THE MEAT SUBSTITUTION RACKET
Written by Raymond Hoser
Raymond Terrence Hoser (born 1962) is a self-described Australian herpetologist, snake-catcher, and author. Since 1976 he has written books and articles about official corruption in Australia. He has also authored works on Australian frogs and reptiles and operates a snake handling business, Snakebusters, in Melbourne. Some of Hoser's work is controversial, including his advocacy of venomoid snakes and his herpetological taxonomy.
Few industries have had so much corruption alleged and yet managed to avoid the scrutiny of a major investigation. The kangaroo industry has been called the most regulated, yet lawless industry in Australia. By many accounts, it is run by precious few large operators, who share huge profits with corrupt government officials. The officials, allegedly within the N.P.W.S. of New South Wales and elsewhere are an essential component in that they allow illegal activity to continue unimpeded. No fewer than 31 other Australian government departments also have a role in administering the Kangaroo industry and corruption in many has been previously documented. These include state and federal wildlife authorities, Customs and the Australian Quarantine service. Officials and operators appear to be able to maintain a closed shop, using what were described by Aboriginal Commissioner Steve Gordon as 'standover tactics' to suppress opponents and those who may choose to expose the rackets. Legal and illegal means are used.
The names of the officials in N.P.W.S. who allegedly facilitated Kangaroo rackets include those named by Clive Bennett as corrupt in the previous chapter. These of course corroborate with those named by Steve Gordon who was familiar with the Kangaroo industry from a different perspective. Neither man ever met, making the corroboration of their evidence even more significant. The late Dr. Peter Rawlinson, a zoologist who campaigned against corruption in the Kangaroo industry, told journalist Greg Roberts of the same corruption, involving the same officials some years earlier.
In 1992 journalist Fia Cumming investigated the allegations of Steve Gordon. That in itself wasn't too hard, as he'd been very specific in his information and the details were fairly easy to check. However as she investigated the corruption involved in the Kangaroo industry and N.P.W.S., she found not just one relatively unexposed area of crime and corruption, but rather a whole series of inter-connected webs, spanning Australia and even overseas. The rackets uncovered had managed to operate almost without hiccup from the 1960's to the present.
Cumming interviewed major players in the Kangaroo industry, former and serving N.P.W.S. officials and other interested parties gathering a huge amount of evidence of corruption. This evidence was subsequently backed up with a vast number of official and other documents. The information she gathered not only related to the Kangaroo industry, including meat substitutions, but major drug distribution networks through the meat industry, money laundering, asset stripping, protection rackets, multiple murders, court fixing, arson, stealing operations and more. In summary, so much information, that it would fill more than one book. Therefore a detailed account of Cumming's findings are beyond the scope of this book. In terms of the Kangaroo industry, what follows derives from a mere fraction of the material she gathered.
Fia Cumming was not the first to allege corruption in the Kangaroo industry. Many have done so before her. Invariably most who have spoken out have either not got any positive response from those in positions of power, or have been silenced before they got too far.
WHEN IT STARTED
Since human settlement, Kangaroos have been hunted and their products used. Since European settlement, most states considered Kangaroos as vermin and they were shot as pests. In the mid 1950's Theo Livanes and a friend Mr. Dalgleish sent a trial shipment of Kangaroo meat to the UK. Harvesting Kangaroos on rural properties by shooters for meat and skins became a more widespread activity during the 1960's. The Fauna Protection Panel of N.S.W. welcomed the growth of the Kangaroo meat trade as an effective means of controlling Kangaroo numbers. In 1967 responsibility for administering Kangaroo shooting laws was transferred to the newly formed National Parks and Wildlife Service (N.P.W.S.) and the Fauna Protection Panel was abolished. Local health laws prevented the widespread use of Kangaroo meat for human consumption. However they were still shot for pet meat and hides.
The N.P.W.S., not only had to address the concerns of shooters, but also those of conservationists who were worried about over-shooting and possible extinctions. In a bid to stop overkilling, N.P.W.S. divided N.S.W. into zones, and issued licenses to various chiller operators to process meat from within these zones. How N.P.W.S. officials decided who to issue licenses to within a given zone became a contentious issue due to the potential profits to be made. Within a given zone, a single operator usually had a monopoly. Local shooters usually had to sell all carcasses to one operator. Although other states had different zoning and licensing systems, local monopolies still developed.
By the early 1970's the major operators had managed to increase their profits by being able to dictate to shooters the amount they paid for Kangaroo carcasses. By virtue of the distances to other potential buyers and that all operators allegedly operated as a cartel, prices paid for carcasses consistently dropped relative to expenses. This left the average professional shooter earning about half the national average weekly wage for a week's full-time shooting. Many shooters within the industry now claim to be there only because they know no other way to make money. The industry is notorious for its itinerant workforce.
Over the last 20 years, Australia has averaged about 2,000 licensed Kangaroo shooters, many of whom do this as their full-time operation. The Kangaroos are found at night by driving along in trucks with spotlights. Shooters are only paid a few dollars a carcass and usually shoot between 20 and 40 roos a night to earn a living. Many actually lose money after paying their expenses. People may shoot at a loss for either the thrill of the kill or a perceived need to reduce numbers in their area.
With operators being able to increase profits, so too did the competition by these operators for licenses. With N.P.W.S./N.S.W. and their Queensland counterparts issuing these licenses, it was almost inevitable that attempts to corrupt these officials would be made. Furthermore, in hindsight it was probably also inevitable that some officials would also succumb to the temptation to get some easy money. For example when operator, Theo Livanes first met N.P.W.S./N.S.W. official Jack Giles, Giles told Livanes 'he had just endured another in a series of divorces and that as a result he was absolutely broke. The point was elaborated upon at some length.' Mr. Livanes didn't offer Giles a bribe.
Livanes stated he complained at the time to Giles' superiors but they were also in his words 'crook'. He later lodged a complaint to the Minister at the time Bill Crabtree. The letter he sent was answered by the very person he complained about. Another person in the Kangaroo industry at the time, Steve Gordon, said 'Giles would do anything, just give him a few thousand'. When Giles was forced to leave N.P.W.S. in the late 1980's, his next door neighbor, Michael Dodds noted how 'wealthy' Giles had become. It was at about the same time he bought an expensive property at Northbridge, on Sydney's north shore, moving there from near Campbelltown in Sydney's outer west.
According to Livanes, who's evidence was presented to the Federal Senate, things started to go wrong in about 1968, when 'it was the first time governments interfered in the business of who does business where'. As a result operators had to pay set fees to wildlife departments for operating licenses in given areas. It was about this time that a number of operators were forced to restrict activities within one state only. However in reality there was little to stop shooters killing roos in one state and then having them processed interstate. This was particularly in border areas of western N.S.W. and Queensland. This later led to fierce rivalries between processors and the famed 'Kangaroo war' that was reported in the media throughout the 1970's and early 1980's.
During the term of the Whitlam government, Lionel Murphy became the minister for customs and excise and banned the export of all kangaroo products. This added a new twist to the whole Kangaroo thing. According to Livanes, although the legal export was banned, the illegal export flourished. He claimed a major rival of his Vacik, illegally exported during this time, while he didn't. The ban lasted three years. According to Livanes, he went broke during this period, while others including Vacik made substantial profits. Vacik and associated companies now dominate Australia's Kangaroo industry.
Following this, some of Livane's rivals got involved in what he described as 'the roo in the stew thing' (beef substitution). Livanes claimed he wasn't substituting meat himself, but that he knew what was going on 'because I was out there operating in the market right until it hit the press, we had people trying to outcompete us for the raw material (roos) and suddenly they were gone'. One of these people was Andrew Komanarki.
Livanes claimed he knew who the buyer of the substituted meat was. It was a man in Hamburg, Germany, whom he described as having 'integrity beyond question'. The meat substitution racket when it was revealed, nearly cost Australia its billion dollar a year meat export trade.
N.P.W.S. officer, Ken Blade allegedly discovered a kangaroo meat substitution racket in New South Wales involving Vic Bates and Vacik some time before the meat substitution racket emerged in Victoria in July/August 1981. Blade intercepted a letter from Bates to Bill Steele of N.P.W.S. asking him to cancel the permit of his main rival. That was Livanes. He still has a copy of that letter. According to Blade and Bennett, Bates was consistently allowed by Steele and others in N.P.W.S. to shoot more kangaroos than his quota. Blade said he was even called into Steele's office where in front of Bates he was offered a flat rate per pound of illegal meat that he ignored.
Because Blade posed a threat to the whole operation, he was removed from N.P.W.S. by corrupt officials. After 2 years and three thousand dollars in legal costs, he managed to get back in. Since returning to N.P.W.S., Blade has been forced to keep a low profile.
As for Livanes, N.P.W.S. officials stopped him from operating in N.S.W.'s zone 3 for ten years. During the same period, Vacik was allegedly able to breach laws with impunity in the same zone. Furthermore N.P.W.S. enacted laws which effectively created a monopoly for Vacik in the New South Wales pet meat market. Queensland sellers were not allowed to sell meat to New South Wales unless they had the relevant N.P.W.S./N.S.W. fauna dealers permits. Of course N.P.W.S. officials were very particular as to who got these permits. Vacik had them, Livanes was refused.
PROTECTING THE REALM
By 1980, the Kangaroo industry had according to insiders become totally corrupt with shooters, processors and officials fiercely guarding their empires. Even American Mafia interests had expressed interests in the profits to be made. Chicago's Joe Testa and fellow Chicagoan Nick Giordano, went on a Kangaroo expedition with well-known Sydney crime boss Lennie McPherson to key places in western New South Wales. Another American Mafia identity Vincent Theresa, was recorded making a deal on meat asking 'did it moo or did it hop.' The admitted size of the industry was by 1980 at least $70 Million annually.
Steve Gordon, who at the time of writing was an Aboriginal Commissioner, with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (A.T.S.I.C.), was in 1980 working with aboriginals in Western New South Wales, including as a legal advisor. At about that time he tried to get involved in the Kangaroo industry. He claimed that it was being run by ruthless operators, naming Vacik as the main offender, N.P.W.S. officials, including Bill Steele, Terry Hill, Jack Giles and Don Johnstone, other influential identities including former Magistrate Murray Farquhar and businessman Abraham Saffron, along with the support of certain (named) politicians.
He described the role of N.P.W.S. officials Giles and Johnstone as one of collecting bribes, deliberately overlooking breaches and protecting operators, as well as keeping potential competitors out of the industry.
It was in these alleged circumstances that Gordon attempted to get into the industry, Gordon gathered a number of people to set up an operation, including aboriginal activists, communists and other radicals who offered support. He claimed the N.P.W.S. officials 'wanted us to have the cash in the hand', before giving his group the necessary license. He said, N.P.W.S. officials were demanding bribes of 20 and 30 thousand dollars. This was he said, because they realized the licenses were the gateway to 'a multi million dollar industry'.
When he didn't get the license, he took N.P.W.S. to court over the matter claiming it was discrimination against blacks and so on. The day of the hearing, he claims he was met by Abe Saffron outside the court who told him to lose the case. Gordon claimed that at this stage 'I was shitting myself', so he deliberately lost the case.
Also around 1980, Gordon went on the A.B.C. radio and said of N.P.W.S. officials that 'I believe they were connected with a lot of murders throughout the Kangaroo Industry'. As a result he and the A.B.C. were sued for a million dollars by one of those he named. Although nothing eventually came of that case, partly because Gordon had no financial resources at the time, he was effectively silenced and his allegations went no further.
Two wealthy New South Wales grazier brothers, Eric and Harry Judd, both in their late forties, left home to do some grocery shopping on the afternoon of December 7, 1979. After they left Cobar to go straight home, they apparently disappeared.
The alarm was raised by their bank manager in Bourke, Vic Goodwin some two months later, on February 22. The brothers had negotiated to buy a property adjoining their own 'Curraweena', for about $100,000. They failed to show up as arranged to finalize the deal. The delay in raising the alarm was because it was over Christmas time and the brothers often went out of the area to visit friends and relatives at that time of year. Inspection of the homestead revealed their pet silky terrier had been locked in the fly-screened back verandah, which was common practice when the brothers left the house for short periods only. It had starved to death. A nationwide police search failed to find the brothers or their car.
Two years later the brothers' Green LTD and their decomposed bodies were found at the bottom of a dam on the property. Mr. Cliff Paget found the car when dredging mud. Dental records were used to establish the identity of the remains. Paget, who managed the 22,000 ha. Property, told the media that they could have been the victims of a trespasser shooting on the property. Had the brothers seen something suspicious when driving in, they would have investigated, and that was probably when they were killed. The car's headlights had been switched on when the car was recovered.
Paget said 'They knew their way around the property like the back of their hands and could never have driven into the dam by mistake'. When the car was recovered, the windows were open and doors unlocked, further indicating death through foul play.
Brother-in-law Monty Brown also had a property in the area and told the media he thought the two men had been murdered shortly after the announcement of their disappearance in 1980. One man asked him 'leading questions' about the disappearance before it had been reported or anyone had known about it. In 1980, Brown told the media 'He shouldn't have known they were missing at that stage, and that's why I fear for them both'.
According to Brown, there had been a 'territorial war' going on between shooters on the Judds property prior to the disappearance and the Judds were in 'the middle'. According to Brown, the Judds came unstuck because 'they handle matters themselves rather than directing it to authorities'. Brown noted he was once shooting near the Judd's property when he spotted a trespasser. 'He started shooting at me'. Brown went to ground and wasn't hurt, but the shooter emptied 20 rounds of ammunition on him before he could return fire. The man ran off. He cited the case to show how dangerous things had become. Brown said the shooters war stemmed from shooters wanting to enter properties already allocated by N.P.W.S. to others. Brown noted another case where 'a bloke tried to poach on a designated area and opposition shooters blew his headlights out as he was driving up the road'.
The coroner, Peter Miltenyi failed to identify the cause of Death. In 1992, Steve Gordon who had known the Judds, claimed to have known the killers of the Judds and another man, Andrew Komanarki, when the murders occurred. He claimed the killers were with N.P.W.S., but wouldn't name them so as not to open up old wounds. According to Steve Gordon, if he'd spoken out at the time of the murders, 'I'd have been gone'. Gordon allegedly knew the Judds bodies were at the bottom of the dam, long before Paget found them.
ANDREW KOMARNICKI. (Andrzej KOMARNICZKI)
Just one month after the Judds were last seen alive, another person involved in the Kangaroo industry also vanished. One of the wealthiest people in south-west Queensland, Andrew Komanarki operated the St. George kangaroo works. He had business interests spanning all three eastern states.
On Friday January 11, he withdrew $35,000 in cash from his local bank. That wasn't unusual. Komanarki had a reputation for carrying large wads of cash to pay his shooters. In fact Komanarki had a reputation for only paying in cash and because he always paid top dollar, shooters came from as far afield as Bourke in New South Wales with roo carcasses. In fact the convergence of dozens of Kangaroo shooters at St. George, most weekends had become well-known to locals.
Komanarki's activities on the Saturday evening fitted his normal pattern. After watching the TV news at home he drove down to his stores. He made the trip every night to check security. He was never seen alive again. Within hours of his failure to return home, the alarm was raised. The next morning his abandoned four-wheel drive was found by the Balonne River, immediately adjacent to the meatworks. No body was ever recovered.
Over forty witnesses were called to the inquest. It heard that Komanarki possessed a seven shot 32 caliber Browning automatic pistol, which he always carried. This was due to his well-known fears for his life. Who had threatened him wasn't known, but as his main income came from the sale of Kangaroo products it was believed to have been a business rival.
Although it was obvious Komanarki had been murdered, most clues and theories put foreword as explanations were dismissed. The most likely clue was an incident two days prior to the disappearance. A man in bib overalls was seen lurking near the factory. He ran off when two people collecting bottles approached. The man had been seen in a crouching position as if carrying a gun.
Coroner Raymond Massingham found that Komanarki had been murdered and his body disposed of in a place unknown. In 1981, the executive of the Australian Cattleman's Union, Rick Farley, said his life had been threatened because of his investigations into meat frauds. He stated he believed there had been a link between Kangaroo meat in export beef packages and Komanarki's disappearance. Farley said he believed Komanarki had either uncovered or was involved in fraud in the Kangaroo meat industry prior to his disappearance. Farley noted a Queensland company had sent about 20 tonnes of pet food a week to a single Melbourne company, some of which was finding its way into the fast food market, including Dim Sims. Other meat had been illegally exported.
Livanes alleged that most of Komanarki's meat was sold to Vacik and associated companies, including Wattle Glen. He said he'd only once done business with Komanarki before Komanarki went back to selling all his production to Vacik. He also noted Komanarki's ability to get roos from shooters even when others couldn't, due to the higher prices he paid. Livanes also believed that Komanarki's meatworks must have been a money laundering operation as the prices he paid for carcasses was unrealistic.
In 1986, it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that Komanarki was on the verge of gaining a valuable new skins market. An insider in the industry had said 'there is no doubt he was bumped off because he was proving too successful and treading on two many toes. With him out of the way you had a huge slice of the Queensland trade up for grabs'.
Three months prior to his disappearance, Komanarki had rang investigative journalist Bob Bottom from a flat in Bondi, Sydney where he told Bottom he was 'in real trouble' and feared for his life. It was also reported in The Sydney Morning Herald that Komanarki's death had been linked to police records of meetings between a major Kangaroo figure and one of the 'Mr. Bigs' of Sydney's underworld. Two days before his disappearance, Komanarki had been visited by a man with close business connections with 'Mr. Big'.
Following Komanarki's death, his former business partner, Steve Margaritis, avoided talking to the media. He said 'If I talk to you, I won't be able to sell any of my products'.
In 1992, Steve Gordon stated that the deaths of the Judds and Komanarki were connected and by the same people. Gordon claimed that Komanarki had in fact been put through the pet-food mincer at his meatworks. Police have since rejected this explanation. According to Gordon he was shown human remains of Komanarki and his boots, and told that the body had been mixed up with other meat. Gordon said, 'I got real sick you know, I stopped dead in my tracks'. He was too scared to go to the police as he'd been told that he was next in line to be murdered. He said 'Police never got none of this yet, you know, I was gone'. In 1992, Gordon named particular N.P.W.S. officials as being behind the murders, but when subsequently approached by investigators, refused to provide details due to fears for his life. Others have said that Komanarki is still alive and in hiding, stating that he disappeared before he could be killed.
The riddle of Andrew Komonarki continues and his family are still looking for answers http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-21/kangaroo-king-cold-case-andy-komarnickis-family-want-answers/8781640
CONTROLLING AN INDUSTRY
The 'Kangaroo war', although in full-swing in the early 1980's, didn't seem to have let up by 1985, when the ABC's Four Corners ran an expose' dealing with the industry. The show attacked N.P.W.S./N.S.W. with over six N.P.W.S. rangers alleging corruption within their department. Senior management in the department, at that time under the control of Director John Whitehouse and his immediate subordinate Jack Giles, were accused of creating a climate of support for the big operators. No rangers wanted to be shown on the show; because they said they'd be sacked if they did so.
When interviewed, Giles refused to comment on an internal N.P.W.S. memo shown on Four Corners threatening officers who dared speak out against corruption. The most common complaint by N.P.W.S. rangers was that they would breach major operators, including Vacik and then the matters would be deliberately dropped by senior N.P.W.S. management. On one occasion ranger Clive Bennett seized a huge quantity of unaccounted skins from Vacik. The charge wasn't proceeded with and business continued unaffected.
Zoologist Peter Rawlinson, who'd studied the Kangaroo industry nation-wide noted that New South Wales was a particular problem and that those critical of N.P.W.S. suffered reprisals. Four Corners detailed the 'unhealthy closeness' between the operators and N.P.W.S.. The manager of one operation allegedly routinely bought illegal carcasses because he'd been guaranteed immunity from N.P.W.S. prosecution. On the rare occasions that N.P.W.S. officials were sent out to inspect Kangaroo shooting and processing operations, senior management tipped of people about a week to ten days in advance so that 'the whole scene is cleaned up for them'.
Shooters interviewed, including Banjo Hunt and Jimmy Flood described violent and life threatening attacks on themselves by others involved in the industry who were attempting to force them to sell their carcasses to a given supplier, demanding lower prices and so on. This they alleged was standard practice throughout much of the industry.
Vic Bates of Vacik was named as one of the biggest names in the Industry. Besides operations in New South Wales, Bates also had links with Wattle Glen in Queensland and links with a processing operation in Victoria. He was also a key player in the Canberra-based Kangaroo Advisory Committee, being the industry representative. Bates had been in the industry for over 15 years.
Much of the Four Corners report documented alleged close links between N.P.W.S. officials and Vacik, claiming the environment of corruption was not only causing hardship for Vacik's competitors, but was further linked to murder, death threats, standover tactics and other illegal activities. The murder of Andrew Komanarki was cited as an example of this activity.
Interviewer David DeVos and Bates had the following conversation:-
DeVos: Shooters we've spoken to say they've been threatened if they don't toe the line.
Bates: By whom?
DeVos: By big operators.
Bates: I would doubt that statement.
DeVos: You've never heard anything like that coming from New South Wales or from Queensland?
Bates: No not at all.
DeVos: Is it possible that there is that element of violence within the industry that you can't answer for?
Bates: I would think that it'd be just a fabrication to be quite honest.
These 1985 comments by Bates should be taken in the context that according to Livanes, Vacik had previously bought most of Komanarki's meat and that Steve Gordon claimed the 1979 disappearance of the Judds and subsequent inquest was in an area that Vacik had an interest in.
The Four Corners report also documented a case involving a small operation based at Broken Hill. The Saltier brothers sold roo meat for pet food, but because they were in the Vacik zone, they had to sell the skins, by far the most valuable part to Vacik. The Slitters applied for a wholesale license and they were notified in writing that it had been approved. Vacik allegedly vetoed the application. No license came through. Bob Saltier, a shooter, described this as N.P.W.S. officials only looking after the 'big boys'. Four Corners went on to allege favours being returned by the big kangaroo operators to N.P.W.S.
ROO IN THE STEW
If one believes the allegations of Livanes, Bennett and Blade, the kangaroo meat substitution racket was operating in New South Wales for some time before it was exposed in Victoria in 1981. The Royal Commission that resulted from the 1981 exposure also found that the practice had been going on for some time previously.
Evidence of widespread corruption in the form of bribes, free meat and other benefits was produced at the Royal Commission. In spite of three levels of inspection, mislabeled meat was still sent to the USA.
Although the meat substitution Royal Commission may not have completely eradicated the practice, it did certainly make it harder for some time after. As a result of this, Kangaroo processors stepped up their campaign for the export of roo meat for human consumption overseas. This campaign concentrated on the United States, who had closed their lucrative market to roo meat some years earlier.
Roo meat processors enlisted the help of their friends in N.P.W.S.. In 1983, Jack Giles and fellow government Minister Barry Coven went on what was described by critics as a 'selling trip' to the United States. The officials mislead the Americans, claiming that they had the support of most Australian conservation organizations, when in fact they didn't. The United States government was on the verge of lifting the ban when in late 1986, early 1987, Peter Rawlinson mobilized the support of Australia's six largest animal conservation organizations who approached the U.S. House of Representatives directly to lobby them not to lift the ban. The rearguard campaign succeeded. Rawlinson is now dead. His death was allegedly by accident.
In 1984, ten thousand kilos of Kangaroo was found by German officials masquerading as beef. The legal skin export trade also came under fire in 1985. It was revealed by cross-checking data that a million more roo skins had been sent to Italy, than official export license figures showed. A deceased estate near Sydney offered 600,000 roo skins for sale. The origins of the skins wasn't known, but the number exceeded that year's legal kill figure for the state of 577,000. Four million allegedly legal Queensland skins were offered for sale though a single German exporter within a four month period, in consignments of 1 million a time. The Costigan Royal Commission reported that waterfront security was fragmented and inefficient and a haven for criminals. Several reports on Customs have revealed inefficiencies and corruption in that department. A 1994 report into Customs, called for department 'inward looking and unaccountable'. It called for the sacking of 1,400 staff, one third of all employees, including all senior management positions. In response to the report, Customs staff called a strike.
In 1987, officials from the 'Fund For Animals' produced more evidence of illegal activity in the Kangaroo industry, including substitution. What was described in the media as 'clear evidence' was documented to the Senate Select Committee for Animal Welfare (S.S.C.A.W.). Also documented was the operation of illegal Kangaroo operations in Victoria. This resulted in Victorian authorities forcing the operations to either close or move interstate. The 'Fund for Animals' was threatened with legal action in a bid to silence them. The media then dropped the story.
On June 5, 1992, The Age reported on a front page 'exclusive' that 'the National Crime Authority believes that domestic meat substitution has re-emerged across the eastern states. The N.C.A. has been investigating allegations that local and overseas consumers of Australian meat have been systematically defrauded. So far it has uncovered evidence of meat substitution in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland'. The story by Paul Robinson was based on a leaked N.C.A. report, "Operation Jodhpur". It reported criminal activity in the meat industry and recent consignments sent overseas being refused and sent back to Australia.
On July 24th, it was reported by David Wilson in The Age that a new report compiled by the Australian bureau of Criminal Intelligence had found new meat rackets. The rackets alleged included substitution (again), money laundering, drug trafficking and arms dealing. These were linked with official corruption. Reports of similar allegations based on more recent evidence have appeared in the media since then, as recently as mid 1993.
According to a number of players in the Kangaroo industry, the illegal operators and those who have been allowed to break laws without reprisals have prospered to such an extent that they have now become too large and powerful to control.
It is claimed that they now have the financial and other resources to counter any new attack on their interests and as a result will continue to dominate the industry for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps I should mention at this point that all allegations in this book relating to Vacik and associates were denied by them in writing on July 22, 1993. This was done through their lawyers, Arnold Bloch Leibler. The N.P.W.S. officials adversely named did through N.P.W.S. provide a blanket denial of any wrongdoing, but failed to produce any documentary evidence to refute the allegations when repeatedly asked to do so.
The material printed in this book is based on material in front of me. Regardless of what is said in this book, it is beyond dispute that a number of adverse allegations have been made against Vacik and associates by many people since at least 1985. I have never had any dealings in any way with Vacik or associates so cannot be accused of having vested interests. From the point of view of conservation and long-term commercial well-being of all involved I believe that a full and open inquiry should be held so that those who have nothing to hide can clear their names once and for all and any villains, whoever they are, can be properly exposed and punished. Punishment should include seizure of assets derived wholly or in part from illegal activities.
THE TWO TAG SYSTEM
Evidence of discrepancies between legal and actual kills for Kangaroos in New South Wales for most years between 1981-92 is well-known and admitted by N.P.W.S. Other states have similar problems. The use of the federally agreed two-tag system for accounting for roo kills in summary is a sham. Tags are attached to Kangaroos when killed. One tag is issued by N.P.W.S. or the equivalent authority, while the other is issued by the farmer. By law both tags must be fixed to the carcass. In theory this allows authorities to control and account for the kangaroo kill. Unfortunately, fraudulent obtaining and use of tags is said to be common practice. In some cases, state wildlife departments actually issue substantially more tags than their agreed annual quota, making a mockery of the whole system. In 1985, the Queensland N.P.W.S. did according to the state Administrative Appeals Tribunal, issue 'several hundred thousand tags' in excess of its annual quota. That wildlife departments don't insist on or get many or most tags returned by the shooters and processors, further compromises the integrity of the system. This is particularly when carcasses are carted across state borders. Shooters, including Banjo Hunt can and do buy and sell 'black-market' tags. The practice is allegedly so widespread in the industry that it doesn't raise eyebrows. On another occasion, Banjo Hunt sold 500 carcasses to a dealer without tags. The dealer had used false permit/s to get the tags and simply put their own tags on Hunt's untagged roos. Again such practice is virtually routine in the industry.
Wildlife department's published estimates of Kangaroo populations appear to have little semblance of plausibility, showing variance by a factor of ten within 12 months. Critics of the so-called Kangaroo management program have questioned the basis with which state quotas were issued when no one even knew how many kangaroos there were! The legal kill, though varying each year, averages about 2 million.
The experienced professional kangaroo shooter usually kills large males as they are the most valuable. These are shot at night. The shooter will use the best of guns and shoot the roo in the head. This enables the skin to remain intact and thus sell for more. As there is more money in a good shot, after a bit of practice, few miss. The death of the shot roo is nearly instant, making death for a shot roo, not significantly crueler than that of cattle at an abattoir.
The problems arise usually when non-professional and part-time shooters enter the fold. Besides the higher rate of near misses and near hits, which often result in a slow agonizing death for the roo, other cruel practices occur.
Farmers bent on killing roos they allege eat all their feed have been known to blast them with shotguns. The victims often hop off with pellets through their bodies in excruciating pain.
Other farmers have been known to poison waterholes which just don't kill the roos, but most other wildlife as well. Sometimes roo shooters don't just shoot common species, but rare and endangered forms as well, in some cases unable to tell the difference. A skin of a rare Queensland species was recently exported to New Zealand to make a hat.
In 1969, Arthur Queripel operated a service station at Mildura on the Victoria/New South Wales Border. A truck pulled in for petrol. It was full of Kangaroos, many still alive and with their legs cut off so as not to be a danger to handlers. The roos, illegally shot in Victoria, were destined for an interstate pet food manufacturer and were being kept alive for freshness.
Queripel was so incensed with what he saw he complained to the R.S.P.C.A., police, and state wildlife departments. All divorced themselves from responsibility. In despair, he founded the Australian Wildlife Protection Council. Queripel has been opposed to Kangaroo slaughter ever since. He's photographed joeys skinned alive, seen roos left to die in traps and other acts of unimaginable cruelty. He also quotes federal figures showing, actual kills three times higher than issued quotas. When he took up the overkill with a Canberra-based bureaucrat, he was told 'an alternate interpretation of the term quota may be responsible for the figures showing an apparent over-harvest'. Needless to say, no action was proposed. Queripel has produced figures put out by farmers, processors and state wildlife authorities overstating kangaroo populations so as to try to obtain larger kill quotas.
In spite of these 'fudging' of figures, there are well-documented cases where Kangaroos clearly are in large numbers and can without doubt support an industry based on killing some. Shooting is probably at this stage the best way to do this. The problem is obviously finding a solution that is in the mutual interests of all. The solution must take into consideration the long term preservation of species, cruelty to animals, human health in terms of meat consumed, potential economic costs and benefits and the minimization of the potential influence of crime and corruption.
For those who think that some of the problems referred to in the Kangaroo industry may have been resolved in recent years, the fact is they haven't. A letter to the Qld. Department of Environment and Heritage dated 21/2/94 from a Kangaroo processor in southern Queensland says 'The way in which the law is enforced in both states (N.S.W./Qld) is also an important factor in the operation of these markets. From time to time we have found that both we and our customers have been subjected to harassment by law enforcement people particularly, but not exclusively, in N.S.W. which we believe is not inflicted on our competitors or their customers.'
At the moment the current system is being abused by wildlife bureaucrats to dictate which Kangaroo businesses succeed or fail. This appears to result as much from who is paying whom rather than anything to do with business acumen. The fact that Kangaroos haven't been shot into extinction probably has more to do with good luck rather than good management. That good luck includes the biological habits of the Kangaroos themselves. For the industry to operate on a fair footing, the Wildlife departments should set down the ground rules and allow all players to compete on a fair footing, while ensuring the rules allow for the long term preservation of the resource.
WHO KILLED THE KANGAROO KING
The article Who Killed The Kangaroo King was originally printed in the Melbourne Newspaper The Sunday Herald-Sun. It was reproduced in full on pages xii to xix of SMUGGLED-2. 'On 22/7/93, Vacik Distributors Pty. Ltd., Wattle Glen Pet Foods Pty. Ltd., Southern Game Meats Pty. Ltd., Victor Walter Bates, William John Bates and Clifford Dee, issued a Writ and Statement of Claim against The Herald and Weekly Times and Fia Cumming in the Supreme Court of Victoria, claiming damages, interests and costs in relation to the article reprinted here. The plaintiffs claimed the article was published recklessly and without inquiry of the plaintiffs, that imputations (against the plaintiffs) in the article were untrue, and that the plaintiffs had neglected to publish a retraction or apology. At the time of writing the matter was being defended by the respondents and was unresolved. Readers of this article and related parts of this book ("Smuggled-2") should bear these facts in mind before forming an opinion'.