Farmers in New South Wales have been facing an uphill battle as they seek to defend their rights under state agricultural laws, as new laws in Queensland and Victoria take effect.
The state’s agriculture minister has called for the introduction of a “feral animal” exemption to the laws which allow farmers to kill animals in breach of the laws, and the NSW Farmers Federation has vowed to challenge the laws.
Farmers are fighting the changes to the New South Welsh Farmers’ Bill of Rights in the High Court in Sydney.
The bill, which was passed last month, allows farmers to use lethal force if an animal poses an immediate and imminent threat to human health or safety, as well as if an action has been carried out in a “reasonable manner”.
The bill states that the “animal is a living being and is entitled to life, liberty and security of the person, including the right to life”.
However, the bill does not specifically address the use of deadly force in self-defence, nor does it specifically provide for the use by police of lethal force in a way that does not involve “reasonable and prudent means”.
The proposed amendments to the NSW bill, passed by a vote of 98-1, have not yet been tabled in the Senate.
A statement released by the NSW Federation on Tuesday said the new legislation “further limits the legal protections that farmers have for the lives of their animals”.
The statement said the changes would allow farmers “to kill animals without fear of legal repercussion”.
“We welcome the NSW government’s commitment to improve the protections afforded farmers and protect their rights,” it said.
However, a spokesman for the NSW Fair Trading Association, which represents agricultural producers, said the proposed amendments were “not a big step forward” in protecting farmers’ animals.
“The NSW Fair Trade Association has been calling for these changes for years,” he said.
“We think this is a good step forward.”
The NSW Farmers’ Federation has already appealed the changes, with a federal court judge set to rule on the case later this month.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the federation said the legislation “was rushed through without due consideration to the serious human rights implications of the proposed legislation”.
“The legislation is unnecessary, unfair and discriminatory,” it added.
The new laws will be applied to all agricultural products in NSW, including dairy products, and will have an effect on farming operations in the state, which is home to about 80% of the country’s dairy farms.
The Australian Greens party is also urging the government to change the legislation so that it can be “considered by parliament, not the courts”.
The party has been critical of the bill’s provisions which would allow “torture” of animals for purposes such as killing them in “humane and responsible ways”, and the proposal to exempt the use in self defence of farmers from the criminal law.
“This is not about animal rights, it’s about human rights,” Greens parliamentary secretary Adam Bandt said.