File photo: cattle stuck in boggy ground
It seems the UN black entitlement to crime has found its way to Western Australia where Aborigines are treated quite leniently by courts when it comes to crime, in this case serious animal welfare offences.
Deliberate mishandling of cattle and negligence in their husbandry caused the deaths of more than 1000 head at Pilbara station Yandeyarra but the Perth Magistrates court handed down just a $50,000 fine which almost certainly will be covered by taxpayer funds.
Negligence and deaths of large numbers of cattle owned by Aboriginal pastoral corporations have become legend throughout the cattle industry over decades.
Management of their vast properties has been questioned for years when stories emerge of white stockmen or owners of adjoining stations discover mobs of cattle left in yards without feed or water and the absence of any Aboriginal stockmen on the property. Other cases involved bogged cattle left when stuck in bore drains, dams or soaks or being starved in yards or paddocks with no feed.
One incident relayed to Cairns News about 10 years ago was that a neighbour to one of the indigenous stations was trying to contact the manager by phone but was unable to get through. In frustration he drove to the property only to find it unoccupied but he did find a mob of cattle locked in a yard without feed or water.
A number had already perished and others were just hanging on. He let those that could walk out of the yard and had to shoot those that could not recover.
The neighbour discovered the station crew had left for town to get on the grog after they had sold a mob of cattle the week before and the money had turned up.
No action was taken against these station owners at the time.
Most Aboriginal stations are held in trust by the Indigenous Land Corporation which has, according to its annual 2021-22 return a $286m Australian rural property portfolio with additional financial assets of $363m, topped up for 2021-22 year by government to the tune of $68m.
Many others in the cattle industry would like to be treated with similar government largess.
The story of the West Australian animal welfare prosecution from ABC Rural:
A prominent WA cattle industry figure says the $50,000 fine handed to the operators of a remote station over the deaths of 1,000 cattle “makes a mockery” of Western Australia’s animal welfare laws.
- Mugarinya Community Association has been fined $50,000 over more than 1,000 cattle deaths at Yandeyarra
- A cattle industry figure says the penalty is not severe enough
- The department says the fine sends the appropriate message and won’t be appealed
The Mugarinya Community Association, which operates the Yandeyarra Reserve south of Port Hedland, was fined in the WA Magistrates Court last month in connection with the deaths at its station in 2019.
The charges brought centred on 86 of the animals, 68 of which had fallen and become stuck in the mud and 15 of which had to be euthanased (shot).
All of the animals were suffering from a lack of food and water.
While magistrate Andrew Maughan highlighted the association’s acceptance of responsibility and guilty plea in his decision, Port Hedland businessman Paul Brown said the penalty sent the wrong message.
“It’s a pretty paltry fine for what is probably Australia’s biggest animal welfare disaster,” Mr Brown said.
“A $50,000 fine does not reflect the community standards and expectations put on the agricultural industry when it comes to animal welfare.”
The feedlot operator, who served one term for the WA Nationals in the Legislative Council, declined to nominate a specific penalty, but said penalties for a corporate-level animal welfare breach of this kind should be in “the millions” of dollars.
“If it happened at my feedlot in Port Hedland, at the saleyards or on a corporate farm, directors would be facing personal responsibility, liability and crippling fines,” Mr Brown said.
“The corporation would not be able to operate in livestock again.
“I think the fines, in this instance, make a mockery of the animal welfare system we have in place.”
Department says penalty appropriate
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) oversees the enforcement of WA’s livestock welfare regulations.
Its director of operations and compliance, Bruno Mezzatesta, said the department did not see grounds for an appeal.
“I think the decision of the magistrate … is appropriate,” he said.
“It achieves what we are seeking to achieve when we go down the path of prosecution.”
Mr Mezzatesta said above and beyond the fine, the association had made significant undertakings to improve how it managed animal welfare.
It has also entered a deed of agreement with the department to repay nearly $500,000 of improvement made to infrastructure supporting the station’s animals.
That work included the installation of new bores, repairs to damaged ones, the provision of supplementary feed and the dispersion of cattle around the property to reduce pressure on individual water points.
“For the next two years, the community will be subject to the supervision of an independent livestock advisor,” he said.
“What we have got is a court-appointed order that will require the community to appoint an appropriate livestock adviser, and to provide a management plan to the satisfaction of the department.”