A Regional Planning Act, fit for purpose farm trespass and unauthorised surveillance laws and support for rural living are at the heart of NSW Farmers’ $10 million election ask to preserve the Right to Farm.
NSW Farmers is calling for the Right to Farm to be legislated in a Regional Planning Act, ensuring that agriculture’s place in our economy and our community is forever protected against inappropriate development. The Act should aim to reduce land use conflict and preserve our most productive agricultural land for farming purposes. We also seek an enforceable offence of farm trespass and fit-for-purpose legislation to deal with drones and unauthorised, illegal surveillance to protect farmers from activities threatening their businesses.
A Regional Planning Act for New South Wales
For small lot farmers in peri-urban areas to broad-acre croppers in the Western Division, a consistent planning framework and a robust trespass and surveillance regime linked to an inalienable Right to Farm, is essential. To support this, NSW Farmers is calling for the New South Wales Government to:
- legislate a standalone Regional Planning Act which recognises the Right to Farm and the need for agriculture to coexist with other land uses and industry purposes,
- introduce fit for purpose rules and tougher penalties for farm trespass and illegal surveillance,
- through the LLS, work with local government areas to invest in improved community education and engagement to build a deeper community understanding of compliant agricultural practices and life in a rural/agricultural community. This should be conducted on a regional basis, rather than being local government area-specific, to ensure greater consistency across a region,
- develop workable and independent complaint resolution mechanisms in which the needs of agriculture are adequately understood and represented, and
- engage with NSW Farmers, peak industry bodies and research and development bodies such as Hort Innovation Australia, to develop industry best practice guides to inform frameworks that underpin proper on-farm practice protected by a Right to Farm.
The NSW Right to Farm Policy, produced in 2015, states that the Right to Farm is:
“a desire by farmers to undertake lawful agricultural practices without conflict or interference arising from complaints from neighbours and other land users.”
Agriculture and other developments can, and must, coexist. As our cities and residential areas expand, conflict with longer-term land uses such as agriculture will occur. How we manage these conflicts is important to ensuring we can continue to grow safe and quality food and fibre. Education about the role of agriculture in our community and our economy is essential to conflict-free coexistence.
The growth in environmental zones (also known as e-zones) is unreasonably restricting agricultural activities, particularly in coastal communities. This was recognised as an issue by the Coalition Government as long ago as 2012, yet these zones still exist. A Regional Planning Act must prevent the mandatory adoption of e-zones on agricultural land consistent with preserving the right to farm.
Whether it is in greater western Sydney, in growing coastal communities or in expanding regional centres across the state, agriculture is continually coming under pressure from conflicting demands for land use. Encroachment of non-agricultural land uses into agricultural areas, often long-standing and productive, is impacting our ability to grow food in areas long-associated with agricultural activity. From mining and exploration through to renewable energy facilities, farmers want to ensure that our most productive agricultural land is preserved and improved for the future.
A recently released survey of Right to Farm issues in local government areas, prepared by the University of Technology Sydney, found that:
- up to half of complaints about land use practices by farmers were ‘nuisance complaints’ and related to compliant agricultural activities,
- most complaints occurred during the summer months,
- many complainants were unfamiliar with the realities of living in an agricultural community, including issues such as odour and noise,
- complaints about agriculture are impacting the agricultural industries in those communities, and
- without action, there are concerns that smaller agricultural operations will become unviable and encourage investment in other communities or parts of Australia.
The survey was commissioned by the Department of Primary Industries following lobbying around Right to Farm from NSW Farmers. It highlighted the need for deeper and more effective communication about the realities of living in an agricultural area – education and engagement from the level of local government compliance all the way to the household and farm gate. Education needs to focus not just on the role of agriculture in the community, and common concerns like dust, odour and noise, but also be linked to:
- road safety around agricultural machinery and equipment;
- the effectiveness of non-lethal pest management strategies, such as netting and gas guns;
- vegetation and landscape management; and
- deliveries of materials for use on-farm and the odd timing of them.
For regional planning legislation to be effective, it must be underpinned by a proper understanding of what best practice looks like and be informed by science and research. Understanding best practice, and what that looks like in reality, is essential to ongoing community support for locally grown food and fibre. Together with Hort Innovation Australia and peak industry bodies, NSW Farmers wants to engage with the New South Wales Government to ensure that best practice guides are informed by a farmers’ practical understanding of agriculture and industry’s needs.
More must be done to deal with the scourge of farm trespass and illegal surveillance. Current legislation in New South Wales is insufficient to properly deal with these issues – at present, unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, can be flown over a private farming business, illegally gathering information about the business and its operations. This information is often then used by activists against the farmer. Activists who illegally enter private property appear undeterred by the inadequate penalties which currently exist for these offences.
A more robust and fit-for-purpose framework is urgently needed to prevent illegal activist activities which stymies farm productivity, threatens our biosecurity and leads to increased business costs arising from the activists’ illegal behaviour. Tackling rural crime is a key concern of our members – farm trespass and unauthorised surveillance remain significant unresolved issues that must be addressed.
NSW Farmers has previously advocated for the drafting of special legislation or regulations between the Commonwealth and the states to deal with drones, empowering local law enforcement authorities to take action when illegal activity is taking place. We have also called for stronger penalties for the use of illegally-obtained footage and enhanced education around farming systems.