FOUR shearers who pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges were disqualified from owning or being in charge of sheep for one to two years and fined $1000-$3500 in the Horsham Magistrates Court today.
Bradley James Arnold, 39, from Natimuk, Jake Lachlan Williams, 23, of Horsham, Graham Ivan Batson, 49, from Keith and Lindsay David Gillin, 61, from Hamilton, all pleaded guilty to various animal cruelty charges arising from an Agriculture Victoria investigation prompted by a PETA USA complaint with video footage.
Magistrate Mark Stratmann said the conduct demonstrated by the evidence presented was demeaning to the value of the iconic image of the Australian shearer.
He said the summaries of the allegations accepted by the accused provide detailed and disturbing verbal descriptions of the conduct alleged and video recordings taped in the sheds were also played to the court.
“I wish to note at the outset that expressions of remorse have been made by each of the accused.”
In his preliminary remarks Mr Stratmann said shearing is clearly a very old industry.
“It has been the source and the inspiration for much of Australia’s rich cultural heritage.
“The bent over stance of the shearer has become an instantly recognisable symbol for many Australians as something that forms part of our nation.”
Mr Stratmann said for many people the daily details of any particular shearing shed would be unfamiliar.
“But it is often a hot, dusty, noisy, fast and at times, highly unpredictable environment.
“The work is relentless tough and physically demanding, and the sheep can at time be dangerous depending on their type and how they have been prepared for the shearing process.”
The magistrate said the handling of large numbers of sheep required expertise and positive and often strong physical action by a shearer.
“For decades what has gone on in shearing sheds all over this country has stayed in the shed – that is no longer the case.”
He said community attitudes in relation to animal welfare were changing, there was increasing public concern about the treatment and care of animals, and this was reflected in strong legislation.
“Notwithstanding the iconic nature of the Australian shearing shed, it, its workers and other participants are not exempt from the standards of behaviour that are required of them and from prosecution if breaches of the applicable legislation are proven.”
“The conduct that has been demonstrated by each of the accused in these proceedings in my view is demeaning to the value of the iconic image of the Australian shearer.”
Mr Stratmann said the court heard strong assertions from industry players on the zero tolerance of animal cruelty and abuse by shearing contractors and property owners.
He said there had been no evidence adduced or submissions made in relation to any of the four cases before the court that indicated the accused was under the influence of an illicit drug on the relevant days.
“It should be said and made clear that any direct or indirect assertion to the contrary is a mischief.”
Shearers fined up to $3500
Mr Batson with no prior convictions and having expressed remorse was convicted and fined $3000 and was disqualified under Section 12 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 from owning or being in charge of a sheep for two years, for offences that occurred in November-December 2013.
Taking into account Mr Williams’ age, inexperience in the industry, no prior convictions and remorse expressed, Mr Stratmann convicted and fined the shearer $2000 and disqualified him from owning or being in charge of a sheep for one year, for offences committed in September-October 2013.
Mr Arnold was convicted and fined $3500 and disqualified from owning or being in charge of a sheep for two years. Mr Arnold also had no prior convictions and expressed remorse to the court. The offending occurred in October 2013.
Mr Gillin was convicted and fined $2000 and he was disqualified from owning or being in charge of a sheep for one year, for offences committed at Moyston in February 2013. He also had no prior convictions and had expressed remorse to the court.
Mr Stratmann granted a stay of 90 days for the payment of the fines. He expressed his gratitude for the way counsel representatives prepared and presented “this important case.”
Outside the court, senior prosecutor for the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources Michael Woods released a statement that said the farming community, the government and the courts take animal welfare seriously.
“This is a reminder to everyone that allegations into cruelty and offences contrary to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 will result in a regulatory outcome, including prosecution.”
WoolProducers Australia says cruelty has “no place”
Peak wool grower body WoolProducers Australia this afternoon came out strongly in response to today’s sentencing of four shearers being sentenced on animal cruelty charges in Horsham’s Magistrate’s Court.
WPA chief executive officer Jo Hall said WoolProducers strongly condemns animal cruelty and anybody found committing these offences has no place in the wool industry, as they are jeopardising the reputation of the vast majority of wool growers and shearers who treat animals humanely and with care on a daily basis.
“Shearing is an extremely difficult job, but it is done so across the country in varying conditions at least five days a week and there is never a need for cruelty to be inflicted on an animal.
“Animal welfare is a key priority for the wool industry and one we take very seriously,” she said.
“While this situation is extremely unfortunate, if there is any good to come from this, it is hoped that this case makes people aware at a grass-roots level that there are ramifications for animal cruelty and that it is not accepted by industry or the general public.”
She said it is not WoolProducers’ place to comment on the specific details of the convictions.
PETA associate director of campaigns Ashley Fruno said gratuitous and wilful abuse of animals demonstrates the serious need for reform – “for these individuals and the wool industry as a whole.”