Felicity Wilson): I ask members to respect one another and come to order. The member for Port Stephens will not tell me how to call the House to order. The member for Port Stephens has made numerous interjections during the debate, as have other members on that side of the House.
Ms Kate Washington: That is absolutely not true, Madam Temporary Speaker.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Ms Felicity Wilson): The member for Port Stephens will not argue with me. I have asked members on both sides of the House to come to order. I have asked the member for Lismore, the member for Canterbury, the member for Upper Hunter and the member for Tweed to come to order. I have asked both sides of the House to allow the member for Maitland to speak to this bill without interjections and I have asked the member for Maitland not to seek interjections from either side of the House. I would hope that this House could maintain its own order and respect for this debate. If members will not, then they will be placed on calls to order.
The member for Maitland will resume her speech and members will be silent.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: This legislation will not detract in any way from the gross shortcomings of members on that side of the House, who have been asleep at the wheel over the last eight years, who have forgone any opportunity to support our farming and agricultural sector and who ignore at their peril the significant economic impact on our State through their mismanagement of water and their agricultural policy. We have seen farming industries and sectors go to the wall under their watch.
Labor has huge concerns with this bill. I go back to my remarks at the start of my speech. I know what it is like to be in an isolated place away from the protection of law enforcement agencies and to feel vulnerable to people coming onto your property. The Labor Opposition takes very seriously the damage that might be done to farmers, to their property and to their children.
But this is not right to farm legislation. The only right to farm in this legislation is in the title of the bill. The legislation falls far short. It is an attack on people's right to protest and goes far beyond what is intended.
Labor will not oppose the legislation in this place because we want the bill to go before the inquiry that is being undertaken in the other place.
We reserve the right to move or support amendments, based on a careful consideration of all of the evidence. We will not be rushed by Government members—who have been too lazy for eight long years to look after our agricultural sector—into taking away people's freedom to advocate for issues that are important to them.
Our final position will be determined by consultation with the community and the final shape of the bill after debate on any amendments.