New rules to crack down on livestock rustling have been welcomed by farmers.
The rules will come into force following the passing of the Crimes Amendment Bill, says Justice Minister Andrew Little.
From now on, the theft of livestock, or other animals, carries a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment and any unlawful entry to land used for agriculture purpose, where someone intends on stealing livestock, could result in up to 10 years' jail time.
"For too long farmers have been urging successive Governments to assist in their battle against the scourge of livestock rustling. This Coalition Government listened, and now we've changed the law," said Little.
"Farmers and rural communities make a huge contribution to the wellbeing of New Zealand and our economy. Meanwhile livestock rustlers have undermined rural people's livelihoods and their right to be safe in their homes.
"The two new offences send a clear message that this Coalition Government will not tolerate livestock rustling, whether it is sheep, cattle, beehives, sheepdogs or other animals that are stolen or harmed.
"Today is a new era, where we have finally classified livestock rustling as it should be – as criminal offences in our criminal code.
"Importantly, this step also gives police and the courts the tools they need to rope in the rustlers.
"Federated Farmers estimates the cost of theft of livestock to the farming community at over $120 million every year, and a survey indicates about a quarter of their members had stock stolen in the last five years." said Little.
Federated Farmers meat and wool chair Miles Anderson praised those involved with the law changes.
"We thank all MPs - but particularly Kieran McAnulty and Andrew Little (Labour) and Ian McKelvie (National) and members of the Primary Production Select Committee - for standing up and being counted on this."
He said provision for a tougher sentence was long overdue and that until now the penalties had only been a slap on the wrist.
Anderson also commented on the emotional toll of livestock rustling.
"It's not just about the tens of millions of dollars that livestock rustling costs farming families every year. It's also the distress of finding butchered animals left to die in paddocks, and the dangers involved in farmers having to go out, often on their own and at night, to investigate something suspicious and not knowing whether the strangers on their property are carrying weapons."
The new offences which will be added to the Crimes Act 1961 are:
• Theft of livestock or other animal, carrying a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment,
• Unlawful entry to land used for agricultural purposes, where the offender intends to steal livestock or act unlawfully against specified things, such as buildings or machinery, on that land. That offence carries up to 10 years' imprisonment.