Featherdale Wildlife Park - Extract from Legislative Council Hansard of 26 September 1996 [Parliament of New South Wales, Australia]



The Hon. J. F. RYAN [4.28]: I put on the record a number of additional concerns I have about the manner in which the law enforcement branch of the National Parks and Wildlife Service has handled complaints against the proprietor, or perhaps the now former proprietor, of the Featherdale Wildlife Park at Doonside, who I will today name, Mr Bruce Kubbere. I hold documents that indicate that the owner of the park has come to the attention of the NPWS on numerous occasions since 1970 for serious and wilful breaches of wildlife protection laws. In many instances the breaches of law have been detected by experienced field officers who have a reputation for their no-nonsense adherence to the law - perhaps the "Merv Beck Raiders" of the wildlife service.

When field officers have detected breaches of the law and sought to prosecute Mr Kubbere they have been stopped from doing so by senior officers, frequently for reasons that have been unexplained. One such officer who detected offences was Mr Clive Bennett. In 1971 he visited property owned by Mr Kubbere and seized numerous young spoonbill and ibis fledglings from the property. Mr Kubbere claimed that he did not know how they got onto his property. Despite Mr Kubbere's claims, Mr Bennett laid charges, which were subsequently lifted by senior officers of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, without explanation, before they reached court. Later Mr Bennett visited the Featherdale Wildlife Park and discovered numerous discrepancies between actual number of animals held at the park and the number suggested by the records kept by Mr Kubbere. Mr Bennett again proceeded to take action. Mr Kubbere attended a function at which the then Minister for Health, Laurie Brereton, and the then Minister for Planning and Environment, Eric Bedford, were present. He complained about Mr Bennett to the Ministers. The next day Mr Bennett was called in and reprimanded for his actions and was told to make arrangements to hand back records or evidence taken from Mr Kubbere.

I have an extraordinary report signed by Mr Jack Giles, then assistant director of the wildlife branch of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, now a senior executive of Taronga Zoo. He reported
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that Mr Bennett's action had been the subject of complaints to Mr Brereton and the Minister for the Environment and he criticised Mr Bennett for being too confrontational. He ordered him to fall into line with the practice adopted by other investigators of checking with head office before they conducted inspections of suspect properties. Finally, Mr Bennett was told to return the evidence which he had collected from Mr Kubbere as rapidly as possible. I also have a report from Mr Bennett's immediate superior officer, who answers in full all of Mr Giles' complaints about Mr Bennett. He complained that head office was attempting to emasculate his law enforcing efforts. These reports, when read together, provide a fascinating insight into how mates looked after mates in the Wran Government.

In 1984 Mr Bennett again had cause to investigate Mr Kubbere. This time it was as a result of an advertisement in a newspaper in which Mr Kubbere indicated that he had rare Australian native birds for sale. Mr Bennett uncovered the fact that Mr Kubbere had the birds and did not have a licence to hold them, much less sell them. Mr Bennett sought permission from the previously mentioned Jack Giles to prosecute Kubbere. According to a statement made by Mr Bennett to police he was told by Mr Giles not to take action because the Minister was "reviewing all exhibitors and you do not need to inspect premises". I also have a 1988 report from the National Parks and Wildlife Service prepared by Mr Patrick Holland, who now works in the office of the Minister for the Environment. In that report it is clear that Featherdale Wildlife Park was the subject of a visit by a ranger called Ken Blade, who found that Mr Kubbere again did not have his record books up to date. Mr Kubbere had to leave in a hurry just before representatives of the parks service arrived. Mr Blade was given three conflicting reasons for Mr Kubbere's hurried departure. Later Mr Holland reported a conversation in which Mr Kubbere admitted that he did not have his books up to date. In that report Mr Kubbere is quoted as saying:

Look I have done you lots of favours over the years. John Cook used to bring the new rangers out here to look at the place and learn the ropes. John still calls in from time to time . . . I have done a lot for you people. I have a donation box and I've given John Cook information about other fauna dealers . . . Look I'm a busy man, I only get to do the books once or twice a week.

Mr Kubbere was again told to submit his books. I do not know what happened after this incident but I understand that once again Mr Kubbere escaped legal action. I make no suggestion that Mr Holland, from Pam Allan's office, acted improperly. Another ranger, Bob Conroy, had reason to recommend action against Mr Kubbere in July 1992 for offences again involving trading in rare birds. I have a document indicating that he had to chase up senior parks service officers to take action against Mr Kubbere five months later. In March Mr Kubbere received a letter from Mr D. A. Johnstone of the National Parks and Wildlife Service telling him that although prosecution action had not been instituted against him on this occasion, his attention was drawn to a number of matters, which I take it were found to be inadequate. Why was action not taken against him? It was hardly his first offence. I also have a memo from the same Bob Conroy dated a month later indicating that he wished to discuss, among other things, with senior National Parks and Wildlife Service staff, items such as the apparent protection of some fauna dealers - birds exhibitors. How lucky can a person get? Mr Kubbere appears to have been a protected species himself. [Time expired.]

Extract from the Legislative Council Hansard of 26/09/96 - Corrected Copy

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Featherdale Wildlife Park - Extract from Legislative Council Hansard of 17 October 1996



The Hon. J. F. RYAN [4.45]: Honourable members may recall that during the last sitting week I raised a number of matters relating to the enforcement of wildlife regulations by the enforcement branch of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and I made particular mention of the Featherdale Wildlife Park at Doonside. In addition, my colleague the Hon. R. S. L. Jones addressed a question without notice to the Minister for the Environment about the same matter. I named a number of people and tabled a wad of documents which confirmed that for over 20 years the manager
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of Featherdale Wildlife Park, Mr Bruce Kubbere, had been protected by senior officials of the National Parks and Wildlife Service from being prosecuted for failing to keep proper records, failing to report the deaths of about 50 koalas, illegally selling protected birds that he had no licence to keep in the first place, obtaining koalas from the wild and falsifying records to pass them off as being captive breed exhibits.

I said then and I say again that none of these well-documented allegations has brought the slightest response from the Minister or the National Parks and Wildlife Service. I interpret that lack of response to mean that no response is possible because no legitimate answer is available to the questions which I have raised in this House. If the senior officers involved think that this issue will just go away they are greatly mistaken. I have plenty more material and I will keep raising this issue until I get a satisfactory response. The constraints of time have prevented me from raising all these issues at once, so I will continue this process until all the story is out and a satisfactory explanation is given.

Today I refer to the actions of both Taronga Zoo and the National Parks and Wildlife Service in selling or giving protected birds to Mr Kubbere after they had been seized from Allan Parmenter, a bird smuggler. I have a schedule of birds which were taken from Mr Parmenter on 29 July 1987. By leave, I table that document. I understand that it was, and still is, the policy of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to seize illegal wildlife and return it to the wild as soon as practicable. The operation in 1987 against Mr Parmenter netted 68 birds. I want to know why 22 of those birds were either given or sold to Mr Bruce Kubbere rather than being released to the wild. I want to know why the National Parks and Wildlife Service even considered selling any protected wildlife to Mr Kubbere, given his previously well-documented poor record in keeping appropriate records and in selling protected wildlife without a licence.

In view of Mr Kubbere's record, giving protected birds to him was about the equivalent of giving chickens to Colonel Sanders. Besides the concerns that I have raised today I wish also to put on the record that I have spoken to at least two employees - and I have the name and contact details of another former employee of Mr Kubbere - who claim that they were physically harassed by an associate of Mr Kubbere as a means of intimidating them and preventing them from giving evidence to authorities. At the time that an investigation was being carried out into Mr Kubbere's koala handling procedures three former employees of the Featherdale Wildlife Park received either personal visits or threatening phone calls from a person called Marty Fiarugia, an associate of Mr Kubbere. Both people have the same interest in collecting protected birds.

In one instance, Mr Fiarugia, this bird-collecting colleague of Mr Kubbere, visited the family of a former Featherdale employee while he was away giving a statement to the Department of Agriculture in Orange. Mr Fiarugia paid a second visit to this employee and threatened to shoot him if he continued to give evidence to authorities. The employee was so concerned that on two occasions he reported these incidents to the police. This evidence has been available to National Parks and Wildlife Service officers but, to the best of my knowledge, they have never interviewed the people concerned. I ask again: why has Mr Kubbere been given such special treatment by the National Parks and Wildlife Service? Why has it not taken action against him when it has sufficient evidence to prosecute? Why did it sell Mr Kubbere protected wildlife in view of what was known about him? When will the National Parks and Wildlife Service respond to these serious concerns?

Extract from the Legislative Council Hansard of 17/10/96 - Corrected Copy

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This page is maintained in the LC Hansard Articles - 51st Parliament database. Last updated 11/11/96.