Australian Wildlife Licencing Law Enforcement in Australia Is a Mess!
The following is a submission re proposed amendments to Victorian Wildlife Laws, by the former President of the Victorian Association Of Amateur Herpetologists (VAAH), Neil Davie, re proposed changes to wildlife laws in the Australian State of Victoria. It offers an enlightening insight into the policies and practices of wildlife law enforcement in Australia.
2nd October 1997.
To The Hon. Ann Henderson MLA,
Member for Geelong,
Parliament House Victoria.
Dear Mrs Henderson,
Thank you for your kind consideration, in agreeing to make representation on our behalf, in regard to the proposed Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, which was introduced to the Victorian Parliament on the 18th of September and thank you also for the copy of the second reading which you kindly sent to me.
As you are aware, through previous meetings with myself and our Secretary Mr James Bigmore, wildlife license holders in Victoria already have grave concerns with regard to the way they are treated by the officers from the Department of natural Resources and Enviromnent, under the umbrella of the powers which they already possess.
The core of the problem is not so much the fact that they have these powers, but the often aggressive, heavy handed and haphazard manner in which these powers are utilised.
For many years, keepers have been told by D.N.R.E. officers, that when they knock on the door, they must by law be granted entry, because this is what it states in the front of the wildlife record books, issued with wildlife licenses. This has resulted in officers turning up at the homes of license holders at some outlandish times such as 7am on Good Friday Morning, 6am on Easter Sunday morning and up to 11 pm at night, not for a specific reason in regard to that particular license holder, but as part of a round of general inspections in the state. One common practise is for officers from Melbourne who find themselves in a regional area, such as Geelong, to call their office to get the names and addresses of keepers in the area whom they can visit, in order to fill in time, so as they do not get back to their base too early in the day.
It is the practise on one of these visits, for the officers to spend hours poring over wildlife record books and counting animals, inorder to find even the slightest mistake in bookwork, which sometimes can be quite complicated, in order to issue a fine to the license holder, or even better from their point of view, to confiscate animals or initiate a court case, in order to convey the image that they are doing a worthwhile job.
Over the last 12 months, this has not been the case, as wildlife license holders have discovered that they do not have to let the officers in the house as soon as they knock on the door, but can send them away to make an appointment at a more convenient time. Now as you can imagine the D.N.R.E. officers are not thrilled about license holders being aware of and standing up for their rights, hence the section in the Amendment Bill which calls for licenses to be cancelled if keepers do not let them in the door.
The Australian Constitution guarantees us the right as Australian citizens, to live in peace and quiet in our own homes, unmolested and free from harassment by authorities, unless there is reasonable cause for an authority to believe that you are committing some sort of criminal offence, then as is the case with the likes of H.M. Customs, The Victoria Police Force or the Australian Federal Police, the relevant body can offer just cause to a Magistrate to grant them a search warrant.
Can you imagine the uproar, if the Victoria Police started conducting a door knock and car search program, to ascertain whether householders had anything illegal in the house, your driver's license was in order, or if your car was roadworthy. It is no different in the case of D.N.R.E. officers and wildlife officers, except for the fact that there are only 10,000 wildlife licence holders in the state and most of them are too intimidated by D.N.R.E. to complain, The Department is now seeking to subvert our constitutional rights via the back door, with this proposed amendment to the Wildlife act. This I can guarantee you, will result in court cases, fought on Constitutional grounds to protect these rights.
We do not disagree with the Department's right to periodically inspect our animals and record books, only with the fact that the D.N.R.E. officers turn up at any hour of the day or night and expect to be granted access to the premeis, some keepers, who by the way have never been charged with anything at all and have never engaged in anything at all which is illegal have had in excess of 7 visits from these people in a 6 month period.
Unless extraordinary circumstances exist, there is no reason for these visits to exceed one a year for the purpose of an inspection visit, it should be noted that wildlife holders already submit twice yearly returns to the Department detailing all wildlife movements and transactions and unless there is a justifiable belief that there is evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the license holder there is no legitimate reason for the level of harassment which has been meted out in the past.
This Department seems to be a law unto itself in the way in which it deals with the public, the enforcement branch appears to be able to break the law and not be held accountable, even when there is clear proof that they have done so, harassment and intimidation appear to be so common place that it has almost become standard operating procedure.
There is no "Code of Conduct" written up by which D.N.R.E. staff are forced to comply and the office management is a joke. I am personally waiting for a reply to letters sent two years ago and our secretary is still waiting for numerous replies to correspondence dating back to 1994, despite multiple facsimiles and written requests for replies.
License applications are regularly up to a year behind and new licenses are often not received, the import/export permit system ( of dubious legal status ) is also a mess, I have received three different permits for the same transaction, over a 30 day period. The names of the animals concerned and other information are frequently wrong in the correspondence, and measures which were meant to be put into place years ago are still on numerous drawing boards.
Reasons given for non compliance with requests are often contradicted in later correspondence and the vast majority of D.N.R.E. staff are not trained in dealing with the issues they are involved with on a day to day basis and in most cases cannot even recognise the animals they are looking at and we are expected to take them seriously. It is common practise for a D.N.R.E. officer to invent an answer when on unfamiliar ground and as you can imagine this does nothing to promote an understanding with wildlife keepers, who as a rule know much more about the animals concerned than any of the D.N.R.E. staff concerned.
I have enclosed a copy of a letter sent to Mr Ron Waters the head of the D.N.R.E. enforcement section, in regard to one of his officers, a Mr Tony Zidarich, who blatantly lied to a Queensland Barrister's legal secretary ( a copy of the transcript which I have in my possession) in order to paint a keeper in a falsely bad light. The Department did not discipline Mr Zidarich and bluntly refused to apologise to the keeper concerned, although they did send him a two line letter, stating that the section referring to his being convicted of offences was in error. Mr Zidarich left the service at this point, but the lack of any sort of disciplinary measures taken against him and the refusal of the Department to even apologise for his actions is not abnormal, rather the norm for D.N.R.E and it shows the total contempt that this department has for Victorians who are foolish enough to pursue their much loved hobby legally, by obtaining a license.
Also please find a copy of an article by former Environment Minister Mr Steve Crabb, which sums up the mentality of the people we are dealing with here.
We do not ask for much, merely that a code of practise and conduct be drawn up for these people to adhere to, as is the case in most Government departments, especially those concerned with law enforcement. Our secretary Mr Bigmore recently retired from H.M. Customs after 30 years of service and he cannot believe the antics that the D.N.R.E. officers and their department are permitted to get away with and the contempt which they display towards members of the public with whom they have dealings, actions which in the Customs branch would result in disciplinary action against the officers concerned and in the case of the false information regarding Mr Pails, probably dismissal and the laying of criminal charges. This code of conduct should also contain guidelines for visiting license holders by appointment at a mutually agreeable time.
Should you wish to see further proof of misconduct by the department, it would be my pleasure to provide you with as much as you require, from keepers all over the state, including the pile of documents and tapes currently in my possession.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
February 15, 1996
To. Mr G. Coleman
Minister For Conservation
240 Victoria Parade
Info- The Hon. Ann Henderson M.L. A.
The Hon. Jan Wade. M.P.
The Hon. Barry Pullen.M.L.C.
as you are aware, at a meeting held in your office on the 1st of June 1995, you gave your "personal assurance" to Mr James Bigmore and Myself, that you would fully investigate a detailed submission given to you by Mr Bigmore, regarding a series of wrongful actions, carried out by officers and officials from your Department. If you are in any doubt as to the guarantee given, I am sure The Hon Ann Henderson, who was also present at this meeting, will be able to refresh your memory.
To date, no result has been forthcoming in regard to this personal assurance of yours, nor has there been any correspondence from you, in reply to the numerous requests for information as to the ongoing status of you purported investigation of the matter. The only correspondence received in regard to this matter, was a letter to Mr Bigmore, stating that it would be inappropriate to comment at that stage as a complaint had been put before the Ombudsman. The matter concerning the Ombudsman was nothing to do with the matters put before you and in no way had bearing on the obligation you personally undertook, as the complaint to the Ombudsman was not made by either Myself or Mr James Bigmore. As this so called "personal assurance" was given by you to Mr James Bigmore and Myself, any correspondence to anybody, for any reasons outside this parameter are immaterial and I regard your attempt to alleviate your responsibilities in this area, in this manner as beneath contempt.
A letter was also forwarded to you on the 16th December 1995 from the Attorney General , The Hon Jan Wade, in regard to another matter. The Attorney General forwarded the letter to you as it concerned the Wildlife act of 1975, specifically Section 50. The Attorney General states in a reply to me , that the letter was referred to you for direct reply to Myself, to date no reply has been forthcoming.
A letter was received by your office from me, on the 17th July 1995, requesting a place on the alleged advisory committee, which you advised me you were going to set up, to seek direct input from license holders, regarding the effects of strategies and legislation employed by your Department. To date you have not bothered to reply to this letter either. As you directly asked me, during our meeting, if I would be interested in acquiring a seat on this committee, I am at a loss to explain your non reply.
It would appear that you, as Minister for Conservation are uniquely suited to the post, as your actions in this matter are the very embodiment of our complaint to you, regarding the contempt and derision shown to wildlife license holders in this state, by the officers of the Department, over which you hold sway.
Once again I ask you to reply to the numerous facsimile transmissions and letters which you have received from Mr James Bigmore and Myself and to honour the commitment you made to us in your office on the 1st June 1995.
Neil Davie (President V.A.A.H.)
The Victorian Association of Amateur Herpetologists (VAAH) is a Geelong-based
society for reptile keepers and others with an interest in reptiles and
their conservation. (Geelong is the second largest city in the Australian
state of Victoria). Although most of the VAAH's members are from Geelong,
we have members from other parts of Australia and some overseas members.
The society meets in Geelong four times a year and puts out the occasional
publication, Pantherosaurus. For membership and other society information,
please phone Stuart Bigmore on:-
(03) 52-821194 (for callers within Australia) and
+61 3 52 821194 for callers outside Australia
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