The NSW Government's Right to Farm Bill which is currently before the NSW Legislative Council has been very widely criticised by lawyers, unionists and environmentalists because of its scope and harsh penalties.
The Bill purports to be about protecting farmers from people going onto their land and disturbing their farming activities and is claimed to be in response to animal rights protests on farms. However, it appears to be a further attempt by the Government to limit the right of people to peacefully protest - a right which is a cornerstone of our democracy.
The Bill deals with "inclosed lands". This covers many more locations than farms. The term includes industrial worksites, forests, mine sites, schools and banks and other commercial operations.
Was this an oversight - the unintended consequence of a poorly drafted piece of legislation? If it was, the Government could easily amend it so that it only applied to farms and dealt with farm trespass.
However, despite the criticism already received, the Government does not seem interested in doing this. So it would appear that the broad scope of the Bill is exactly what was intended.
Furthermore, those concerned about the over-reach in this Bill claim
that the Government already has adequate laws to deal effectively with
The Government's fear of public protest started it on this path to attacking the rights of protesters several years ago. Its anti-protest laws in 2016 led to the introduction of very heavy fines and prison terms.
It would seem that those draconian measures are now regarded as insufficient to intimidate those who want to protest, who want to shine a light on practices or policies by government or others that are unsustainable or unjust.
The current Bill increases penalties even further. The penalty for someone acting alone is a fine of $13,200 or a year's imprisonment or both. Those acting with two or more people are liable to a fine of $22,000 or imprisonment for three years.
Penalties such as these are intended to intimidate community members so that they will be wary about undertaking protests in inclosed lands for fear they will be fined or imprisoned.
Major environmental issues - particularly in State Forest management and the growing catastrophic biodiversity loss - highlight the need for community action - including protests - to alert the broader community and encourage the Government to improve its stewardship of our natural world.
As it stands this Bill is an attack on an important democratic right. It also highlights why Australia needs a Bill of Rights, something most other liberal democracies have to help protect citizens' rights.