Sentencing judges need to stop going lightly on those convicted of illegal hunting and the killing or stealing of livestock, Federated Farmers rural policing spokesperson Richard McIntyre says.
And to keep pressure on the Government to ensure rural areas get a fair share of police resources, farmers need to report all instances of criminal activity.
Those are two reactions from McIntyre to the findings of Federated Farmers’ 2023 Rural Crime Survey.
Of more than 1000 farmers who responded to the questions, 67% said they had experienced a crime or suspected they had, in the instance of hard-to-prove incidents such as livestock killing or theft. That’s a 14.7% increase from the 2021 survey, and a 26% rise from the federation’s first survey in 2016.
This year’s tally was boosted by the inclusion of a question on illegal street racing, reported by just under 62% of farmers. However, that accounts for only 7% of the rise and McIntyre says there is a marked overlap with ‘boy racer’ burnouts and dangerous driving, and instances of road and fence damage.
“The often-dangerous antics of sometimes hundreds of boy racers in isolated rural areas is very intimidating for families. Too many farmers are having to keep stock out of road-adjacent paddocks because animals are being spooked and injured.”
While the number of surveyed farmers reporting single incidents of crime has dropped slightly since the 2021 survey, McIntyre is alarmed that the number who have been hit by five or more criminal incidents has nearly doubled to 33.4%.
After illegal street racing, illegal hunting or poaching is the next highest reported crime at 47.1%, and property theft at 35.5%.
McIntyre is particularly worried by the high rates of illegal hunting, as well as theft and killing of livestock (at 33% and 23% respectively), because they involve offenders coming on to farms with firearms.
He says when hunters ask the landowner for permission to come onto the property, there’s an opportunity to let them know where houses are, where staff are working and where livestock are located.
“With people hunting illegally, or looking to steal livestock, that whole safety element is out the window. We’ve got people shooting semi-randomly about the place without any understanding of the safety risks.”
McIntyre also admits some exasperation that nearly half of those farmers hit by crime had not reported it because they thought police were too stretched or wouldn’t be interested.
“All crime, and even suspicious vehicles and activity, needs to be reported. Police have told us time and again it helps them pick patterns of offending that boost the chances of an arrest.
“More importantly, unreported rural incidents mean a vast extent of the cost and disruption of criminal activity gets no notice, and the Government is off the hook on adequately resourcing police.
“Just 15% of farmers who experienced crime in the last two years said police had investigated and prosecuted the offender. It’s only when we have more police dedicated to rural areas that we’ll boost that figure,” McIntyre says.