By Tiffany Lasschuit, University of Technology Sydney

This case note was originally published in the Animal Law Case Book, ed Sophie Riley (1st ed, 2015) and has been republished with minor edits by Voiceless with permission from the editor.   

Citation: Morris v Department of Environment and Climate Change [2008] NSWLEC 309

Court – Land and Environment Court of New South Wales
Judge – Sheahan J
Date of Judgment – 13 November 2008

FACTS OF THE CASE

Morris, the applicant, a commercial kangaroo shooter, was charged with the killing of 128 eastern grey kangaroos. Morris only held a licence to kill red kangaroos. Moreover, he was not permitted to shoot grey kangaroos in the zone in which he was operating. When confronted by National Park and Wildlife Service (‘NPWS’) officers in August 2007, he admitted to the elements of the offences.

The case was first heard by the Local Court Magistrate at Lightning Ridge on 12 December 2007. Morris was found guilty of two charges, namely the killing of protected fauna and contravening the restrictions of his licence. The Magistrate fined him a total of $10,640 including costs. Morris appealed against the severity of fines imposed upon him at the Local Court. He sought special consideration based on his age, limited literacy skills, dependence on a pension, and various major health issues, which restricted his work and earning capacity. Morris expressed that he felt pressured to cull the kangaroo population in compliance with the requests of the farmers who retained him. He claimed that these demands frequently conflicted with the conditions of his licence. Morris was also very critical of the way NPWS supervised the culling of kangaroos and stated that the offences were universally regarded as almost impossible to detect.

THE ISSUE

Whether the fine imposed was excessive.

THE DECISION

Sheahan J ordered the appeal be dismissed.

Sheahan J discussed how the entire system of NPWS regulation depended on compliance with the licensing regime, and how sustainability of the species was a key objective of public policy. In addition, he pointed out that courts must have regard to the “strong terms” in which Parliament expresses its intention.

Sheahan J also noted that Mr Morris had killed approximately 1700-2000 kangaroos in one year and that the volume of illegal killing was substantial, leading to considerable environmental harm. His Honour stated that the Magistrate had followed appropriate processes in sentencing an offender of low financial means. Although Sheahan J acknowledged that the fine would impact on Mr Morris’ family budget, Sheahan J stated that the payment of fines “cannot be viewed as an optional domestic expense, nor as a normal cost of running a business”.

COMMENTARY

The case identifies the way in which commercial shooters may be pressured by landholders to shoot species of kangaroos that are not authorised by their licence.

It also acknowledges the importance of licence conditions to the maintenance of kangaroo population levels. The case characterises such a goal as a matter of “public policy”. In addition, Sheahan J acknowledged that culling offences are almost impossible to detect and that the system of regulation depends entirely on compliance with the licensing regime.

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