On 17 June 2002 former Labor Senator Shayne Murphy wrote to the then Tasmania Police Commissioner Richard McCreadie requesting “any reports written and notes taken by Tasmania Police during and after investigations relating to the possible illegal introduction of foxes into Tasmania”. Senator Murphy’s request was duly processed as a Freedom of Information request and on 28 June 2002 Senator Murphy got the documents he asked for.
Senator Murphy got the original hand-written notes of the initial hearsay allegations of a plot to import fox cubs; he got the formal statements taken in several interviews; and he got the critical documents from beginning to end of the Police Task Force investigation.
• The Briefing Notes headed “Confidential” that outlined the basis of the claim that foxes had been illegally imported into Tasmania. On 13 July 2001 this briefing note was referred to a special Tasmania Police Task Force at the request of the Police Minister, David Llewellyn.
• On 13 July 2001 the Detective Sergeant leading the 5-man Task force wrote a 6-page report on their investigation and sent it to a Detective Inspector of the CIB in Launceston.
• The DI duly sent a letter of summary to his Commander [3-page letter].
• The Commander duly sent a letter (dated 17 July 2001) to the Deputy Police Commissioner, Jack Johnston [3-page letter].
In conclusion, the Police investigation team and Tasmania Police command concluded: “The original source of information cannot be corroborated by any material of fact or evidence.”
“The Briefing Notes cannot be corroborated, other than the existence of the persons mentioned and no corroborative evidence to suggest any involvement in a fox conspiracy.”
“There is no evidence available to the enquiry that there is an illegal importation of foxes by Samba shooters in the Perth area.”
“There is no evidence available from the enquiry that there has been an illegal importation of foxes by any known group of civilians.”
“That Mr Peter Mooney, the search team co-ordinator for the National Parks, has not established that foxes are in Tasmania and nor is there one single piece of evidence to corroborate that assertion.”
“I think it is fair to say that had police received a similar quality of information on a crime, the chances are that the rating given it would be have been at the lowest end of the scale.”
What triggered Senator Murphy’s request for formal documents on 13 June 2002?
Could it be that on Wednesday 6 June 2002 Police, Environment and Primary Industry Minister, David Llewellyn had featured in a front-page story in the Mercury newspaper titled:
“FOX PLOT - How animal dumpers escaped the law.
‘Authorities believe they know who brought foxes into Tasmania. And they believe young foxes were dumped with their litters at four separate sites around the state. But under existing laws the fox smugglers will not be charged as the State of Limitations has run out. The likely plot was revealed yesterday [5 June] by state Environment Minister, David Llewellyn. He said the environmental vandals had brought the foxes into the state to use them for shooting as sport…..Mr Llewellyn said the allegations, which had been made 18 months ago, could not be substantiated at that time to the point where charges could be laid. He outlined the series of events to a Budget Estimates Committee after Nelson MLC, Jim Wilkinson asked whether the existence of foxes was certain. ” There were allegations that several litters of foxes were brought in. Police worked some time on that and a lot of people were interviewed,” Mr Llewellyn said…..“We’ve issued a $50,000 reward and there has been a big response from Crime Stoppers and all are being investigated.” Mr Llewellyn said. “Foxes have been reported just a few meters from people fishing…..some people are dubious but certainly I am not and I can’t afford to take risks.” ‘
On 13 June 2003 Senator Murphy again contacted Mr McCreadie asking “if Tasmania Police had conducted, or are conducting, further investigations over and above those conducted into the alleged illegal importation of foxes in Tasmania? Have any further conclusions been reached since the earlier reports? Could you also advise if Tasmania Police have confirmed the identification of any persons involved in the alleged illegal introduction of foxes into Tasmania? Is Tasmania Police able to prove that certain persons did illegally bring foxes into this State? Can Tasmania police prosecute such persons, or is it the case that Tasmania Police have not prosecuted such persons because of the Statutes of Limitations?”
Had the Police Minister been correct to tell a Parliamentary Committee on 5 June 2002 that: “We’ve issued a $50,000 reward and there has been a big response from Crime Stoppers and all are being investigated.”
On 20 June the Senator got his reply from the Assistant Police Commissioner, Lupo Prins:
“Tasmania Police has not conducted investigations or received any further information concerning the introduction of foxes into this State since 2002. ...Tasmania Police members are available to, and do assist, the Fox Task Force as and when required. There have been no further conclusions reached since the original reports [July 2001]. Tasmania Police has received information that a number of persons have been responsible for the introduction of foxes into the State. investigations to date have failed to provide any evidence to prove this. There is no evidence currently in the possession of Tasmania Police to prove that any particular person has introduced foxes into this State. At this stage Tasmania Police does not have sufficient evidence to prosecute any person with the importation of foxes into this State regardless of the Statute of Limitations.”
Who to believe?
Download the FOI documents. Read for yourself ...
On 11 November 2009, Senator Eric Abetz wrote to then Minister for Primary Industries and Water, David Llewellyn about the fox-positive scats discovered in Tasmania.
Senator Abetz had specifically asked about ‘the lack of endemic Tasmanian species in the scats discovered so far”.
In reply, Minister Llewellyn chose to quote an excerpt from the Parliamentary Accounts Committee Fox Inquiry in which hair expert Ms Barbara Triggs had been asked the same question: “....foxes are opportunists; they will take anything that is around whether it is live or dead. Pademelons are pretty zippy; they are hard to catch and would not be the easiest of prey.” [Barbara Triggs testimony]
Senator Abetz sent another letter to the Minister on 5 January 2010 regarding the importation of fox scats by the Fox Eradication Program. Minister Llewellyn replied on 19 January:
“Dear Eric, .....scats have been brought into Tasmania, for training purposes since late 2007 and imported under extremely regulated conditions with the permission of the Chief Veterinary officer [Mr Rod Andrewartha]. ....Scats are brought in on a regular basis by post, and, as such, are subject to regular quarantine screening….As ‘training scats’ have a limited usable life, a regular supply [of scats] is required by the Program to maintain their scat detector dogs’ performance. To date approximately 600 scats have been imported…..The scat detector dogs’ important role is highlighted by the fact that they [the dogs] have been responsible for locating a large number of the fox-positive scats found in Tasmania…...The importation of [fox] scats for training purposes has never been a secret.
In April 2008 NSW fox hunters were asked to “help Tasmania fight the fox by providing scats from freshly-hunted foxes to train tracker dogs…..hunters should take care when hunting foxes [and removing fox poo from their rectums!] as they are a carrier of the potentially fatal hydatid disease.”