Federated Farmers says it is greatly encouraged by the cross-party support for tougher livestock theft deterrents being shown by members of the Primary Production Select Committee.
Meat and Wool Chairman Miles Anderson spoke to the committee on the Sentencing (Livestock Rustling) Amendment Bill this morning. He said it was heartening to see there was no politicking on the issue, just determination to work out the best ways of combating the problem.
"There's good momentum to put in place effective measures to tackle this serious and growing scourge."
Current wording of the Bill would make rustling an 'aggravating factor' at sentencing, giving judges more leeway to order stiffer penalties. Federated Farmers wants the new legislation to go further, and allow powers of seizure of vehicles and other equipment used in the commission of the offence, as happens with poachers under the Fisheries and Wild Animal Control Acts.
"We're pleased that other submitters are in tune with this thinking," Miles said.
"If stock thieves know they could forfeit vehicles, trailers, firearms, trained working dogs, two-way radios, night vision and thermal viewing imagers, freezers, etc., it gives them considerable pause if they're thinking of raiding a farm.
"Moreover, if convicted rustlers lose such equipment, they can't go back to such thieving any time soon, and that forfeited gear can be sold, meaning there is some money to reimburse the victims of the theft."
Miles highlighted for the Committee an anomaly with current laws. Wild deer belong to the Crown until they are shot on land where the hunter has lawful permission to be. If the hunter has no right to be on that land, he or she may be subject to prosecution and confiscation of gear under the Wild Animal Control Act.
"But if someone is unlawfully on my property and shoots a farmed deer or a steer or sheep, there's no seizure of gear on prosecution. Why is my farmed deer treated differently from a deer belonging to the Crown?"
The Federation's submission pointed out that rustling was robbing farmers of tens of millions of dollars every year. It was also an animal welfare, biosecurity and food safety issue, with livestock often killed and butchered at night in the paddock, and no controls over subsequent storage and sale on the black market of meat from animals that may have just been treated with veterinary medicines.
Rustling added huge stress. "Family farms are also the home of the family," Miles said. "Farmers feel obligated to investigate any suspicious activity to protect their property and their livestock while the rest of the family are left along wondering what is going on in the dark.
"Farmers who have suffered trespass, livestock theft and wild game poaching report feelings of suspicion and paranoia, loss of sleep and a reluctance to leave the property."