Animal activist groups that target Australian farmers could be stripped of their charity and tax-free status, potentially hobbling their ability to fundraise.
The new regulations aim to stop extremist organisations from illegally harassing, intimidating and spying on rural families.
“Groups who target law-abiding Australian farmers will no longer be able to claim tax-free status for their fundraising efforts,” Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said in a statement on Sunday.
The measures introduced by the federal government also prohibit trespassing, unlawful entry, vandalism and threatening violence.
The changes could see groups stripped of their charitable status if they encourage or foster behaviour prohibited by the new regulation.
“I know these changes will be widely welcomed and supported by farmers who live with the very real nightly threat of being attacked and having their property destroyed and vandalised,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Activist thugs who take the law into their own hands will now find it more difficult to fund their illegal operations.”
The National Farmers’ Federation said it supports protest when it’s lawful and respectful.
“Unfortunately, a number of radical, fringe anti-farm groups have chosen to express their views by trespassing, harassing and putting at risk the safety of farming families, workers and animals,” chief executive Tony Mahar said.
“Too often, the conduct of these groups is completely inconsistent with the high standards required of a registered charity.”
The new rules follow calls by activists to undertake blockades and protests at farms in the name of animal welfare.
In one instance, activists broke into a piggery in the middle of the night to take photos and videos of animals.
Animal Activists Australia denies activists are targeting farming families and vandalising properties.
“There is no benefit to the activist groups or the animals if activists go to farmers’ homes,” a spokeswoman said.
AAA said the lack of regulations protecting animals had prompted activists to attempt to shine a spotlight on mistreatment at some farms.
“The public has every right to know about the cruelty that happens behind closed doors,” the spokeswoman said.
“How are they to know without whistleblowers or activists?”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Australia says there are already laws and penalties to deal with activists who break the law.
“These new proposals seek to further criminalise the actions of people trying to expose suffering,” a spokeswoman said.
“Considering that billions of sheep, chickens, cows, and pigs have their throats slit for the taste of flesh, who can blame anyone who peacefully causes people to consider the cruelty of it all?”
Assistant Minister for Finance and Charities Zed Seselja said taxpayers subsidise charities through tax concessions and expect the money to go to charitable works, not supporting unlawful behaviour.
Under the previous rules, charities were prohibited from engaging in conduct that could be an indictable offence under Australian law, or as a civil penalty.
Many other unlawful activities were not covered. They now are.
Individual states have introduced and proposed increased penalties, including jail terms and hefty fines, for farm activism.