Pastoral and Agricultural Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill
Mr IEMMA (Lakemba—Minister for Public Works and Services, Minister for Sport and Recreation, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Citizenship) [7.31 p.m.]: I move:
Pastoral and agricultural industries are particularly vulnerable to criminal activity, in particular theft. A number of factors contribute to this vulnerability, including the size and isolation of farms and the small numbers of people resident on agricultural properties. Of the crimes perpetrated against primary producers the loss of stock is the most prominent and is of greatest concern to rural communities. In 2000 more than $2.1 million dollars worth of cattle and sheep were reported stolen in New South Wales. This increased to more than $2.7 million in the 2001 calendar year. In March 2000 the Pastoral and Agricultural Crime Working Party was formed, following a meeting between the former Minister for Police, the Minister for Agriculture and the New South Wales Farmers Association.
That this bill be now read a second time.
While this meeting focused on stock theft, the working party's brief was to consider all crimes against primary producers, such as stock theft, wool theft, chemical theft and trespass for the purpose of hunting. The working party consisted of representatives from the New South Wales Farmers Association, NSW Police, the Ministry for Police and the office of the Minister for Agriculture. The working party considered a range of issues including methods of stock identification, travelling stock statements, police training, legislation and crime prevention. The working party has made recommendations in relation to a range of issues including proposals for legislative change dealing with stock identification and transportation documentation, police powers, training and programming.
The working party examined the legislative provisions relating to pastoral and agricultural crime and found that on the whole the legislative framework is sound. However, the need for legislative reform was identified in some areas. My colleague the former Minister for Police, the Hon. Paul Whelan, announced in October last year the Government's in-principle support for the recommendations contained in the working party's report and the proposed introduction of the necessary legislative amendments stemming from the report's recommendations. On 27 February this year, after further consultations with the New South Wales Farmers Association, the Government was pleased to confirm a range of initiatives that it was in the process of undertaking in order to address rural crime issues.
These include both the legislative changes recommended by the working party and proposed by this bill as well as a number of operational initiatives being pursued by NSW Police, such as the creation of 32 specialist rural crime investigators at non-metropolitan local area commands trained to better investigate the theft of livestock, machinery, pesticides and fuels. The working party also made some recommendations for legislative change to the Wool, Hide and Skin Dealers Act to address the regulation of that industry. A review of that Act has been conducted in line with national competition policy, and legislative change will be pursued early next session. This bill has industry support from the New South Wales Farmers Association and the Livestock Transporters Association of New South Wales, as well as NSW Police and NSW Agriculture.
I will now deal with the substantive matters contained in the bill. Farmers and farming representatives have expressed concern about trespass on their land. These concerns relate to unauthorised hunting of feral animals, and the significant impact on the security and peace of mind of those residing in isolated country areas. Farmers are also concerned about their animals being killed by unauthorised hunters. While the Crimes Act addresses issues relating to trespass with a firearm, and the Firearms Act addresses unauthorised hunting with a firearm, there are no adequate provisions in respect of people who trespass with dogs and weapons other than firearms, such as knives. A charge of trespass alone in these situations is not a sufficient deterrent to unlawful hunting. Specific penalties, along with the ability for police to issue penalty notices, are required.
This bill creates an offence in the Summary Offences Act of hunting on private land without the permission of the owner or occupier. The offence will not apply where there is a specific lawful excuse, such as people permitted under other legislation to destroy feral animals and pests. The bill has also been specifically drafted to ensure that traditional hunting by indigenous people permitted under native title or the Aboriginal Land Rights Act is also a lawful excuse for hunting on the land. This will ensure that traditional cultural practices are not inadvertently interfered with by these amendments. The working party also noted that the Inclosed Lands Protection Act provides that goats that are branded or wearing collars cannot be destroyed under the Act.
Given that contemporary practice is that goats are earmarked or ear tagged, that Act is being amended to state that goats that are earmarked or ear tagged also cannot be destroyed. This will protect goats owned by a person that wander onto another property from being destroyed as if they were feral goats. A consequential amendment is also being made to the Fines Act and Inclosed Lands Protection Act to enable penalty notices to be issued for trespass offences. This will enable police to effectively deal with these minor offences without the waste of police and court time and resources. This is in line with the Government's policy of introducing penalty notice provisions for a range of other minor criminal offences.
Documentation for the transportation of stock assists in the detection and investigation of stock theft. New South Wales has a transported stock statement system whereby an approved form is required to accompany livestock when they are carried from one place to another, except in cases where the journey involves the movement of stock for short distances on public roads between properties owned by the same farmer, where a stock permit is used. The legislative basis for this system was included in the now repealed Rural Lands Protection Act, and was placed in the Rural Lands Protection (General) Regulation as an interim measure pending the outcome of a determination by the working party of the appropriate legislative vehicle for the carrying of livestock transportation documentation. This part of the regulation is due to expire on 28 September 2002.
The Government has agreed with the working party's recommendation that commercial documentation such as consignment notes used by livestock carriers should also be able to be accredited as transported stock statements. Larger transport operators who have a well-established system of consignment notes which they keep for various purposes should not be required to maintain a separate set of documentation that would provide the same particulars. In its consideration of the matter and during significant consultation with producers, farming organisations, NSW Police, NSW Agriculture and livestock transporters, the working party found widespread support for a compulsory system of documentation to accompany transported stock.
It is proposed that a committee comprising representatives from NSW Police, the Livestock Transporters Association of NSW and NSW Agriculture will carry out the accreditation process. The New South Wales Farmers Association will also be invited to attend all meetings. Commercial livestock transporters will benefit as they will need only one form to transport livestock. The working party considered that a nationally accepted system is the best long-term solution to livestock documentation. However, in the short term, the proposed accredited system will work in tandem with the current system of generic transported stock statements for individual producers and transport operators who do not have established documentation.
The form of generic transported stock statements will be approved by the Director-General of NSW Agriculture and be available for purchase through the rural lands protection boards, in the same way that transported stock statements are currently available. This will effectively address the needs of commercial livestock transporters and all others, including farmers who transport their livestock themselves. The long-term aim is to progress the combination of the national vendor declaration form with the transported stock statements, and this Government will be working with industry and other jurisdictions to achieve this.
This bill proposes that all transported stock statements will contain the date the transportation commenced, the address at which the driver loaded the livestock, the type and number of livestock being transported, the name and address of the person who owns the livestock, the name and address of the person on whose behalf the livestock are being transported, the name and address of the person to whom the livestock are being transported, the address to which the driver is transporting the livestock, and other matters that may be required by regulation. It is also proposed that, for the purpose of this legislation, livestock be defined as cattle and sheep, with provision made for other livestock to be included by regulation, if required. From a rural crime perspective, cattle and sheep are significantly the largest herds of animals in New South Wales and are transported around the State in large numbers.
In order to assist with ease of administration and to facilitate auditing, it is considered that documentation must be retained for two years and be produced on demand within that period. This will ensure that the documentation is available if it is considered to be relevant to an investigation of stock theft, which may occur some time after the crime has been committed. Transported stock statements will continue not to be required in instances when stock permits can be used. Stock permits, which have effect only in the district of the rural lands protection board in which they are issued, allow, among other things, for the movement of stock between any two holdings occupied by the same occupier. The Rural Lands Protection (General) Regulation 2001 provides for exemptions from the use of transported stock statements in specific instances, including the transportation of stock for the purpose of treatment by a veterinarian. This bill similarly recognises these exemptions
Under the current rural lands protection legislation, transported stock statements must be produced by the person in charge of the stock, if requested by a police officer or other prescribed officer. That provision is being retained in this bill. However, the bill strengthens the requirement by providing that a transported stock statement must be carried by the person in charge of the stock and must be produced at the time requested by the officer. The current legislation does not make it explicit that an officer has the power to stop livestock transport vehicles for the purpose of inspecting transported stock statements. However, this is clearly implied in the existing powers of inspection. Accordingly, this bill specifically provides that an officer is empowered to stop a vehicle suspected of transporting farm livestock for the purpose of inspecting the transported stock statement and the livestock on the vehicle. The power is subject to the appropriate constraint that there be a reasonable suspicion that the vehicle is transporting farm livestock.
The driver of a vehicle will be required to comply with any reasonable direction of the officer in relation to the vehicle, to produce the transported stock statement, and to render such reasonable assistance as may be required by the officer to permit the officer to inspect any livestock on the vehicle. It is appropriate that a penalty would be able to be applied to some of the offences that may arise under this proposed legislation, for example, failing to comply with a direction to stop a vehicle, for which a penalty of 50 units or 12 months imprisonment could be applied. It is provided that the maximum penalty be 20 penalty units for other offences, and provision is made for the issuing of penalty notices. Police must show police identification when exercising their functions under the Rural Lands Protection Act. That Act requires persons exercising powers under the Act to be "authorised officers". Section 185 of the Act enables authorising authorities, including the Director-General of NSW Agriculture, to appoint police officers as authorised officers.
The director-general has advised that police officers will be appointed as authorised officers for the functions under the Act that are relevant to stock identification and stock movements. Section 187 of the Act requires authorised officers to produce identification cards issued by the authorising authority upon request when exercising their functions under the Act. This is unnecessary and administratively burdensome in the case of authorised officers who are police officers, and it is agreed that standard police identification may be used in place of an identification card issued under the Act. This has necessitated a minor amendment to section 187. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr TINK (Epping) [7.46 p.m.]: The Coalition supports this legislation. The problems with stock crime began back in 1987 when the then Labor Government dissolved the designated New South Wales Police Stock Squad. Within a few years it became clear that there were major problems with theft and transportation across borders of all types of stock of high value, which significantly affected many people in rural production. The Coalition is concerned that this problem has escalated in the past few years. It is interesting that it has taken the Government seven years to attempt to do anything in response.
Briefly, this bill will amend the Inclosed Lands Protection Act to allow authorised officers to issue penalty notices for offences, to prevent the destruction of goats that are earmarked or wearing tags, to amend the Rural Lands Protection Act to require persons transporting stock by vehicle to carry appropriate documentation, to allow authorised officers to stop and search vehicles transporting stock, and to require authorised officers to provide identification when exercising their powers. Further, the bill amends the Summary Offences Act to make it an offence to hunt on private land without the permission of the owner or occupier and to provide for the issue of penalty notices for the offence. When the Minister for Police spoke to this legislation in the upper House he referred to the creation of 32 specialist rural crime investigators at all non-metropolitan local area commands. This is belated recognition of the consequences of abolishing the Stock Squad in 1987. The reality is that the Government has had a few takes at this. It began with the former police Minister, who, in about March this year, proposed the appointment of rural crime investigators to be based at all 32 non-metropolitan local area commands. This proposal was taken up by the current Minister for Police. On 27 February 2002 the current Minister issued a press release entitled "Rural Crime Measures", which stated:
Rural Crime Investigators based at all 32 non-metropolitan Local Area commands—22 have already taken up their positions.
In other words, police already based at non-metropolitan local area commands were being trained to take on the extra work of the rural crime investigators. The Government earmarked these rural crime investigators out of existing resources and put them through courses so they could take up these positions. The Coalition—in particular the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the National Party—thought that that totally unsatisfactory response did not recognise that rural crime, stock crime and other types of crime that affect regional and rural New South Wales were out of control and that additional resources were required. On 4 April the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the National Party made a number of fundamentally important announcements. They made the following commitment:
the key word—
The Coalition will create a specialist Rural Crime Squad consisting of an additional—
That is not limited simply to the old stock squad related crime, but to a much wider brief on rural crime. They continued:
32 police officers attached to non-metropolitan Local Area Commands to focus full-time on rural crime …
When we launched that policy we pointed out that the Government attempted to con the people of rural and regional New South Wales through the so-called creation of the 32 rural crime investigators. They are not additional investigators; they are new titles and extra duties for already stretched rural police. The Minister for Police started to understand the nature of this problem following feedback about the way in which the Coalition's announcement had been welcomed in rural and regional New South Wales. He belatedly came to the conclusion that what he and the honourable member for Strathfield already announced was simply not good enough. It is difficult to say what their present position is. On 17 May Mr Costa did one of his increasingly familiar about-faces. He issued another press release entitled "Restructure Delivers Rural Crimes Specialists".
And will provide incentives to the livestock industry to assist in the uptake of the National Livestock Identification Scheme
The Minister seemed to say in the press release that the dedicated investigators would be newly created, extra positions and not drawn from existing resources. That is in complete contrast and conflict with what he said on 27 February. It appears to follow what the Leader of the National Party announced by way of additional positions to be created as part of the Coalition's policy. However, the matter is not free from doubt. The Minister back-pedalled in his second reading speech; his language was far more equivocal and in line with what he said on 27 February and with what the former Minister for Police said last year. The Minister said that operational responses will include the creation of 32 specialist rural crime investigators at all non-metropolitan local area commands. He said that on 27 February, and less than a month ago he said "newly created, extra positions" which is missing from his speech in support of this bill.
For a short time the Government had a change of heart and realised that the Coalition is reflecting the concerns of people in rural and regional New South Wales in relation to rural crime. For a short time the Minister for Police acknowledged the lead of the Coalition to create 32 extra positions, but now he seems to have reverted to type and gone back to his language of 27 February. From the point of view of the Government, these newly created, extra positions have gone. In other words, in February the Minister said they would be existing police trained to do extra work; in May he acknowledged that the position of the Coalition of creating extra positions was superior and ought to be followed. However, all reference to extra positions has now gone and the Minister is talking about the creation of 32 specialist rural crime investigators, which fits more with identifying people already placed at those local area commands who will be trained up for the extra work.
Every day that these people are working on rural crime is a day they are not working on more general crime which, regrettably, under this Government occurs in town centres and rural and regional areas. Police who are currently on strength at non-metropolitan commands need to continue doing general policing duties. We need to recognise the special problems associated with stock theft and other rural crime priorities. We need to create extra positions to allow specialists to work solely in those areas. The Coalition will do that; but it is missing from the speech of the Minister. Plainly, the Minister has reverted to the idea of training up people—people who are already over-stretched in rural commands—to do this extra work. It will not work. It is a key point of difference between the Coalition and the Government in the lead-up to the election. It is a top priority and a vital issue for everybody who makes a living from or is in any way involved in primary and rural production and rural affairs in this State.
Mr GEORGE (Lismore) [7.57 p.m.]: The Opposition supports the Pastoral and Agricultural Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill. We have been calling for a legislative response to rural crime for a long time. The Liberal-National Coalition has already released a comprehensive policy concerning this issue. Our policy was launched by the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the National Party in April this year. The release of the Coalition's comprehensive rural crime policy shamed the Government into taking action and introducing this bill. Our policy contained a number of measures included in this bill and was based on the recommendations of the Pastoral and Agricultural Crime Working Party. The working party provided a comprehensive report to the Government in October 2000. From the time the report was completed the Coalition urged the Government to adopt the recommendations of the working party and implement legislative and policy changes to address the scourge of rural crime. As usual, the Government ignored a pressing issue facing rural and regional New South Wales and sat on the report of the working party for more than 12 months. The bill is the belated response from the Government to the report of the working party.
I take this opportunity to commend the members of the Pastoral and Agricultural Crime Working Party for their hard work. The Coalition was pleased to endorse the recommendations of the working party and to publicly announce that we would implement the majority of the recommendations when we are returned to government in March 2003. The working party must have despaired that its work would be wasted during the long period that its recommendations lay on the bottom drawer of the Minister for Police. I am pleased that the valuable work has borne fruit, and that the Government has finally introduced this legislation as a way of implementing some of the recommendations the working party put forward.
Among the initiatives contained in the Coalition's policy is the creation of a specialist rural crime squad. The squad would consist of an additional 32 police officers attached to non-metropolitan local area commands to focus full time on rural crime. The Coalition policy stresses that the officers attached to the rural crime squad would be new positions rather than a reallocation of resources. Both the previous and current Minister for Police have demonstrated the Government's lack of commitment to fighting rural crime. Those Ministers repeatedly announced the con job of the so-called creation of 32 rural crime investigators. Labor's rural crime investigators were not intended to be additional officers. This was simply a new title and extra duties for already stretched rural police—another Labor spin without substance.
Due to the Coalition's commitment to provide additional police officers designated specifically to rural crime, the Minister for Police was forced to back down and announce in a press release dated 17 May 2002 that Labor's rural crime investigators would not be drawn from existing resources. However, I am concerned that the police Minister's second reading speech to this bill in the other place did not clearly state that Labor's rural crime investigators will be additional officers. This point was made quite clear by the honourable member for Epping. I ask the Minister in the chair, the Minister for Public Works and Services, to clarify this point. The Coalition will monitor the appointment of rural crime investigators to ensure they are not drawn from existing resources, and I reiterate the Coalition's policy commitment to create a specialist rural crime squad consisting of additional police.
The Coalition's rural crime policy also includes a commitment to provide incentives to the livestock industry to assist in the uptake of the national livestock identification scheme in New South Wales. One of the major recommendations of the Pastoral and Agricultural Crime Working Party was for the Government to provide incentives to expedite the introduction of the national livestock identification scheme within a reasonable timeframe. Despite its rhetoric, the Government has not provided livestock industries in New South Wales with any assistance for the development of the national scheme. Indeed, in question time today the Minister for Agriculture again failed to provide a commitment to provide assistance for the scheme. The Minister has consistently acknowledged the benefits of the national livestock identification scheme, but continually refuses to financially support the implementation of the scheme. The Coalition has taken the lead on this issue, and it is incumbent on the Government to catch up and match our commitment so that livestock industries can utilise the disease control, residue monitoring and crime prevention benefits of the national livestock identification scheme.
According to research from the Institute of Rural Futures at the University of New England, reports of livestock theft escalated to record highs in 1999, with 2,808 cattle and 24,195 head of sheep reported stolen across New South Wales. In today's prices, this would be approximately $4 million worth of livestock. In addition, the Pastoral and Agricultural Crime Working Party reported that it is believed by many in the industry that there is underreporting of crimes that occur on rural properties, including stock theft, meaning that these figures do not fully reflect the extent of the problem. It can be seen from the figures that I have just mentioned that stock theft and rural crime is a significant problem that cannot be ignored any longer.
This bill proposes changes to several key pieces of legislation—namely, the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901, the Rural Lands Protection Act 1998 and the Summary Offences Act 1988. As I have stated, the contents of this bill are consistent with the rural crime policy previously announced by the Coalition. However, I wish to raise two concerns about the bill. The first concern relates to the absence of any reference to the accreditation of national vendor declarations [NVDs] as an acceptable alternative to a transported stock statement. The bill refers specifically to the consignment notes of livestock transporters being a viable alternative, which the Coalition supports, but there is no reference to NVDs.
A failure to consider the accreditation of NVDs as alternatives to transported stock statements would be inconsistent with the media releases of the Minister for Police dated 27 February 2002 and 17 May 2002, and would fall short of the Coalition's commitment to develop a combined national vendor declaration and transported stock statement documentation system. I ask Government members in this place to explain what standing NVDs will have under this bill. In particular, will the committee be able to accredit NVDs? That must be sorted out because the industry does not want additional forms. We must come up with a single form, expanding NVD forms to cover all requirements for stock transport in this State and nationally. I would like the Minister in the chair to clarify whether police, under existing legislation, have the right to enter private property to muster and inspect suspected stolen livestock. If existing legislation does not provide the police with this power, the Coalition offers to work with the Government to address this issue.
Second, the New South Wales Farmers Association has approached me with concerns about the wording of the amendment to the Summary Offences Act under part 5A, section 28J (3) (b) (ii), which relates to the ability of an Aboriginal person to enter private lands for the purposes of hunting. The Farmers Association is not concerned about the provision allowing an Aboriginal person to enter land and hunt an animal pursuant to a native title right or interest that is the subject of an approved determination of native title. However, the association is concerned that this provision extends to land that is subject to a registered native title claim. I ask the Government to continue dialogue with the Farmers Association to work through this concern.
I note also that the Minister for Police responded to concerns raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the other place, the Hon. Duncan Gay, and gave a commitment to allow the Farmers Association to take part in the accreditation committee proceedings. The Coalition supports this commitment, and will make sure the Minister meets it. In conclusion, I repeat that the Opposition will not oppose the bill. Stock theft needs to be dealt with immediately. However, defence of the farmers of New South Wales and people on rural lands is left to the National Party. Not one member of Country Labor is in the Chamber to support the Minister on this subject, which has been the death knell for people in country New South Wales. It has been of major concern. But, again, it is left to the Coalition to defend the rights of farmers. We call on the Government to match our commitment to provide 32 additional police to fight rural crime and to provide financial assistance to help develop the national livestock identification scheme in New South Wales.
Mr WEBB (Monaro) [8.09 p.m.]: I support the Pastoral and Agricultural Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Inclosed Land Protection Act 1901, the Rural Lands Protection Act 1998 and the Summary Offences Act 1988. In March 2000 the Government formed the Pastoral and Agricultural Crime Working Party, which comprised representatives from the New South Wales Farmers Association. Why no representative of the New South Wales Farmers Association is to be included on the accreditation committee defies logic. The association's members have been invited to attend meetings, but I strongly suggest to the Government that the association should be re-empowered by the provision of full membership of the committee. Other parties to the working group included the Police Service, the Ministry for Police and the office of the Minister for Agriculture. The role of the accreditation committee will be to examine the effectiveness of the current legislative provisions that will deal with pastoral and agricultural crime.
The objects of the bill are to implement several working party recommendations, including amendment of the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901 to allow authorised officers to issue penalty notices for offences under the Act and to prevent the destruction of goats that are earmarked, wearing tags or are otherwise identified; to amend the Rural Land Protection Act to require persons transporting stock by vehicle to carry appropriate documentation, to allow authorised officers to stop and search vehicles transporting stock, and to require that authorised officers provide identification when exercising their powers; and to amend the Summary Offences Act 1988 to make it an offence to hunt on private land without the permission of the owner or occupier and to provide for the issue of penalty notices for such an offence. I note that the bill provides some exclusions—namely, that when committing an offence a person who believes that the relevant land was public land, not privately owned, will have an excuse at law. I expect that that excuse will be used often to avoid penalties provided in the bill.
As honourable members who preceded me in this debate have mentioned and as the bill suggests, rural crime is a significant problem throughout Australia. In grazing areas literally thousands of dollars worth of livestock is stolen and transported. In some cases, the stolen livestock is transported vast distances across the countryside; in other cases, it is transported perhaps only a kilometre or two down the road. The impact of stock theft is significant on the social and economic position of farming and on the grazier families whose livelihood and stock blood lines are cut to pieces and for whom any hope of economic return is completely forlorn. Their predicament is made worse when the police and powers that be are unable to track and recover the stolen livestock. Rural crime has not been properly addressed in the past by policies and legislative provisions. I hope that this bill will go some way towards providing the necessary support for the rural community, which plays an important and dynamic role in the social and cultural development of the State and in the prosperity of the national economy.
The Coalition recognises the importance of legislation to deal with crimes that relate specifically to rural and regional areas—such as the theft of livestock, tools and equipment, fuel, agricultural machinery, agricultural chemicals and pesticides, fencing material, timber, seed, grain, horticultural products, wool, hides or skins, and other crimes such as vandalism, arson, breaking and entering of rural premises, rural fraud, illegal trespass, illegal shooting and dumping of rubbish. My neighbour's woolsheds were broken into. Valuable equipment was stolen and bales of wool, which in some cases were worth thousands of dollars, were stolen. Recently a nearby neighbour's shed was broken into and a couple of chainsaws and other valuable equipment were stolen. A chainsaw and a motorcycle were stolen from my properly, despite having been locked up in sheds. The ability of police to track stolen equipment and livestock is a matter that the honourable member for Lismore and I have been concerned about for a long while.
I echo his query: Where is Country Labor—that so-called country faction of the Carr Government? Country Labor members are certainly not present in the Chamber for debate on this bill tonight. Once again, the National Party is the only political party to truly represent country people in New South Wales and take the lead on addressing rural crime. The Leader of Opposition, John Brogden, and the Leader of the National Party, George Souris, have released a comprehensive policy that is designed to deal with rural crime on a broad base. That policy and the honourable member for Lismore's placing this Government on notice over the past three years regarding the impact of stock theft has evoked a response, albeit belated, from the Government in the form of this bill.
Among the initiatives comprising the Opposition's policy is the creation of a specialist rural crime squad to consist of an additional 32 police officers attached to non-metropolitan local area commands, as mentioned by the honourable member for Epping and the honourable member for Lismore. These officers will be specialist personnel who understand rural conditions and have the ability to focus full time on rural crime. They will also have the necessary skills to identify, pursue and track stolen property and livestock. I was interested to note the comments made in response to a question regarding the national livestock identification scheme in New South Wales. The scheme is obviously a fundamental part not only of tracking stolen livestock but also of showing the inability of this Government to deal effectively with the threat of highly contagious diseases that could decimate productive livestock industries, not just in New South Wales but in other States.
An ever-present danger is posed by stock being transported from one State to another because diseases can be spread very quickly, resulting in the catastrophic decimation of livestock throughout Australia. I query why this Government refuses to support the livestock industry instead of throwing its full weight behind the national livestock identification scheme, as its Victorian counterpart has done. In reply to my question in the House today the Minister for Agriculture commented that the program will need to be run on a national basis to be effective. If that is the case, leadership from this Government and from other Labor States would assist in the timely adoption of the national acceptance of a livestock identification scheme. I believe that such a scheme would be effective in tracking stolen stock and, in the unfortunate and devastating circumstances of an outbreak of contagious disease being caused by the transportation of stolen stock over vast distances, in controlling disease outbreaks. The Government's support for the national livestock identification scheme would assist in achieving the objectives of this bill.
The amendments to the Rural Lands Protection Act relate primarily to practical issues surrounding the transportation of stock. The amendments will require livestock transporters who are in charge of a vehicle transporting sheep, cattle and other stock to carry certain documentation that is prescribed by regulations. I note that certification by a transport stock statement will be acceptable documentation, but together with the honourable member for Lismore I query the acceptance of a national vendor declaration in the context of compliance with this bill. Surely in many cases the declaration would satisfy the need for proof of legitimacy of the transportation of livestock, the ownership of the animals and their condition as far as disease and vaccination are concerned. That would obviously assist the compilation of a database to which the Minister referred earlier in the House today.
I again call on the New South Wales Government to throw its full weight behind the national livestock identification scheme and to help industry by way of subsidies, if necessary, by way of information and education, and by way of legislation and regulation. We need a co-operative arrangement if we are to overcome the problems about which I am speaking. Amendments to the Rural Lands Protection Act will enable police officers and other authorised officers to stop and search vehicles for the purpose of inspecting documentation and, no doubt, the loads that are being transported. Police officers must be sufficiently experienced so that they are able to identify livestock through earmarks, brands and types and they must be able to inspect stock statements and other national vendor declarations.
Police must have the power to deputise special constables in other jurisdictions, namely, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria, so that they are aware of the requirements of New South Wales legislation and they are able to track livestock over State and Territory boundaries. People who will benefit most from stolen stock will try to move them to another jurisdiction if it is possible to do so. This legislation does not provide explicitly that an authorised officer has the power to stop livestock transport vehicles and inspect stock statements. That issue must be cleared up. The bill proposes that a committee be established comprising representatives of NSW Police, NSW Agriculture and the Livestock Transporters Association, a major driver behind this initiative, to oversee the accreditation process.
Why are members of New South Wales Farmers not committees members rather than merely invited observers? That accreditation could be extended to existing commercial documentation such as commercial consignment notes, national vendor declarations and other acceptable documentation. Stock theft must be dealt with immediately. It is an issue that has not been resolved for many years. It has an enormous social and economic impact on families who lose thousands of dollars worth of stock overnight. They also have to bear the costs of carrying out surveillance on their properties. This bill, which has been a long time coming, will go some way towards protecting production units and the valuable work they are doing in our State. For those reasons, the passage of this bill is important.
Mr CULL (Tamworth) [8.23 p.m.]: It gives me much pleasure to speak in debate on the Pastoral and Agricultural Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill. The Opposition is pleased to support this bill, which has been a long time coming. The Government has been slow to respond to stock theft. The electorate of Tamworth encompasses a number of agricultural and grazing areas. Many constituents in those areas have long held concerns about the increasing incidence of stock theft, other types of crime and the lack of adequate policing. The Coalition recognises the importance of this legislation. It is a way of dealing with crime that is specific to rural and regional areas, for example, stock theft and other types of crime. The increase in rural crime and stock theft, which has reached unacceptable levels, is another result of the Carr Government's failure to maintain law and order in New South Wales.
A recent study conducted by the Institute of Rural Futures at the University of New England outlined the extent to which the scourge of stock theft and rural crime has spread throughout New South Wales. It is difficult to identify the amount of money that is lost through stock theft. Due to the isolated nature of properties in rural areas, land-holders are not easily able to identify the number of stock that are stolen, particularly if small numbers of stock are stolen at any one time. One of the major problems in rural and regional areas is the isolation of many properties. Many farmers do not live on their properties, and that exposes those properties to theft. A great deal of the petty crime that has been perpetrated in some of our towns and cities is now being perpetrated in agricultural areas because thieves regard those areas as easy targets.
The New South Wales Coalition has released a comprehensive policy concerning this issue. Among the initiatives contained in that policy is the creation of a specialist rural crime squad which will comprise an additional 32 police officers attached to non-metropolitan local area commands and which will focus on rural crime. The policy will also provide incentives to the livestock industry to assist in the uptake of the national livestock identification scheme, an important initiative if we are to maintain a register of livestock and be able to trace stolen livestock. Under current Coalition policy a regional headquarters would be created for the rural crime squad and a free call telephone service would be established to enable easy reporting of rural crimes, including livestock theft. The Coalition policy stresses that officer positions attached to the rural crime squad will be new positions rather than a reallocation of existing resources within the Police Service.
Increased policing, more efficient livestock identification and a better use of transport and stock statements are some of the things that are needed to help in the fight against rural crime. Residents and businesses in country New South Wales deserve trained police officers who specialise in and deal exclusively with rural crime. The New South Wales National Party has consistently called for the restoration of the stock squad to full operating capacity, which means additional police in new positions. This bill proposes changes to several key pieces of legislation. The objects of the bill are:
(a) to amend the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901:
(i) to provide for the issue of penalty notices...
(b) to amend the Rural Lands Protection Act 1988:
(i) to require persons in charge of vehicles transporting cattle, sheep and other stock prescribed by the regulations by road to be in possession of certain documentation, and
(c) to amend the Summary Offences Act 1988 to create an offence of entering and hunting an animal on private land without the consent of the owner or occupier of the land and to provide for the issue of penalty notices for that offence.
The proposed amendments to the Inclosed Land Protection Act relate primarily to the protection of goats that are earmarked or ear tagged. Under present legislation, goats that are branded or wearing collars cannot be destroyed. Amendments to the Rural Lands Protection Act relate primarily to practical issues surrounding the transportation of livestock. The amendments will require livestock transporters in charge of a vehicle transporting sheep, cattle and other stock prescribed by regulations to carry certain documentation and to authorise police officers and other authorised officers to stop and search vehicles for the purpose of inspecting that documentation. That means that livestock can easily be identified while on the road with details easily available as to the origin, the destination and type of livestock carried.
Industry must adopt technology such as the national livestock identification scheme to thwart would-be thieves while increasing policing of stock statements or their equivalent. It will make criminals think twice before transporting stolen stock. Initiatives such as the expanded use of the national livestock identification scheme and stricter monitoring of stock statements require the co-operation of all sectors of the rural community, including livestock transporters. The National Party is keen to work with industry and the Government in developing documents and processes that are functional and do not impose unrealistic paperwork on transporters. The Opposition will not oppose this bill. The Coalition has proposed a wide-ranging package of measures to address rural crime. Those measures go further than anything the Government has announced to date. However the issue of stock theft is one that needs to be dealt with immediately. That is why this bill is important.
As the honourable member Lismore pointed out, it is extremely disappointing that Country Labor has not taken the opportunity to represent the interests of people in country areas, whom it claims to act for, in this debate. It is another indication that Country Labor is not interested in representing the people of country and rural areas. The same thing occurred with the doctors summit and the water rally in Tamworth, and it is now occurring with the serious problems faced by the people of rural areas in relation to stock theft and rural crime. I am pleased to support the bill.
Mr R. W. TURNER (Orange) [8.30 p.m.]: I support the Pastoral and Agricultural Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill, the objects of which are:
(a) to amend the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901:
(i) to provide for the issue of penalty notices for offences under that Act, and
(ii) to prevent the destruction of goats that are ear marked or wearing ear tags, and
and to make a consequential amendment to the Fines Act 1996, and
(b) to amend the Rural Lands Protection Act 1998:
(i) to require persons in charge of vehicles transporting cattle, sheep and other stock prescribed by the regulations by road to be in possession of certain documentation, and
(ii) to require persons responsible for such stock that are being transported by rail, water or air to be in possession of certain documentation, and
(iii) to authorise police officers and other authorised officers to stop, and to search, vehicles transporting cattle, sheep and other stock prescribed by the regulations for the purpose of inspecting that documentation, and
(iv) to provide for the approval or accreditation of such documentation, and
(v) to clarify the requirements for the presentation of identification by authorised officers under the Act who are police officers, and
(c) to amend the Summary Offences Act 1998 to create an offence of entering and hunting an animal on private land without the consent of the owner or occupier of the land and to provide for the issue of penalty notices for the offence.
I ask the Minister to clarify the term "in charge". Is the driver of a vehicle transporting stock, who may not have loaded the stock, regarded as being in charge? The stock may have been loaded at a saleyard and the driver merely transporting the stock. Is the owner of the vehicle regarded as being in charge? Is it both? I also ask the Minister to clarify the term "persons responsible". Does the term refer to the driver or owner of the vehicle, the stock and station agent who may have arranged the sale, or the owner of the stock? I am sure that part of the reason for creating the offence under the Summary Offences Act is to address the problem of people entering a property simply to canvass its layout with the intention of returning at a later date when they believe the owner will not be there. If apprehended, such people could claim they were on the property for the purpose of shooting rabbits, foxes or other animals. Undoubtedly, the provision is included to close that loophole.
Whilst stock theft is not a huge problem in my electorate—in fact, it is brought to my attention on few occasions, and I realise that it is much more prevalent in the Far West, where there are larger and more isolated properties—it has been a long-term problem. I suppose it has been going on for as long as stock have been on this earth. We have all heard of cattle rustlers, as shown on American western movies and so on. To some extent, the problem comes and goes according to the price of stock. The relatively good prices now obtained for cattle and sheep probably account for the huge increase in stock theft over the past couple of years.
The Opposition welcomes the Government's announcement that it proposes to establish a rural crime squad comprising 32 full-time specialist officers. It is to be hoped that once the specialist officers are appointed they will remain full-time employees and will not be seconded to other positions to fill in for officers who not available, for example, on long weekends. I seek the Minister's assurance that the specialist officers will be employed on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis. It would be regrettable if those involved in stealing stock or farm equipment got to know that the specialist officers were on duty only from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., five days a week, and it was open slather after that. It is important that the perception be that those specialist officers are likely to turn up anywhere at any time.
It is important that the specialist officers have expertise in identifying and tracing equipment such as welders, pumps and shearing equipment—in fact, any equipment that might be used on a farm. With proper training, the specialist officers will be able to ascertain, perhaps more readily than a police officer, where farming equipment might end up. Unfortunately, a lot of stock and farm equipment is bought by other farmers. I cannot understand why a farmer would buy stock or equipment knowing that there is a reasonable chance that it has been stolen. Apart from stock ending up on other farms, it could be taken interstate overnight.
With today's modern transport infrastructure, trucks can travel a long way overnight. Stock may be sold through saleyards that are some distance away, and unfortunately some agents may not check the relevant documentation as thoroughly as they should. I am sure that some of the stock ends up in abattoirs, although it is alleged that it has come from a particular property owner. Previous speakers, including the Minister, referred to the types of stock permits that may be accepted. The Minister highlighted that there will not be a requirement for one particular permit, that there will be some degree of flexibility, and that to avoid duplication other permits may be accepted. I hope that measure has been introduced in the spirit of trying to reduce duplication, yet keeping the process as simple and flexible as possible whilst still meeting the legal definition.
The records will be retained for up to two years, and the Government has announced that penalties will apply for various offences. The 32 specialist officers to be attached to the proposed rural crime squad will be empowered to inspect stock and statements to ascertain the ownership of stock being transported. It is not difficult to get $100,000 worth of stock on a large four-decker truck or road train, which is able to travel many hundreds of kilometres overnight. As I have said, it is important that the specialist officers are able to operate at any time of the day.
At the National Party conference held in Broken Hill last weekend, the Leader of the National Party announced that if elected the Coalition will establish a specialist rural crime squad to deal with rural theft. He also made a commitment to the national livestock identification scheme. We have made a commitment to distribute up to one million electronic devices. I note that Victoria is way in front of New South Wales in that respect. Indeed, that State has been carrying out trials for a considerable period.
A financially viable electronic identification scheme that is accepted by farmers and saleyard operators and, most importantly, by abattoirs as accurate will take over many of the tasks of stock officers. Much of their work will be superfluous if we can come up with a system that all operators and farmers will accept and can afford. At present some implants are passing through the beasts and into the rumen and, in some instances, ending up in the rendering plants and damaging equipment. The plants then have to be closed until the implant has been found. A system that is accepted by all will not only help to identify stock. It will also help with quarantine arrangements. It will help to trace disease, chemical residue, previous owners, the age and condition of the beasts and, perhaps, where they were grown. That will make it easier to identify the meat and, therefore, make it easier to export, as we will be able to guarantee where the meat has come from.
Until such a scheme is in place we need these 32 officers. We need both the officers and the forms to be flexible. I am sure there will be loopholes, but let us start to seriously support farmers in their fight to reduce the number of stock stolen. In the debate figures of 2,000,000 and 4,000,000 have been mentioned. We do not know exactly how many stock are stolen. Not only large numbers of cattle are stolen. Often small numbers are stolen and farmers are not aware of the theft or they do not go to the trouble of reporting it because no-one appears interested in the theft of small numbers of stock. As I said, $100,000 worth of stock is an enormous loss for some farmers, but it does not seem to attract the same attention as the theft of $100,00 worth of equipment from a factory. Let us hope that this bill will help farmers. Let us hope also that the Government is fair dinkum about the specialist police officers and that in two or three years those officers are still employed in those positions and have not disappeared into the system. Farmers need support, and the Opposition supports the bill so that the ability of farmers to reduce stock theft is increased.
Ms HODGKINSON (Burrinjuck) [8.43 p.m.]: I support the Pastoral and Agricultural Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill. I follow my Coalition colleagues, who have also spoken in support of the bill. I would like the Minister to address concerns I have, which are similar to those mentioned by the honourable member for Orange. Item  of schedule 3 will insert part 10A into the Rural Lands Protection Act. That part will contain sections 140A to 140J and will make it an offence for the person in charge of a vehicle on a road to transport stock unless that person is in possession of a transported stock statement in relation to the stock. We need to know who the person in charge is. Will it be the driver of the vehicle, the stock and station agent who sold or is collecting the stock or the vehicle's owner? I ask the Minister to clarify that.
During the debate several Coalition members have said that it has been Coalition policy to create a specialist rural crime squad. We need an extra 32 police to take up the new positions rather than overstretching already overworked police. The Minister's second reading speech did not state that the sole duty of those 32 extra police will be to take care of rural theft. The honourable member for Lismore mentioned that the pastoral and agricultural crime working party recommended the introduction of a national livestock identification scheme. That has been strongly supported by the shadow Minister for Agriculture. We need a commitment from the Government and from the Minister for Agriculture to that scheme, which has been promoted heavily in country areas and will seriously address stock theft.
My review of the budget reveals that the Department of Agriculture is consistently being stripped of funding, budget after budget, under the Labor Government. Country communities feel dudded by the Government. When resources are stripped from an instrumentality that is fundamental to their way of life and which has responsibilities over such a broad area of the State, they become upset about it in the same way as I do. Other members representing country electorates in this place feel the same way. I have held two public meetings in my electorate regarding stock theft, one at Crookwell and one at Yass. Both meetings were well attended. Farmers and landowners expressed concern at the level of stock theft in country New South Wales. Stock theft has been a big problem in my electorate in the past. I have largely a rural constituency, so that is to be expected. However, one of the main concerns of many farmers who have large areas of land is that they cannot be out on their properties every single day counting the exact number of sheep in their paddocks. If their stock is stolen they might not notice it for two or three days.
I was told at the public meetings about stock theft that farmers have often not felt able to report thefts to the police, because it may have been a week since they checked their stock numbers. In the past they felt there was no point. They know that police resources are already overstretched, so unless they can give the police a specific time and date of the theft the police will not be able to find the stock. That is another reason why we need a dedicated rural stock squad rather than lumbering already overworked police with extra duties. In saying that, I congratulate my local police for their respect for the important issue of stock theft. Since I have held those public meetings they have worked hard in the local community to try to address the problem of stock theft.
The investigation of stock theft may also involve travelling over long distances. Stock theft may occur 1½ or 2 hours drive from the local police station. Four hours could be taken from the officer's day simply travelling to and from the location of the theft, not to mention the amount of time the officer has to spend with the landowner or farmer. That is time off the beat, and it is an extra duty on top of the duties the officer already performs. That is unfair. We need police dedicated totally to the task at hand. I have placed questions on notice about the number of police on sick leave or other types of leave, but I have not received a proper reply from the Minister. Is that because the Minister is afraid to let us know how many police are on leave at any one time? Every time an officer is on sick leave, extended leave or stress leave, additional pressure is placed on the already overworked police in that patrol.
Everyone knows that country areas are short of police. The Minister must provide extra police to combat stock theft, which can have valuable results for the thieves. A beast could be worth well over $800, so the theft of a herd of 100 steers could easily mean the loss of more than $80,000. If five farmers each had 100 steers stolen, that would amount to nearly $500,000. Compare that to the response of the media or the Government if jewellery worth that amount was stolen! That would be on the front page of metropolitan newspapers. The Government discriminates against people in country areas, and while the intent of this legislation is good it will not add to police numbers to combat rural theft.
The honourable member for Monaro referred to other sorts of rural theft. This legislation does not relate only to stock crime; it relates also to the theft of machinery—a lot of agricultural machinery is stolen every year—the theft of agricultural chemicals, which are extremely expensive to replace, and the theft of wool and other primary products. The people of rural New South Wales will continue to feel dudded by the Government as long as it discriminates against us in this way. As I said, I support the intent of the bill but I would dearly love to see the Government implement properly the Coalition's policy of an extra 32 dedicated rural stock theft squad officers.
Mr WATKINS (Ryde—Minister for Education and Training), on behalf of Mr Iemma [8.51 p.m.], in reply: I thank all honourable members for their contributions to this debate. This bill implements the recommendations of the pastoral and agricultural crime working party. It is part of the Government's rural crime fighting strategy, which also includes the appointment of specialist rural crime investigators, extra training of country-based police, updated licensing and record-keeping procedures under the Wool, Hide and Skin Dealers Act to help reduce the risk of theft and help police investigate such cases, and a proposal to implement livestock identification. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.