Stock Theft | SPEECH


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 16:29 :00 ): I am pleased to have this opportunity to advise the house of a very serious concern I have which affects my electorate but would certainly affect many other country electorates around the state, that is, a continuous and ongoing issue with regard to stock theft from farms and stations. This is a very difficult and delicate issue for quite a few reasons. I start by saying that it would actually be extremely difficult to swiftly and effectively steal sheep or cattle from a farm or station without having significant experience in the management of those animals—probably mobile yards, a truck or two, dogs, more than one person most likely, and importantly, a pretty good understanding of the lie of the land around this area. Having said that, this issue then always casts doubt upon neighbours when these sorts of things happen.

I am not saying that we have a big problem in rural, regional and remote South Australia with regard to neighbours stealing each other’s stock. I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that stock does go missing, and it is a very difficult thing to get on top of for another reason, too, because the more remote a property is and the larger a property is, the less frequently stock is actually handled. It could actually be weeks and sometimes even months before the owner of the stock realises that it has been missing because, while they might be diligent and responsible with regard to their management of stock and they are checking the condition of them and that the water and feed and all the other requirements are all there for them to be healthy and well maintained, they are not actually counting every single head of cattle or sheep on the place when they go about that work.

It is not hard to imagine five or 10 per cent potentially going missing without the owner actually realising for quite a long time. But, of course, five or 10 per cent is a relatively valuable amount. Stock prices at the moment are quite high, so unfortunately the higher the price of the stock, the more incentive there is for dishonest people to steal them. It is hard to get on top of because it is not something where you just wake up one morning and realise that the stock is missing, and then there is also that other delicacy about it, that awkwardness about it, to ask who on earth could have done this? Who could be the perpetrator, given the skills and knowledge that I mentioned before?

The government, with a fair bit of pride, a few years ago announced that it was reintroducing the stock squad, and that sounded great. It really did sound fantastic. It is a lovely title; it sounds like there will be well-resourced, active people out there on top of this job trying to make sure that everybody is very concerned of the risks of getting caught if they dare do this sort of thing, and if they do go about it successfully that the stock squad will be after them. That sounds good, but the reality is that the police officers currently tasked with this work in South Australia, and I believe there are only two of them specifically—there might be more and I stand corrected if necessary—do not have any extra resources.

It is not as if an officer has been told, ‘This is your regular work and we would now like you to work on stock theft instead.’ These are detectives who have just had said to them, ‘Now you have an extra job, and by the way, you don’t actually have any more time in the day, resources or equipment.’ So, to be quite blunt, not much has been done about it. I can tell you: I know there are very capable SAPOL officers who would like to do this work, many of whom have the hands-on skills, interests, capacity and knowledge to be able to do it in rural areas. It is nothing wrong with SAPOL; it is just that they do not have the resources and capacity to do it because it is just thrown in as an extra job and, to be blunt again, it is an extra job that does not have a great deal of priority put on it.

In the electorate of Stuart, it happens very regularly that graziers will say, ‘I know I have had 20 sheep stolen. I can absolutely guarantee I have had 20 sheep stolen,’ or 30 cattle, or whatever, and it is a very difficult thing to track down because there is an interstate aspect, a freight aspect, and a processing through the abattoirs aspect to this. I have people come to me and say, ’50 head of cattle went onto this truck and went down to the abattoir, but the abattoir only recorded 45 as going through their books.’ So, 50 got off the truck, 50 went in the front door of the abattoir but on paper 45 went out in pieces through the back door of the abattoir. What happened to the other five? Well, they were probably processed as well but there is no record of that happening. If there is no record of the processing, there is no record of the financial transaction, who got money and how it all went.

It is a pretty complicated issue, I acknowledge, right from the recognition of the crime and the reporting all the way through to the local area sensitivities about how it might have happened—through transport and through processing—and how on earth do you recognise one chop, or one piece of steak or one sausage from another in trying to determine where it came from. It is a difficult situation.

However, the point that I would like to make in taking this opportunity to speak here is that the government can do more to address this issue. There are South Australian police officers who would gladly apply themselves to this work if they were given the time at work and the resources to do it. We also need to address very seriously the issue of NLIS identification working its way all the way through to the back door, or the refrigerator, if you like, of the abattoir, because that would then make it much more difficult for people to dispose of stolen stock.

Of course, the only reason that people steal something valuable is so they can dispose of it, either by trading or selling. There is a very real opportunity to clamp down on that. Queensland is the national leader, in my opinion, with regard to managing this problem, and I think that South Australia could look very closely at Queensland and learn a lot of lessons.

Queensland provides its officers who are tasked with working in this area with dedicated time to do it and with the appropriate equipment. South Australia Police, I understand, have just disposed of motorcycles that were acquired to do this work. They have just disposed of the motorcycles, so how on earth is an officer meant to get out and about and do it properly? Also, Queensland supports the people trying do this sort of work with legislation that gives them more capacity to do the work when they are on a property.

Right now, if the police had good cause to believe that there was stolen stock on a property and if they could get the appropriate permission to essentially be allowed access to search the property—so, no different from looking for stolen goods in a house—they can look for stolen stock on a grazing property, but then what do you do? If they happen to find it, what do they do then? They are in the middle of the outback with 500 head of cattle. They have identified that a certain number of them are not meant to be there, they are not tagged appropriately, or perhaps even tagged inappropriately (although that does not happen too often because the people who steal the stock are clever enough to get rid of the wrong eartags), but then what do they do?

They have no capacity to use the yards on that property. If hypothetically they are on a property because they believe that there is stolen stock there and they come across stolen stock, they are in the middle of a gigantic paddock and they say to the owner of that property, ‘We want to use your yards. We want to draught the stock so that we can identify exactly which stock belongs to whom, etc.,’ the owner of that property can say, ‘No, you can’t.’ The owner of that property can say, ‘Yes, you have a right to enter this property,’ but the owner of the property can say, ‘But you are not getting any permission from me to use my yards.’ Then what do they do?

They are out in the middle of the outback—dust, flies, heat—they know they are the stolen cattle and they cannot do a thing about it other than just take some photos, which slows the whole process down. There is much more to say on this issue. I am nearly out of the allotted time, but this is an issue that this house needs to be advised of and this is an issue that the government needs to provide SAPOL with the appropriate resources to address rather than just talking about a stock squad that does not really exist.