CONSIDERATION IN DETAIL: Right to Farm Bill 2019
Updated: 4 days ago
I speak for the Opposition on the upper House amendments to the Right to Farm Bill 2019, which were canvassed last night and spoke to the need for better drafting and consideration of the bill in the first instance.
The fact that so many amendments were moved by the Government and by members of the crossbench in the other place with support from the Government speaks to the lack of clarity in the Government's speeches, rhetoric and hubris about what it wanted to achieve with this bill.
Although the Opposition agrees that these amendments make the bill slightly better, overall it is still a very difficult bill for the Opposition to support.
For example, in relation to the definition of "commercial agricultural activities", the Opposition previously talked about the failure of the Government to make those amendments. The Opposition does support that there is some definition around those activities but we note that Crown lands will still be picked up by this legislation. As the Hon. Mick Veitch clearly stated in the other place, there will be some Crown lands impacted by this bill that should have been carved out.
When we have a Deputy Premier who is threatening to de‑gazette National Parks, a Treasurer who has admitted that he is scoping out the privatisation of State forests and a Government that is intent on privatisation at all costs, I foresee that farmers who are protecting those Crown land sites will be caught up in the bill as it now stands. I foresee a very poor situation.
That is why the Labor Opposition has said from the start that if the Government intended to amend the definition of "commercial agricultural activities"—which it has done in the upper House on the constitution of nuisance—it should ensure that it took out activities where farmers are not living on a property. That is completely outside the remit of what Government members spoke about and what the Government planned to do.
I will also speak about the issue of union activities and industrial action. I understand the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and the Government negotiated an amendment in relation to permitted union activities. The amendment came to the upper House last night and was the second amendment to that part of the proposed amendments. The problem is that it does not necessarily remove all industrial union action. The Opposition made this very clear to the Government. The Industrial Relations Act 1906 is easy to get your head around but the Fair Work Act 2009 is very complicated and a lot of regulations sit under it. There could be a situation where someone is technically in breach of the Fair Work Act but at the time they undertook an industrial action they did not believe they were in breach.
They might act in good faith with regard to their industrial aims but later down the track Fair Work may find that they have breached it technically. It might be just that they did not get their papers to the right place at the right time but they would then have to come back into this bill. Labor is concerned about that.
The issue goes to the broader concern that if the Government wanted to deal with Labor it would have spoken to us and taken our advice on board. A number of industrial organisers who have had this experience have confirmed our views. They have lived experience. Government people are saying, "I don't have industrial law experience but I am a lawyer," but that is not enough to satisfy us. They are the two biggest issues the Opposition has dealt with through amendments at the moment.
Overall, amendments can make this bill better, but they cannot make it right.
We moved the amendments to schedule 2 because there is a broad consensus across much of Parliament—unfortunately not the right amount—that schedule 2 to the bill is not clear enough. I encourage members to read the Hansard of the upper House.
While I spoke in this place about how the reproductive clinics safe access zones could be a kind of vehicle that could be used, the Hon. Mark Latham spoke in the other place about the Levy case in Victoria and exclusion zones against duck hunters. Again, that was tested and found to be reasonable.
We 100 per cent support the right of farmers to live on their land free from intimidation, harassment and bullying by activists. I wanted very much to support this bill, but the Government did not wait for the agricultural commissioner—who we still have not seen anywhere on the horizon—who was supposed to be implementing this legislation. This was a stunt. The Government was trying to beat another party—the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party—to introduce legislation.
We have ended up with a very poor, shoddy bill that has created division.
We all know that the drought is biting for our farmers. Communities in our rural, regional and remote areas are fighting very intense fires at the moment. This is the time to bring communities together, not to lob out bills that make those divisions even greater.
If the Government wanted to work in good faith it would not have voted against a review of the legislation, which was another aspect of it. If the Government is so sure that this shoddily crafted and now amended patchwork of ideas that it is calling a bill is going to work it would have allowed for a review. That is what good governments do. They look for unintended consequences throughout the process of getting legislation through and they ensure they then have the capacity, intention and commitment to undertake a review.
That did not happen in this case.
I thank members of NSW Farmers for their assistance in working through this bill. I thank the Minister's office staff for the briefings they gave me and I thank my crossbench colleagues in both Houses, who have tried to make this bill better.
I am very sad that it is not the bill it should have been.