Trespass news hits too close to home

Cally DupeCountryman
Ann RawlingsCountryman
Benger dairy farmer Michael Partridge.
Camera IconBenger dairy farmer Michael Partridge. Credit: Jon Gellweiler

As Michael Partridge prepared to chair a meeting in Harvey about animal activists in late February, he learnt news of one stunt too close for comfort.

WA Police revealed to him that day that his South West farm, White Rocks Dairy, may have been the target of animal activists, with the alleged theft of a live calf at the centre of their investigation.

The WAFarmers dairy section president is believed to be the first farmer in the State to have had an animal stolen in the current cyclone of Australia-wide activist activity.

“I was about to run the Calm Your Farm meeting, and then I was less calm than I should have been,” Mr Partridge said.

“People can have their own beliefs, but they shouldn’t come onto our farms and our homes. Our farms are our homes.”

WA Police last week alleged numerous offences — including that relating to Mr Partridge’s calf — were committed between August 2018 and February this year by six people, several of whom were associated with animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere.

In response, DAE released a photo of member James Warden allegedly “rescuing” the calf, slung over his shoulders.

Mr Warden, 25, and another activist were fined a combined $10,000 earlier this year for trespassing on Pinjarra piggery GD Pork, with the pair live-streaming their experience to thousands from inside the facility.

Mr Partridge said he was not aware activists may have been on his property until police contacted him on February 28.

“I was very concerned to find out that we were on Aussie Farms’ map,” he said.

“My family and staff have certainly been rattled by the fact that people may have been into our place in the middle of the night.

“We run a very open and transparent business and we are proud of what we do. A good, happy, healthy animal is more useful on our farm than not.”

Mr Partridge applauded the efforts of police.

“WA Police are taking this very seriously, which is great to see,” he said.

Five of the accused are facing charges including trespass and aggravated burglary and stealing, while a 36-year-old woman from Waroona has been charged with receiving stolen property.

While he recognised that such acts would be distressing to farmers, Regional WA Commander Allan Adams called on the farming community to maintain calm.

“Developments in regards to this matter can provide comfort to the primary producing industry that police take these matters seriously,” he said. “We call out all those involved in protest activity that there are repercussions in stepping over the line.”

Capel dairyman Mike Norton said animal activists were putting Australia’s international trade relations and biosecurity at risk.

“All States and the Commonwealth have assured us they intend to strengthen the laws regarding trespass,” he said.

With Federal election campaigns full steam ahead, the Morrison Government has promised tougher sanctions for animal activists, while WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan reiterated her support for tougher laws in Parliament on Thursday.

Ms MacTiernan said the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development had been collaborating with WA Police to support farmers.

“The Commissioner of Police has appointed four rural investigators in addition to the police stationed in the regions who are ready to support farmers who experience illegal acts of trespass, theft, damage, harassment, destruction or invasion of privacy,” she said.

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