Turtle kill: Men appeal hefty fines
TWO mates each fined $2000 for illegally harpooning a green turtle for a wedding feast are appealing the result by arguing a cultural entitlement.
Jaffa Godfrey Ahwang and Patrick John Sabatino had been hunting near Murray Creek, about 60km north of Mackay, when a Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol crew stopped their boat on April 16, 2017.
The officers spotted a turtle, with its front flippers bound together and a puncture wound through the top of its shell, on the floor of the boat.
They men denied taking a protected animal but lost their fight in Mackay Magistrates Court and were each found guilty of the offence on September 10.
They each were fined $2000 and ordered to pay $750 in legal costs. Convictions were not recorded.
Court documents obtained by the Daily Mercury reveal the two are appealing the result on three grounds.
They have argued the Magistrate erred in law in finding there was no defence as they believed on reasonable grounds in the existence of facts, which if true would have exonerated them from liability.
They have further argued they honestly believed the property belonged to them and they had a justified claim to it.
The final basis was the pair were Torres Strait Islanders who honestly believed that Australian Law would enforce a right of possession, which is recognised by their customary laws and, as such, establishes a defence of claim of right.
Both Ahwang and Sabatino had to request an extension of time to appeal the case as the documents were not lodged until November 1 - more than a month after the result was handed down.
They both argued they had been unrepresented at the hearing as they could not afford a lawyer.
The men said a few weeks after the hearing they had contacted the TSRA Native Title Office on Thursday Island, which had been unable to locate a pro bono lawyer to take on the case.
"Eventually the principal legal officer agreed to represent me privately pro bono and brief pro bono counsel," both men wrote in their application.
The extension was granted, and the case was mentioned briefly on Wednesday. An appeal has been listed for early May next year.