Victorians who kill or injure native animals could face new fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars after community outcry over the failure of the state’s wildlife protection laws sparked a legal review.
Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio announced the legislation would be overhauled after the deaths of dozens of koalas that were bulldozed at a blue-gum plantation in western Victoria last year, and the shooting and poisoning of hundreds of wedge-tailed eagles in Gippsland.
A dead wedge-tailed eagle on a property in Tubbut, East Gippsland.Credit:Facebook
“We want penalties to be tough and act as a strong deterrent,” Ms D’Ambrosio said. “These are distressing cases of attacks on wildlife. The current laws are outdated and haven’t kept up with community expectations.”
A panel of four experts has been appointed to suggest ways to change Victoria’s Wildlife Act, which dates from 1975 and has never been reviewed.
The panel will consider if the offences and maximum penalties do enough to punish and deter wildlife crime, such as the illegal destruction of wildlife and the capture and trade of wildlife on the black market.
Ms D’Abrosio said the panel would look to other jurisdictions for tougher penalties. In Western Australia, a person can face a penalty of $200,000 for illegally killing a specially protected species, or $50,000 for other native species. In NSW, corporations are liable for a penalty of up to $110,000, or individuals $22,000, for the illegal killing of wildlife.
Four properties in Tubbut and Orbost in East Gippsland were raided by authorities after the destruction of almost 140 wedge-tailed eagles. Native animal skulls were seized. Credit:Picture: DELWP
Currently in Victoria, an offender faces a penalty of up to $8261 and an additional $826 for each animal killed.
The review would consider the importance of wildlife to Aboriginal traditional owners, including the special role of totem species, Ms D’Ambrosio said.
The act has long been criticised for failing to protect wildlife.
“It’s weighted heavily towards handing out permits and licences for people to kill wildlife, with very little scrutiny and no scientific underpinning, no reviews, no transparency and no accountability,” said Nicola Beynon, of Humane Society International, when she released a critical report on the act last month.
A man was charged and found guilty last year after poisoning wedge-tailed eagles in East Gippsland.
Concern over the laws comes as many native fauna face extinction. Australia has the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world.
Under the current act, the government can issue “authorities to control wildlife”, which authorise destruction or harm to animals. In 2019, 3442 of these permits were issued, authorising the destruction or harm of 185,286 animals, including 966 emus and 3655 wombats.
In 2018, farm worker Murray James Silvester was jailed for two weeks and fined $2500 for poisoning 406 wedge-tailed eagles on properties in East Gippsland.
His employer, landowner John Auer, pleaded guilty to lesser charges of misusing agricultural chemicals. He received a 12-month community correction order involving 100 hours of unpaid community work. He was also ordered to pay $25,000 to a court fund.
A koala injured in the logged blue-gum plantation at Cape Bridgewater. The animal was later put down after being found to have a broken arm. Credit:Helen Oakley
In 2020, at least 40 koalas were found dead and more than 140 were rescued from a former blue-gum plantation in Cape Bridgewater, near Portland, after it had been logged and bulldozed. The Office of the Conservation Regulator has finalised its investigation, but so far no charges have been laid.
The panel will be chaired by Deborah Peterson, an agriculture and natural resource economist from Australia National University. Ngaio Beausoleil, Massey University’s co-director of the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre, Jack Pascoe, a Yuin man and an expert in ecological research, and Monash University legal academic Arie Freiberg will also be on the panel.
The panel will report on its findings and recommendations by the middle of the year. Community consultation will open in March.
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