Ms JO HAYLEN (Summer Hill) (11:48): The Right to Farm Bill 2019 attempts to lay out a framework to protect farmers from threats to their operations and focuses on dealing with nuisance complaints, activists' accessing inclosed farmlands and court injunctions on farming activities. Let us be clear: This bill is about trying to fulfil an election promise of The Nationals. However, it falls well short of its intended purpose and fails to meaningful deal with the greatest threats to farming in New South Wales, which are land-use changes and the encroachment of urban sprawl. This bill tries to legislate arrogant promises that were desperately made on the fly in regional electorates across New South Wales during an election campaign. The reality is that laws based on hubris do not work. The Nationals members love to talk up the divides between the city and the country, but their bluster does us all a great disservice.
Residents in my community in the inner west of Sydney understand the pressures faced by our farmers and regional communities. Local schools in my electorate have hosted gold coin and "Fiver for a Farmer" fundraisers, local pubs have thrown "Parma for a Farmer" events, and a Marrickville refrigerator company recently helped transport food donated to Drought Angels to drought-affected communities. As well as the human compassion and concerns we have for farmers and their families who are doing it tough throughout the worst drought on record, we also understand the risks to our State's economy and to food security. As our population continues to rapidly grow, so too does the pressure on New South Wales farmers to produce enough food to feed us all.
Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney [UTS] Institute for Sustainable Futures have shown that the capacity of farms on the outskirts of Sydney—known as peri-urban farms—to produce our city's food is dwindling. In 2011 peri-urban farms supplied 20 per cent of Sydney's food supply. On current trends they will produce only 6 per cent of Sydney's fresh food by 2031. This decimation of peri-urban farming poses real risks to Sydney's food security. Without that source of food we will increase food miles. Food will have to travel further to get to our tables, increasing our emissions. Also, we cannot sustain ourselves. If supply routes to the city were cut off by bushfire or other means, Sydney would only have enough food for two days. Despite what The Nationals members will tell you, the greatest risk to our farmers is not "vegan activists" but rather the encroachment of urban sprawl onto prime agricultural land. We are quite literally paving over our food bowl.
The UTS researchers laid out a series of measures to remedy the problem and better protect farmers. They highlighted four needs: better commercial conditions; a fair price for commodities; land security; and support from other residents. This bill is silent on the first three points. If this bill was serious about enshrining the "right to farm" it would address land security, amongst other issues. However, it does attempt to find a middle ground in the fourth area by establishing a so-called nuisance shield to protect farmers from resident complaints. We are subdividing farms at an alarming rate. As residents move into their shiny new homes they often find that they do not like living next to farms and they make complaints to their local councils about noises, smells and other by-products of agriculture. Those councils then apply residential noise regulations that often cause substantial disruptions to farming businesses, even when the farms have been there for generations.
It is a common story that many inner west industrial businesses and pubs have also faced as shiny new developments have sprung up next door. There are examples where single resident complaints have shut down live music at pubs or activities at industrial complexes that have been in operation for decades if not longer. In those scenarios the attempt in the bill to protect farmers from nuisance complaints is a good thing. However, there is another scenario that deserves consideration: the case of neighbours who have happily coexisted with neighbouring farms for decades, only to face increased health or environmental impacts as more intensive agricultural practices are taken up.
For example, in July this year a macadamia farm in the Northern Rivers was fined following a neighbour's complaint that a chemical spray was improperly used, causing chemical drift onto neighbouring properties. As a result of the complaint, the farming business was fined $1,000 for failing to keep accurate logs, which would have been the only way to prove or disprove whether the chemical drift occurred in the circumstances, and it was issued with a further caution for not holding a licence to undertake ground applicator work. When issued the warning about the secondary offence, the farmer admitted that he did not know a licence was required. The complaint did not shut down the business or place undue pressure on the farmer. In fact, it led to better farm practices. Whilst I support the need to protect farmers against nuisance complaints, we have to get the balance right and ensure that neighbouring residents are also protected from adverse impacts as agricultural practices intensify on our shrinking farmland.
I now turn to the aspects of the bill that seek to amend the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901. These changes expose the bill for the Nationals vote-buying exercise that it is. The Nationals scaremongering on animal rights "vegan protesters" is utter nonsense. Every resident in New South Wales has a democratic right to protest. It is one of our fundamental civil liberties, a point that the Minister himself made in his second reading speech. I am in no way a vegan and am a committed lover of meat—something I may admit to my own detriment as an inner westie. But I do understand the concerns raised by many in my community and across New South Wales about animal rights and the growth of industrial and factory farming. I understand the community's horror at videos of livestock crammed into sweltering ships in the live export trade and their frustration at practices that intensify the cycle of impregnation and milking in the dairy industry.
I understand the anger people feel when they learn about atrocious conditions on poultry farms, including battery cages, chick-shredding and beak‑clipping. I understand their rage when they see videos of farrowing crates or other abuses in intensive piggeries. However, I note that most of the shocking footage we have seen in some factory farms has been exposed by farm workers, not vegan activists.
The vast majority of people who care about animal rights, including me, share values of compassion and fairness, and they have every right to express those values. On the whole, those activists protest peacefully. I do not support some of the tactics employed by more extreme animal rights activists, but I agree that we cannot continue to allow the worst atrocities of factory farming to persist unabated. We need comprehensive laws to improve the standards by which farm animals live and die. That work has to be done by governments that show leadership in the interests of animal welfare. I note that the New South Wales Government was criticised and accused of colluding with the poultry industry to stymie more substantive reform on battery hens when the standards were up for public comment in 2017.
The work of improving standards must also be done by consumers. I note the important work of CHOICE in my electorate. Its "Give a Cluck" campaign went a long way to increase public awareness of free-range egg standards. Finally, the work of improving animal standards must also happen in the community, and I acknowledge the important work of the many organisations, activists and community members who rightly will not stand for substandard practices that lead to animal suffering and misery. [Extension of time]
This Government—and The Nationals in particular—has decided that animal rights activists are the problem, but this bill raises significant questions about the rights of all people to protest in New South Wales. In 2016 the Government wound back the rights of environmental protesters at mining sites. Now it is again expanding the remit of the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901 to prohibit protest, this time targeting animal rights activists. However, the bill has been drafted in such a way that it is unclear who else will be affected. In casting such a wide net, will the bill impact on the rights of the Knitting Nannas Against Gas and Greed to protest against coal seam gas activities?
Will it impact on protesters concerned about logging or on those who want to raise their voices against this Government's plans to sell off the Forestry Corporation? Will it affect protesters against coalmines or fracking, or even farmers themselves who are sick of seeing the loss of prime agricultural land to the minerals industry? Will it impact on farming communities who want to protest the onslaught of residential development on our farmlands? Will it impact on the rights of union organisers seeking to assist workers on the job in farming? The Minister acknowledged that some of the most dangerous work occurring in our State at the moment is on farms.
There can be no doubt that by tinkering with the Inclosed Lands Act of 1901 the National Party is opening a can of worms and it does not know the consequences. To top it off the bill increases the penalty of trespass to $22,000 and the penalty for "aggravated unlawful entry in inclosed lands" from $5,500 to $22,000, three years imprisonment, or both. These penalties are completely disproportionate and an utter disgrace. They are designed to intimidate and bully not only animal activists, but all protesters in New South Wales. The bill does not protect the rights of citizens to peacefully protest and work towards balance. The Nationals have come into this place and have demonised activists as a way to appeal to their political base. That is absolutely craven and it is an ill-advised, petty, political stunt.
I note that this bill comes at the same time as the meeting of The Nationals Federal Council—only a fortnight ago—when it was decided that cracking down on almond and soy milk being called "milk" was a national priority. The drought, climate change, biodiversity loss, our stalling economy, water or The Nationals' decimation of our river systems were not given priority—but almond milk was. This bill is a political stunt that tries to blame farmers' problems on protesters and activists. Given its track record, I say that the biggest threat to farming communities is the leadership of the National Party under John Barilaro. This bill is not a law enshrining the right to farm because it does not address the loss of prime agricultural land to residential development, to mining or other land uses. It does not work to protect farmers who are protesting the expansion of fracking or mining on their land or the loss of their land.
The bill does not work to better balance the New South Wales planning system, which deprioritises agricultural land and views it merely as blank space ripe for development. The bill does not work to raise the price of commodities for agricultural products or even institute stricter procurement regulations within Government to supercharge local producers—an issue I hear about regularly in my community. It does not seek to bring those concerned with animal welfare to the table in a respectful debate so that we can strike a better deal. It does none of these things. In fact it is just more of the same from John Barilaro's Nationals. The bill is poorly drafted and is a political stunt. It is a good thing that it has been referred to an upper House committee inquiry because there are many questions that remain unanswered about its implications.