Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (4.09 pm): I rise to speak to the Agriculture and Other Legislation Amendment Bill. This omnibus bill sprawls across 18 acts and four regulations. It covers a wide range of issues regarding risks posed by animal activists and extremists, biosecurity zones, animal welfare, animal welfare inspectors, debt mediation, removing wild stock and abandoned vehicles in state forests, changes to the Nature Conservation Act, Queensland Racing Integrity Commission responsibilities and the traceability of goats.
This government has previous form in limiting time frames for public consultation and investigation by the committee, ramming bills through the parliament to prevent fair and reasonable time for debate on massive bills covering such a wide range of matters that not everything could be given fair consideration. The Queensland Law Society again criticised the process. They said, ‘We have been disadvantaged in the preparation of the submission as a result of the constrained timetable as there has been only a very brief opportunity to review the amendment to the various acts. An in-depth analysis has not been conducted. It is possible there are issues relating to fundamental legislative principles or unintended drafting consequences which have not been identified.’ The opposition supports many aspects of this bill. However, I foreshadow that I will be moving amendments regarding animals in hot vehicles and illegal dog baiting during the consideration in detail.
They have been circulated in this House today. I also raise concerns at this point about the amendments that have been dropped here today without due consideration by the committee that do wind up the Queensland Agricultural Training Colleges. I will say more about that towards the end of this speech.
This government is continuously slow to act on the issues that concern Queenslanders. It is now 13 months since the LNP opposition called for action on animal extremists. It is nine months since the LNP introduced its private member’s bill in May last year. We have also shown the way on animals in hot vehicles when we announced our policy almost two years ago in April 2018 to crack down on criminal baiting of pet dogs.
Unauthorised entry by animal activist protesters to places where animals are kept is becoming more frequent and more aggressive. These protests produce fear and anger amongst those who are targeted. They must deal with masked people creeping around in the middle of the night, damaging property, turning off water to pigs and letting out animals. It causes distress. It is an invasion of privacy and someone’s right to be secure in their own home. This type of protest action has adverse economic impacts and poses risks to human safety, animal welfare, biosecurity and food safety. Unauthorised entry onto places where animals are kept could introduce or spread an animal disease. People can carry and spread many serious diseases on their skin, clothing, footwear, vehicles and equipment if strict biosecurity measures are not maintained.
There are also diseases such as swine flu which can be spread by contact between humans and animals. These are not dramatic claims. The current threat from African swine fever, if it reaches our shores, could decimate the pig industry. Any transmission of animal diseases will have significant economic, environmental and regional community impacts. It could devastate Queensland’s $6 billion livestock industry and be catastrophic for our regional communities.
Former Queensland Farmers’ Federation CEO, Travis Tobin, questioned whether businesses should have to wear losses from both production and funding of more security. He told the committee— There is also a lot of damage in dollars with the business interruption … There were repeat offences at the Mount Cotton poultry processing facility. They have estimated their costs at $50,000 each time in lost production, but there are also stresses on the birds that are in the chain coming through. How you put a value on that I do not know … some pig farms have had trespass offences three times. One of them has now spent up to $70,000 on protecting their business. The same thing is happening at processing facilities, where they are spending a lot of money on security measures.
You have to question whether it is appropriate that the business should have to not only incur the cost of the impact of the trespass but then spend even more money to protect themselves from future invasion. It is very real on a personal level and it is very real on a financial level.
Animal extremists must be held to account. Let me be very clear. People have a right to protest but no-one is above the law. It is simply unacceptable that fringe groups are allowed to terrorise farmers.
Their activities endanger both humans and animals. Our farmers should not be held to ransom by animal extremist groups. That is why the LNP introduced our private member’s bill nine months ago in May last year. We cannot allow these militant and extreme minorities to hold to ransom our hardworking farmers and those working in the agricultural supply chain. We welcome the fact that the government is finally taking some action on this serious issue. Unfortunately, the penalties are manifestly weak. We need strong deterrents to deter these extremists who are backed by well-resourced and organised third parties. In May Labor increased fines to just $652.17. It is blatantly inadequate—a slap with a wet lettuce leaf. It is hollow lip-service.
The Australian Pork Ltd submission states that while it supports the bill’s crackdown on animal extremists it should complement the LNP’s bill. It also implores all decision-makers in the criminal justice system to apply more appropriate weighting to the damaging effects that farm invasions and threatening behaviour have on livestock producers. A better alternative would be to have three new criminal offences to bolster our trespass laws: aggravated trespass with a maximum three years imprisonment— Mr WHITING: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise to a point of order.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Weir): I think I am anticipating what the member for Bancroft is going to say. Is it that the member is talking about a bill that is not yet before the House?
Mr WHITING: Yes.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: I would caution the member for Gympie. We are talking about the
Agriculture and Other Legislation Amendment Bill, not the private member’s bill that is yet to come before the House. I ask you to please speak to the current bill.
Mr PERRETT: Thank you for your guidance. Reasonable people are appalled when they see evidence of animal cruelty. Animals should be treated compassionately. No-one is more concerned about animal welfare than farmers and primary producers. We do not condone animal cruelty. The LNP welcomes the government’s adoption of our plan to increase penalties for people who leave animals locked in hot vehicles. We announced that plan almost two years ago in April 2018.
Every year, Queensland’s RSPCA receives thousands of reports of animals trapped in hot vehicles. A dog can die in just six minutes in a hot vehicle. Unfortunately, those responsible are rarely prosecuted. The LNP acted on this two years ago and proposed a new offence to tackle the problem.
We support this specific offence, but it would be better if the penalties aligned with the cruelty offences under the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001. As previously foreshadowed, I will be moving amendments to align this offence with the act.
I will also move amendments to align illegal dog baiting with section 18 of the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001. Illegal dog baiting is already prohibited under the act as a specific offence, and this will increase the penalties. Currently, baiting an animal has a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment or $40,035. This does not align with the offence of animal cruelty, which has a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment or $266,900. We need to close this legal loophole. The penalties for illegal dog baiting should be the same as penalties for animal cruelty. Offenders should not get off with a slap on the wrist. Baiting pets is a heartless act. This is about the treatment of animals that have been illegally killed. No pet should have to endure a deliberate, long and painful death because of criminal activities. I urge support for the LNP’s amendments to align penalties for leaving animals in hot cars and illegal dog baiting with section 18 of the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001.
Tackling biosecurity risks quickly and efficiently guarantees the viability of the agricultural sector.
Diseases, pests and weeds can wipe out whole regions and sectors if governments are slow to act.
I note the amendment regarding biosecurity zones. This amendment aims to facilitate more timely amendment of a biosecurity zone. This will be done by enabling the chief executive to approve the amendment of a biosecurity zone map if a regulation refers to it as being ‘as in force from time to time’.
The map may be amended on an as needs basis if the distribution of a pest or disease changes or if information becomes available to change knowledge of the pest’s distribution. Biosecurity zone maps must be publicly available on the department’s website and the chief executive must inform affected stakeholders of changes to the biosecurity zones. I am seeking an assurance from the minister that amendments to the Biosecurity Act 2014 will not have unintended consequences for farmers and graziers in their daily farm management activities.
Two amendments propose empowering animal welfare inspectors and provide for the use of body worn cameras. We need to approach this with caution. It is important that officers are not overzealous and that power is not abused. Trust and confidence in the system is diminished when overzealousness trumps rights. Of course we want to protect and ensure the welfare of animals.
However, there is legitimate concern that departmental officers and non-government bodies are being granted undue and unfettered powers. Michael Cope, the president of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, told the committee that the use of such technology by police was different because they have a strong oversight function. This is not the case here. He said—
For other officials, the potential abuse of such cameras by a large number of government officials in terms of surveillance …
outweighs the benefits to be gained for an extra accountability in the context of their much more limited powers in comparison to those of the police.
The QCCL also raised suggestions that body worn cameras may conflict with the Human Rights Act. The government’s habit of granting increased powers to government officials has already seen excessive powers given to the tree police in vegetation management and the fishing industry. The member for Condamine, the deputy chair of the committee, asked—
You talk about the powers of an inspector, specifically around cameras, but we have seen extended powers to inspectors under the Vegetation Management Act, under the Water Act and under the fishing legislation. What makes this any different?
Mr Cope answered—
Probably because we did not see that legislation and did not have the opportunity to state our opposition to it. … You have surprised me to tell me that this has happened before. … we are just an organisation of volunteers so we cannot read every bill that gets passed, but if we had known about it we would have turned up and said what I have just said.
A trial of the use of body worn cameras is still being designed and decisions are still to be made about how widely they will be deployed. While the LNP does not oppose this measure, we are seeking clarity about the rollout and assurances that this will be sorted as soon as possible. We are also seeking a guarantee that the body worn cameras will not breach the government’s Human Rights Act.
Currently feral rangeland goats are exempted from having approved identification devices or tags before being moved in certain situations. The government wants to make changes because it claims that audits indicate that these exemptions are being misused. This measure is strongly opposed by AgForce, the Goat Industry Council Australia and the Australian Meat Industry Council. Not only was AgForce not consulted on this amendment; it completely contradicts previously agreed and accepted national practices. Those practices have allowed tag-free movements from the property of origin direct to the abattoir or registered goat depot. Operating procedures were changed in February 2016 with the support of the government and AgForce. It is concerning that the government claims peak industry stakeholders support this amendment when they clearly do not and that changes are based on claims of audits of which no-one has any knowledge.
The Goat Industry Council and the Australian Meat Industry Council are members of the Safemeat Partnership. Page 27 of the explanatory notes claims that the Safemeat Partnership supports amendments relating to its goats. It states—
The Safemeat Partnership … includes the Goat Industry Council of Australia. The Safemeat Partnership supports the proposed amendments relating to goats.
This is not ambiguous. A joint submission from both the Goat Industry Council and the Australian Meat Industry Council has outright this claim refuted. It said—
This statement is in fact untrue. The … Bill has not been presented to SafeMeat partnerships for a position to be provided. Neither AMIC or GICA have had the opportunity to review the proposed legislation through SafeMeat partnerships, nor was either organisation consulted directly.
It also says—
… the issue of harvested rangeland goat exemptions, sold direct to slaughter or directly to a registered goat depot, has been discussed at SafeMeat Partnerships with GICA and AMIC who are both members of SafeMeat Partners consistently and strongly rejected this proposal.
This issue was raised as recently as June 26 2019, where the minutes for SafeMeat Partners Group meeting No 63 record GICA’s opposition to the removal of tagging exemptions.
‘GICA did not support removing tagging exemptions for rangeland goats (this issue has also been brought into the development of the sheep and goat standards).’
… it is misleading for the explanatory notes to state SafeMeat Partners supports the amendment.
Their position is clear and unequivocal. AgForce said in its submission—
AgForce has not been consulted on this proposed amendment.
I am extremely concerned that these stakeholders have been misrepresented. Moreover, support for the amendment is based upon claims that an audit showed the exemptions were being misused.
No-one is aware of any audit—not AgForce, not Queensland’s largest goat meat processing facility, not the Goat Industry Council or the Australian Meat Industry Council. The AgForce submission states clearly—
AgForce is unaware of any such audits and upon advice from Western Meat Exporters, Queensland’s largest goat meat processing facility based in Charleville which processes approximately 95% of Queensland’s rangeland goats, no issues relating to untagged goats originating from other places are evident. … they have never been notified of any breaches regarding the ‘direct to meat works’ exemption and that the existing 10-day tag exemption system for ‘depots’ works very well.
The AMIC and the GICA are also unaware of the audit.
Despite claims in the explanatory notes, AMIC and the GICA are unaware of any evidence that rangeland goat movements are being processed without adequate control or misusing exemptions.
AgForce CEO Michael Guerin told the committee—
… neither the Australian Meat Industry Council nor the Goat Industry Council of Australia are aware of any evidence where rangeland goat movements were processed without adequate control or where misuse of the current exemptions is taking place.
This demonstrates that the existing 10-day tag exemption system for direct to meatworks and registered depots works very well, with any issues that may have been identified affecting a very small percentage of processed rangeland goats. AgForce suggests that a wide consultation of affected stakeholders has been non-existent and strongly recommends that the committee disregard the proposed removal of section 180(c) from the Biosecurity Act 2014.
Patrick Bell, DAF’s General Manager, Strategy and Legislation, admitted to the committee that consultation had not occurred with AgForce. He said—
Going back to the AgForce presentation, it is incumbent on me to advise the committee that the consultation occurred at the national level. Because of the nature of feral goats, it occurred with Safemeat and the Goat Industry Council of Australia.
These are the very same organisations which state they never supported the amendments.
These matters are extremely concerning on three fronts: firstly, that claims of support from the AMIC and the GICA were grossly wrong and they were misrepresented; secondly, when it was raised that AgForce was never consulted, the response was that the consultation occurred with the AMIC and the GICA, the very same organisations which were misrepresented; thirdly, there is no-one in the industry who can verify claims or find evidence of an audit which is used to justify the proposals.
AgForce advised the committee that the amendment contradicts previously agreed industry NLIS standards for operating a goat depot and user manual. Patrick Bell told the committee— There seems to have been a misunderstanding about goat harvesting and movements no longer being able to be achieved once this exemption has been considered. That is not the case. The very case of the standard operating procedures that have been worked through at the national level provide for the goats to move under very similar circumstances to how they are at the moment from rangeland property, untagged through to the holding facility or … the depot, and then subsequently through to the abattoir.
There is not a significant deal of difference other than that section 180E of the act will now be the mechanism under which those activities are regulated.
Section 180E provides for what is known as an inspector’s approval or a travel approval to be provided to industry participants to manage the movement of rangeland feral goats and other goats from farm through to depot, holding depot and then through to abattoir. We will take some action to clarify that situation, and that is the mechanism through which we will be implementing this national situation.
We are seeking confirmation from the minister in his summing-up regarding DAF’s advice. If the minister cannot confirm the advice, the LNP suggests this amendment not be enacted until there is full and meaningful consultation with the industry.
There are concerns about the amendments to remove wild stock in a state forest, timber reserve, forest entitlement or forest consent area. We appreciate that wild stock can cause a range of problems from grazing, damage to trees, road safety hazards and to forestry operations. The bill amends the Forestry Act 1959 to reduce the pre-muster notification period for wild stock to five business days. It also requires the notice to be given only to neighbouring landholders and those who are reasonably believed to be the stock owners. These amendments will change the required amount of notification.
The chief executive will no longer be required to insert two notices of the intended muster in a local newspaper or provide notices at the nearest forestry office, every local district Magistrates Court and every local district stock inspector. The explanatory notes state—
Instead the amendments require the chief executive to give each landholder adjoining the area where the stock are, a notice advising of the muster and instead of providing this notice 28 days prior, it only needs to be provided to relevant landholders and persons believed to be the owner five days prior to the muster. The notice must state the owner may claim the stock within 14 days after the notice is given.
The reduced notice period and removal of the public notification required may impact stock owners’ rights and liberties. It reduces opportunities to be notified that their stock is about to be mustered and reclaimed. In a situation where a stock owner’s land does not adjoin the muster areas, they will not receive any muster notice if the chief executive is unaware that they might be the owner. This raises serious practical considerations. AgForce said—
Following discussions with our northern members who have utilised the Cape York mustering process, it is recommended that the proposed five (5) Business Days’ notice of the actual date of a muster, be extended to ten (10).
AgForce recommends at least a 14-day notice period to claim the stock from the date of the actual muster, with such information published on the Department’s website.
The Queensland Law Society said—
There are significant consequences if an owner of stock is not notified, for example, under new section 72(6A(b)), the chief executive may sell, destroy or otherwise dispose of the stock.
It proposes that the public notification be amended to require notification on the department’s website, while AgForce proposes an extension on the number of days notice and a 14-day notice period to claim stock. The LNP supports its concerns.
Naturally, farming is subject to the vagaries of external factors. Sometimes liquidity is strained.
The bill aims to extend the debt mediation process by extending access to mediation to additional farmers and to clarify that other affected persons may participate. Under the current debt process, farmers and mortgagees are required to try mediation to resolve farm debt issues. Mortgagees are obliged to offer mediation before enforcement procedures are instigated. This requirement does not consider family and property ownership structures. Currently, some farmers who have borrowed to buy a property may be excluded from mediation because the property is held in a different name. Other people with an interest in a property, such as a partner and other borrowers, can be excluded. We welcome the amendments to expand access to other vested interests such as partners and borrowers.
Among other issues in this large omnibus bill are changes to the Nature Conservation Act and to the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission’s responsibilities. Today we saw the minister table amendments that will repeal the Queensland Agricultural Training Colleges Act. I raise serious concern with what is being proposed, in the first instance that this has not gone through the committee process.
This could have been included. As the minister earlier indicated in his speech, the government made the decision to close these colleges more than 12 months ago. I suggest to the minister that if he had been genuine in terms of this going to public consultation then it would have been included in the bill he introduced and notification would have been given with respect to these changes.
We know that some serious concerns were raised right across Queensland by myriad parties that have an interest in making certain that agricultural training continues in this state. The process that we saw to close these colleges—particularly in terms of the review undertaken by Professor Coaldrake, with the suggestions and the fact that he donated to the Labor Party through that process for which he was handsomely renumerated—raises serious concerns about the authenticity of the government’s decision. I raise those concerns. I have not had a chance to thoroughly read through those amendments but certainly will before we move into consideration in detail. I flag those concerns on behalf of rural Queenslanders and students who have attended these agricultural training colleges in this state.
As I indicated, the opposition supports many aspects of this bill; however, I will be moving amendments regarding animals in hot vehicles and penalties for illegal dog baiting.