After 2 years – no charges over 400 poisoned eagles
On 3rd May 2020, the Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, announced that the case investigating the illegal poisoning of over 400 protected Wedge-tailed Eagles was to be closed. The farm worker was fined $2,500 and jailed for two weeks but the owner of the property, John Auer remains unpunished. This is despite the vast resources that were put into this case, the evidence and the admissions gathered.
The Minister claimed that the Wildlife Act was the problem and that it will be reviewed and improved to remove the weaknesses and increase the penalties.
DELWP prosecutors and lawyers have been looking at this case for two years. People rightly consider it strange that they announce the outcome as the two year statute of limitations kicked in (John Auer’s property was raided in May 2018). However it was also a lengthy investigation we were told.
The farmer was clearly complicit in the killing of the Eagles, he was the enabler, showed the manager how to do it and bought the poisonous agricultural chemicals for him to use. The evidence is rock solid.
The problems included the fact that this killing of protected wildlife was not an indictable offence, so not considered as serious and therefore there is less power to investigate.
It was also considered that the offences and charges over the misuse of agricultural chemicals arose from the same crime source; the killing of the eagles. This could then be seen as ‘double jeopardy’ meaning a person can’t be charged twice for the same crime. This is despite the charges being very different. They came under different Acts and departments. We don’t understand why this could be considered the same crime.
We are told that there were two lots of legal advice sought on a number of areas of the Wildlife Act. Both lots of advice concurred.
As a result the Minister is keen to review the legislation. We can only hope they do a decent job of it, as the public is increasingly cynical and heartily dissatisfied with the way environmental crimes are regularly overlooked.
Changes to the Wildlife Act should include greater powers of investigation and arrest, removal of the two year statute of limitations and increase the penalties to reflect that we are living in 2020 not 1975.
But meanwhile this shocking crime against our wildlife sends a very bad message to all those farmers who are still intent on killing eagles every lambing season, under the archaic belief that all eagles kill healthy lambs.
There needs to be greater vigilance by the public now more than ever.
This article links John Auer with the Jam Land crime. He was a long time director and part owner of this company which poisoned critically endangered grasslands on the Monaro in southern NSW. This company is mainly owned by the Taylors, including the controversial Angus Taylor, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction (2019-20)
Another informative article here describes the myths surrounding Eagles as killers of lambs. Researchers have shown that they rarely take live healthy lambs, but are often blamed for cleaning up the dead or for taking sick, weak lambs.
This is the ABC’s online story covering the Minister’s announcement.
Charges over illegal use of poisons
The Tubbut farmer and agricultural seed company owner was charged with the illegal use of poisons to kill Wedge-tailed Eagles, in the Bairnsdale Court on 13th November 2019. EEG attended to hear case.
The Age story next day painted a very disturbing picture. The text messages between the farm manager (found guilty in September last year of killing over 400 wedge-tailed eagles and sentenced to 14 days in jail and fined $2500) and the farm owner shows “calculated, unacceptable and disgraceful behaviour”, to quote the magistrate.
This case was over the illegal mis-use and storage of 1080 and an insecticide, not the killing of eagles – that’s still to come.
The emails and text messages, in which the pair secretly referred to eagles as “foxes”, were revealed at Bairnsdale Magistrates Court on Wednesday as Auer, 57, pleaded guilty to the misuse of agricultural chemicals.
The comment from the magistrate was that he was “fortunate that there is no provision in the legislation for a term of imprisonment”, which let him know he was getting off lightly.
“On October 5, 2016, Auer messaged Silvester asking: “Seen any eagles?”
“6 more = 24 in 2 days,” Silvester replied.
“Gee that’s amazing, they just keep coming? I just wouldn’t have dreamed of those numbers. Bloody well done,” Auer replied a few days later.
In late October of 2016, Auer messaged Silvester saying he had picked up a “different chem to try”, later adding he had “looked up that poison and it is deadly to birds apparently so should work”.
At some stage, Auer told Silvester to refer to eagles within email communication as “foxes”, court documents show.
In January 2017, Silvester wrote to Auer: “3 more foxs [sic] = 52, crazy”.
The Magistrate was Simon Garnett. He seemed very progressive and fair and we were impressed by his concern over the impacts of such killings on indigenous culture.
The charge sheet is attached below. John Auer refused to be interviewed it says, but pleaded guilty.
Auer was up on 10 charges; four were struck out and the rest were bundled into two.
There are still two outstanding charges to be heard under the Wildlife Act. They are Sections 43.1 and 54.1.
43 Hunting, taking or destroying protected wildlife
(1) A person must not hunt, take or destroy other protected wildlife.
Penalty: 50 penalty units or 6 months imprisonment or both the fine and imprisonment and an additional penalty of 5 penalty units for every head of wildlife in respect of which an offence has been committed.
54 Killing wildlife by poison
(1) Any person who kills, destroys, takes or injures wildlife by any bait impregnated with poison or any substance, whether liquid, solid, or gaseous, which is prescribed to be a poison for the purposes of this section or lays any such poison or substance with intent to kill, destroy, take, or injure wildlife shall be guilty of an offence against this Act.
Penalty: 100 penalty units or 6 months imprisonment or both the fine and imprisonment
His defense lawyer painted him as an upstanding community-minded citizen, successful business man, loving father and husband, cares for his sheep (grew cabbages and kale for his lambs and needed the insecticide to kill the grubs that ate the cabbages), owns a global agricultural seed business, travels overseas and interstate, employs many people and so on. We weren’t sure if these details were to attempt to lessen the seriousness of his actions.
The prosecution, Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR) mentioned the impact such killing has had on local indigenous people too. The magistrate asked for those statements. They were also read out and were quite powerful.
On charges 1 and 3, Magistrate Garnett gave a 12 month good behaviour bond PLUS a $25,000 fine to go to the court which will then distribute to appropriate wildlife groups through Gippsland, plus costs of $3870.
On charges 5,6,7,9, John Auer was ordered to complete 100 hours community work.
There is also a conviction recorded.
None of this will look good for someone running a global agricultural business to have been charged with illegal use of restricted chemicals and very poor handling of poisons.
This PDF file is the charge sheet which was read out in court.