'Sloppy' Corryong farmer didn’t steal cattle, but put trade borders at risk

Police have withdrawn charges of cattle theft against a Corryong father and son who challenged the allegations in court.

Wodonga Magistrates Court on Monday heard evidence that cattle belonging to a neighbour were seen on the Lucyvale property of Peter and Scott Burgess in late October 2016.

But they denied they took the animals intentionally.

Barrister Charles Morgan told the court on Tuesday the public allegations had been difficult for his client. Scott Burgess, 39, has since left the cattle industry and leased his farm.

He did plead guilty in court to two less serious charges of failing to identify his cattle, under the Livestock Disease Control Act.

Cattle are required to have unique National Livestock Identification System ear tags, used to trace their movements from birth to various farms when they are sold.

The court heard that when police inspected the Burgess’ cattle in December 2016, they discovered one was tagged with a NLIS tag belonging to an older animal.

Another animal for sale by Burgess at Barnawartha in May 2017 was found to have a tag connecting it to a previous breeder.

Albury Detective Senior Constable Scott Barton, who specialises in the cattle industry, told the court Burgess put the livestock industry at risk because if a disease was found in his cattle with incorrect tags, trade borders would have to close until the origin of the animal and disease was located.

“The system is there to have lifetime traceability,” he said.

“Instead of quarantining a certain area or a state, we’d have to quarantine the country.”

Detective Barton said the mistake had the capability to destroy a $7.1 billion industry.

Mr Morgan argued the crime of not properly identifying the cattle was at the lower end of offending.

“There was no damage, there was no outbreak, it was identified,” he said.

“Busy, sloppy and naive is the explanation for it … a pretty naive farmer trying to negotiate this system without much assistance.”

He said Mr Burgess was also a real estate agent and spent much of his time travelling to and from Mexico to visit family.

Mr Morgan also pointed out flaws in the identification system, including how some farmers post tags in the mail after cattle sales.

Magistrate Fran Medina fined Mr Burgess $2500, saying she took into account he was managing multiple issues and did not turn his mind to the implications of having the wrong tags.

But she said it was important to deter others from committing the same offence.

“It’s as a result of his own actions, his own lack of vigilance,” she said.