The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) welcomes the Federal Government’s inclusion of wood processing businesses in its new laws to crack down on farm invasions, with the amendments supported near-unanimously today in the Senate.
AFPA CEO, Mr Ross Hampton said the broadening of the definition of forestry industries in the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill to include forestry processing facilities such as sawmills and pulp and paper mills provides greater protection for Australia’s sustainable, renewable forestry industries from illegal protests by extremist activists.
“For decades forest workplaces have been subject to aggressive and damaging interference from activists with disastrous financial impacts on lawful businesses, despite Australia having some of the most sustainable, regulated forestry practices in the world,” Mr Hampton said.
“The inclusion of forestry in these new laws sends a strong message of support for the 80,000 workers in our sustainable forest industries that they should be allowed to go about their lawful business without fear of having their livelihoods compromised by illegal protests”.
The Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill, which creates a criminal offence under Commonwealth law if a person incites trespass, property damage or theft on agricultural land, comes with penalties of up to five years imprisonment.
“The near-unanimous support from the Government, Opposition and cross-bench for the inclusion of forestry sends a strong message to our farmers and foresters that our lawmakers understand how serious this issue is and are prepared to act.”
Mr Hampton said it was disappointing that the Parliament could not agree to AFPA’s second recommended amendment for the inclusion of forestry operations on Crown land, which is subjected to the most aggressive extremist protests.
“However, we welcome the commitments from Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie and Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries, Jonathon Duniam, that they will continue to work with our industry to look at how our concerns about illegal protests on Crown land can be addressed.
“Importantly, the Government agreed that forestry workers in our state forests were equally deserving of protection from illegal protests that disrupt their businesses and that state governments must step up their efforts to enforce existing trespass laws.”
Mr Hampton also acknowledged Independent Senator for Tasmania Jacqui Lambie’s efforts in securing the Government’s amendments, arguing for the Bill to cover not just wood processing facilities but also forestry operations on Crown land – a pertinent issue for forestry workers in her home state.
“AFPA of course respects the right of an individual to engage in protest in a respectful and lawful way, but this must be balanced against the right for lawful businesses and their workers who work in Australia’s vital primary industries,” Mr Hampton concluded.