Cattle rustling just got harder in Queensland

CATTLE duffing stories, and tales of thieves lauded as heroes, were passionately told in Queensland Parliament this week as new stock laws passed to aid farmers.

Minimum fines for a range of stock offences have now increased from $200 to $1100 per animal, or the value of the animal if it is higher.

Other new laws aim to deter perpetrators from their greedy ways while giving magistrates more power to help farmers get their stock back

The court can order stock to be returned when it strays onto a person's property and the land owner has refused to move it.

Police can now dispose of stock in criminal proceedings instead of paying to keep stock as a visual evidence record for a court.

Photos can now be used instead.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie introduced the bill which passed on Tuesday night.

Mackay MP Tim Mulherin said the Opposition supported the legislation, describing it as a sensible response to the existing deficiencies of stock offences.

But he said under the status quo, stock animals suspected of being stolen could be returned to their owners before a trial only with the accused's consent.

- Walking 340 head of cattle along Oakey-Cooyar Road for the draft Photo Kylie Robertson
- Walking 340 head of cattle along Oakey-Cooyar Road for the draft Photo Kylie Robertson Contributed

"Obviously, people contesting charges of stock theft are unlikely to agree to this, meaning that police are often left holding stock for long periods of time," he said.

"This is impractical and costly, with the Queensland Police Service required to agist these animals for months or even years at a time.

"This is a suboptimal outcome for all concerned, including the animals."

Mr Mulherin said the police would now be able to sell the stock to either another producer or to slaughter.

"I can understand that that may seem to be a little draconian in cases where ownership has yet to be determined through the court system, but I am satisfied that it is the most practical and reasonable outcome," he said..

"Any proceeds from the sale will be held by the courts until the conclusion of proceedings and then transferred to the court determined owner."

Burdekin MP Rosemary Menkens, a third-generation cattle farmer, said cattle duffing had been big business in Australia and had been for many generations.

"Sadly, throughout the tapestry of Australia's history many of our earlier criminals-cattleduffers-have been lauded as heroes," she said.

"I have to say that quite a lot of colourful history surrounds cattleduffing in Queensland.

"But thankfully, gone are the days when cattleduffers were lauded as they were in the 1870s when Harry Redford, the now legendary Captain Starlight, was a working stockman on Downs station near Longreach.

"He built up a secret herd of 1000 branded cattle on that vast property.

"There have been a lot of jokes made about cattleduffing and it has been made light of, but it should not be.

"It is a serious crime."

Lockyer MP Ian Rickuss, who chaired the committee considering the bill, said it was a good neighbour bill to ensure neighbourhood disputes could be resolved.

Emma Gough

He said it was also about reducing the feed bill for any stock authorities had to hold.

Whitsunday MP Jason Costigan said the bill was "music to the ears of the salt-of-the-earth, hardworking people who work the land" in his electorate.

"The cattle industry still plays a significant role around the town of Proserpine where stations such as Breadalbane, Collingvale and Goorganga are iconic, at least in the eyes of the locals, particularly families such as the Fausts, the Deickes and the Coxs," he said.

"We may well joke about so-called poddy dodging, but it is a serious offence that goes back to the early days of European settlement.

"As a government, we have a duty and an obligation to combat this industry scourge."

Gladstone MP Liz Cunningham said rural families had a hard lifestyle, noting it had been "feast or famine" in relation to the weather in recent years.

"I was very pleased to hear that we are moving from having to carry bags of ears or hides into the court to photos of the stock," she said.

"No doubt there will be arguments about whether the stock that the photograph represents is actually the stock that is missing, but I am sure that there will be wise heads to determine that."

Hervey Bay MP Ted Sorensen said criminals often wanted the good cattle, "not the scrubbers", so it was important to deter them.

He said the new penalties were needed to reflect the true cost to farmers.

"When a small property owner loses half of their cattle it is pretty disheartening because half of their income goes out the back door," he said.

"In the past there was not much that could be done about it. The fines are $200.

"If somebody shoots a beast and takes the legs and a few of the finer cuts off the beast that would amount to a lot more than $200 if they had to buy that from a butcher.

"We have midnight butchers out there who butcher them and sell the meat on the black market.

"What is $200 today when we are looking at a bullock that is worth up to $1200?

"Why would someone not take the risk?"

Mr Sorensen said the stock definition also included horses, asses, mules, camels, cattle, ox, buffalo, sheep, swine, deer and goats.

Lismore Saleyards. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star
Lismore Saleyards. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star Cathy Adams

"It is not romantic when we see truckloads of sheep disappearing down the road never to be seen again.

"From my experience, when I see a beast that has been hacked up a bit and has had its legs and finer cuts taken off and the rest of the carcass is left to rot it is heartbreaking.

"It is heartbreaking for a lot of people in the industry."

Maryborough MP Anne Maddern said life on the land was hard enough for landholders contending with droughts, fires, floods and low commodity prices.

She said this bill would strengthen Queensland's stock laws to deter perpetrators and stamp out cattle stealing.

"Ever since I was a small child living on a cattle property there have been stories around poddy dodging or cattle duffing-the stealing of cattle," she said.

"One of the difficulties of dealing with this type of crime in the judicial system is the fact that the prime exhibit or stolen object is usually a live animal-a somewhat different proposition to deal with than, say, a piece of jewellery, a bike, a car or some other inanimate object.

"This bill seeks to bring the manner of dealing with the exhibit or stolen object into the context of modern day technology, with the resulting reduction in costs to the judicial system."

Ms Maddern said the bill would also allow the judiciary to order a forced muster to retrieve missing stock over six months to allow for floods or droughts.

"Fences are meant to prevent ownership disagreements, but often cattle have no respect for a fence that is down and will wander onto a neighbour's property," she said.

"The retrieval of these cattle is dependent on the goodwill of the neighbour and, while most adjoining neighbours get on very well, there are occasions when this is not the case.

"Then there are also those people who do not see fences as any kind of barrier to them helping themselves to someone else's cattle.

"To assist police in ascertaining that an offence has taken place, warrants issued for the search of alleged stolen stock will be extended from seven days to 21 days to take into account the often large areas which need to be searched.

"While the numbers affected by this changed legislation will not be large, as most people within the industry respect boundaries and are good neighbours, I am sure that those affected, including the police, will feel heartfelt relief at the changes which will be made to both reduce costs and make it easier to resolve issues."

Agriculture Minister John McVeigh said stock-related offences were "one of the highest costs to our primary producers".

He said some of Queensland had benefited from rain in the past week but there was no drought relief for the more western areas.

"Our producers have got it tough enough, and they certainly do not need to continue to contend with the historical challenge of cattle stealing throughout regional Queensland," he said.

Gregory MP Vaughn Johnson said he believed one of the most important factors in the legislation related to stock mustering.

"... that a magistrate can order a muster to occur rather than having to hope like hell that somebody is going to get enough evidence so that a muster can take place," he said.

Frank Anvari with their Automated Crop Machine prototype based in Boonah. Cattle feed from the automated feeder. Photo: Rob Williams / The Queensland Times
Frank Anvari with their Automated Crop Machine prototype based in Boonah. Cattle feed from the automated feeder. Photo: Rob Williams / The Queensland Times Rob Williams

"This is one of the issues that has long been an impediment to stock apprehension teams, to Stock Squad or police officers across the state.

"More importantly, it has been a huge impost on police resources in terms of having to look after cattle, sheep or whatever the stolen stock might be."

Mr Johnson said he was also concerned about midnight riders and a lack of stock inspectors across the state.

"One of the areas that is of major concern to me at the moment is that some of these lame-brained idiots who eat and drink green all day are trying to stop the branding of cattle in this industry," he said.

"If we see the cessation of the branding of cattle, we are going to see a situation where we will need every copper in the state and right across the nation to be surveillance officers for the people who want to lift cattle, sheep, goats or whatever it may be."

Mr Johnson said he feared when the drought finally ended, there would be a shortage of female breeding stock which would come at a premium price.

He said farmers would need to ride guard 24 hours a day if they did not have the proper resources to ensure livestock were kept safe.

Dalrymple MP Shane Knuth said there was no guarantee the bill would be "the be-all and end-all" and result in perfect harmony.

He said during drought periods, cattle would smash through fences, get out on the roads, go through neighbours' blocks and end up in the next door neighbour's block.

Mr Knuth said if a farmer bought 100 heifers it would take five years before there was a return.

"The last thing you want is someone to come along and steal that return from you," he said.

"I believe that this legislation puts in place a framework to ensure that there are safeguards so that a person does receive that return."

Keppel MP Bruce Young, a stock owner himself, said one submission on the bill stated Queensland lost 4000 cattle to theft each year, with an average 1150 returned.

He said he knew firsthand the cost to producers after having a bullock from one of his properties slaughtered.

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