Pollies in a stew over trespassing

Jenne Brammer, Zach Relph and Callum HunterCountryman
WAFarmers dairy section president and Brunswick farmer Michael Partridge.
Camera IconWAFarmers dairy section president and Brunswick farmer Michael Partridge. Credit: Jon Gellweiler

Farmers want tougher trespass laws to help deter invasions by vegan activists but the Premier and WA Agriculture Minister are at odds over whether current penalties are harsh enough.

Mark McGowan said this week current trespass laws needed to be reviewed and that he and the Police Minister would investigate tougher penalties.

His comments have been welcomed by the agriculture sector, but contradict Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan’s claims in January — after her Federal counterpart David Littleproud urged States to review and beef up laws — that current penalties of a year imprisonment and a $12,000 fine were already a significant deterrent.

Nationals WA leader Mia Davies said in times of unrest, the agricultural sector needed a clear direction and message from elected leaders, yet it was not getting this from the McGowan Government.

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Regional communities have been left fearful and shaken following the increase in animal activist trespass incidents, including one where James Warden and an unnamed woman from the Direct Action Everywhere group allegedly broke into a West Pinjarra piggery and filmed pigs.

Both have since been charged with trespass.

That followed an ugly confrontation weeks earlier, where punches were thrown and a shotgun fired after Mr Warden arrived unannounced at a Harvey dairy farmer’s property and started filming calves.

In January, charity Aussie Farms released a controversial map of farmers’ locations throughout Australia, prompting sheep farmer Geoff Charteris, of Wilga, near Donnybrook, to start a petition calling for a review of legislation to protect landholders.

Signed nearly 500 times, the petition has been tabled in Parliament by WA Nationals agriculture spokesman Colin de Grussa, and more signatures are being collected.

Mr Charteris said as many rural families lived and worked on the same property, rural crimes generated tremendous fear and a sense of insecurity. “It is frustrating that even if successfully prosecuted, perpetrators of rural crimes only pay minimal fines,” he said.

Separately, WAFarmers hosted a meeting in Harvey on Thursday, where lawyers and police shared information with about 60 farmers about their rights if targeted by an animal activist member or group.

WA Farmers dairy section president Michael Partridge said the meeting left people better informed.

“There was good information about how to keep ourselves on the right side of the law,” he said.

“People are anxious ... we just want to do our job, and these people are getting in our faces.”

The meeting came after a string of demonstrations and trespass incidents by animal activists, including a break-in at a Pinjarra piggery and drones being flown over Harvey Beef yards.

“This action by authorities should give farmers confidence to go about their daily business without interruption,” WA Farmers president Tony York said.

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