First published April 17
This is an immensely complex case. In the interests of transparency it is presented here, as Mark Eather says: “Finally my side to the story …”
The Herald Sun story …
A JAPANESE export deal lost to suspected Yakuza involvement, allegations of government negligence and the passionate support of some of Australia’s best-known chefs are part of a long-running, multimillion-dollar dispute.
High-profile seafood entrepreneur Mark Eather, a vocal advocate for sustainable and ethical fishing, claims not only did Austrade cost him a lucrative business, but subsequent actions by fisheries authorities amounted to entrapment and malicious prosecution.
In Mr Eather’s corner are restaurateurs Shannon Bennett, Neil Perry and Philippe Leban as well as Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie, former Greens leader Christine Milne and former Labor trade minister Craig Emerson.
At times, fisheries authorities have attended well-known restaurants in a search for illicit seafood as part of their investigations.
Mr Eather claims the inquiries are driven by his longstanding battles with authorities over sustainable fishing and a vendetta reaching back to his dispute with Austrade officials who introduced him to a dodgy Japanese seafood buyer, who failed to pay for more than $500,000 in exported produce in 2000.
“Anyone who knows what has happened in the past knows that Mark was targeted specifically,” Vue de Monde chef Shannon Bennett said of Mr Eather’s dispute with Austrade and marine authorities.
“He is without a doubt in a small group of friends and suppliers that I would risk everything to say they are 100 per cent what this country was known and made famous on — generosity, hard work, passion, aspiration with the never-give-up attitude.”
Chef Neil Perry, founder of the Rockpool Group, also backed Mr Eather’s integrity and professionalism.
“I know of no other fisherman who cares about the resource or the environment more,” Perry said.
Mr Wilkie said he was concerned about the treatment Mr Eather had received and the government response to the Austrade issue …
And The Mercury version …
Mark Eather says …
“The reason that you can’t find it online is that it wasn’t published online … They ‘sanitised’ it [see the edited omission here in quotes] … buried it on page 19 … and then didn’t publish it online: “I couldn’t afford to go through that ludicrous five-year, $500,000 process all over again,” he said. The sale was documented as required by law and all forms were completed and the sale was phoned through to the authorities as required by law, and every judge involved has confirmed this.”
Mr Eather said a federal anti-corruption commission needed to be established to investigate such matters.
“Nice deletion. It doesn’t surprise me at all from the Mercury … the story from the Supreme Court matter should have been –
1. Why did the DPP appeal this ? [A. Parliament writes absurdly worded legislation – so the DPP can always get an appeal up – on ambiguous wording … see the appeal Judges’ words]
2. How on earth can someone traffic in legally harvested & purchased goods ? [& refuse cash from an undercover operative … and subsequently invoice them ?]
3. How on earth can one be fined for something that someone else didn’t do? [and he wasn’t even charged … but told ‘we are not after you, we are after Eather’].
4. A Wild Fisheries Compliance Manager was aware that this Processor did not even have any tags – and watched the continued sales to occur over 9 months … also knowing that every Lobster was going to result in ‘special penalties’ … that not even a Judge can influence … ‘special penalties’ are fixed, and a Judge can do nothing about them [Absurd] … the Judge did ask my Barrister how he could do so – the answer was that they simply can’t be altered by anyone.
5. ‘Justice’ ??!!
6. All for the sake of a single phone call from a Compliance Manager to the processor … at what cost to the state? [although their agenda – in my view – was entirely to discredit me re my sustainable and ethical fishing activism]
The latest Magistrates Court matter reporting in January was to the same ‘standard’.
To commercially fish in this state you actually require 3 licences. A commercial fishing licence [which was current], a commercial vessel licence [which was current] and a Personal fishing licence [which had lapsed, but sent to an address that I moved from 8 years ago] … BUT I had submitted all of my catch returns for that 6 week period.
The story should have been the above …. and the fact that it was an ‘Administrative breach, where the resource was not impacted upon at all’ ….. [the precise words of the Judge], that is why I was fined a nominal $1000! [the other $1000 was for the associated ‘processing of’ charge … read the Mercury article mate [btw – this journo was sitting in the Court] – my blood still boils when I think of it !
Once again, at what cost to the State … for a $300 licence – and a single phone call made to me to rectify?
So … for the sake of 2 phone calls, I have endured 6.5 years of this debacle and around $600K. No wonder they sanitised the article. Rather Orwellian isn’t it … where the report of the news is likely protective of its largest client – The Government?
Don’t start me on the LACK of reporting of the major ethical issues leading into the recent State election …. until ‘token’ snippets pathetically seeking credibility straight after the election. The extraordinary advertising $$$$ – obviously supplied by those with a direct vested interest in the outcome – sickening … and we have a tent city at the showgrounds because beautiful hard-working families can’t afford basic accommodation!
There goes my blood boiling again …
For more detail please find my full Press Statement below …
Press Statement – Mark Eather
It is with great regret that I have recently chosen to plead guilty to a charge that I am not guilty of … purely to cease this ludicrous case, which has severely impacted on my family, my personal life, my business and most importantly, my ability to speak out about the plethora of seafood resource and environmental terrorism enabled by certain Politicians and Departmental heads (in particular), aided and abetted by ‘pet’ scientists – a personal mission of mine for the past 25+ years.
I have endured this farce for 5.5 years, at a ‘hard cash’ cost of half a million dollars (which I have borrowed from wonderful supporters, and will be repaying for years yet), … the on-cost is obviously far more – combine despicable (and ill informed) behaviour by my competitors directly to my new and potential clients, outrageously incorrect press that labelled me a ‘poacher’ … and the appalling charge of Trafficking !!
Fisheries Law is unbelievably complex [with the licences that I hold, there is more than 7000 pages of legislation] – much of which is intentionally worded ambiguously], but let me use a layperson analogy for you. I have been charged with Murder for ‘J walking’ …. no, actually for watching someone ‘J walk’. Further, Lobster sales make up less than 0.5% of my total sales.
When this matter initially went to Court, I was found ‘not guilty – no case to answer’ in June 2015.
Every Lobster was legally purchased and harvested – there was no impact whatsoever on the natural resource
Every transaction was documented, reported, phoned through to the compliance section, even nominating the registration of the vehicle and where it was travelling to, and the time it was to travel.
At no time did I gain a financial advantage via Lobsters not having tags on them.
There was no difference whatsoever to me whether I walked out of the licenced lobster processors with those Lobsters being tagged or untagged. Further, there is no evidence that anyone involved in the process acted with knowledge nor intent to act illegally. There was no advantage, nor disadvantage, either way.
I cannot legally tag the Lobster in any case. The licenced processor’s employee is the sole person responsible for the tagging of the Lobster. He had no intent either, he assumed the wrong interpretation of the legislation. By the way, he wasn’t charged, and during the investigation that ensued – he asked the Marine Police why are you not charging me ? He was informed ‘we are after Eather, not you’. In fact, nobody else was charged at all … This is simply a statement of fact – that is not an outcome that I would have wanted either, as he was also acting in good faith, and honestly misinterpreted the legislation.
What lies were told to a Judge to justify attaining a Warrant to break into my unattended premises at 1am, to electronically tag legally purchased Lobster, with the processors despatch document on the desk adjacent, phone reported (as required) to the Department that afternoon – proving their legitimacy ? These are the very same Lobster that I delivered to the ‘entrapment’ undercover operative, … where I refused to take his cash – preferring to send him an invoice.
I twice refused to supply the Marine Police’s undercover operative ‘Bob Scott’ (as I was far too busy that week – offering him alternates) – he persisted … on the third occasion he lied about my good friend & client for 25 yrs – ‘Neil Perry said that you would look after me’
At the ‘sting’ delivery [which was both video and audio recorded] I refused cash from ‘Bob Scott’ stating that an invoice was far more professional, and if he was a friend of Neil’s – I have no doubt about his integrity. [BTW – I have still not been paid for that $2.5K invoice].
This is clearly termed Entrapment in most other places in the world … not in Tasmania.
99% of all Lobster transactions in Tasmania do not need to have tags attached. Only ‘local’ sales require them. The supply to the opening of MONA back in 2011 was my first local sale.
A Department Compliance Manager –
– didn’t even know his own legislation when questioned in Court by my Barrister
– Didn’t pick up the phone to inform me of a possible transgression [which is clearly stated in his employment charter] … and btw would have averted all of this debacle … and saved the State $Millions.
– When I confronted him about this matter, he responded … ‘not my place to inform you – I inform the Marine Police’ !!
– The sequential Lobster tags are monitored under a ‘strict and crucial’ compliance regime (his words). A Compliance Manager didn’t even know that this processor had NO TAGS TO TAG THE LOBSTER WITH IN ANY CASE.
– In fact, the few tags that the Processor DID have were from years previous (supplied to a different operator in those same premises) … so were in fact – ILLEGALLY possessed.
– So a Compliance Manager …. KNEW that the local sales that I was making could not have been tagged [he documented that in a letter to the Marine Police in early Feb 2011], and willingly let those local transactions continue for 9 months – knowing that I was racking up ‘special penalties’ [which btw even a Judge can’t influence] of around $35 per Lobster sold (total ended up just under $170K) … worse, he did not issue tags to that processor until my entrapment was complete, 9 months after becoming aware of the fact that he had none.
The DPP appealed my ‘Not guilty – No Case to Answer’ decision of 2015, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal, we appealed to the High Court and lost. In BOTH decisions the Justices were scathing in their criticism of the appallingly ‘loose’ language of the Legislation. Legislation is written by the Parliament … Judges and Courts can only enforce legislation – they do not change it. Naively, I expected the Parliament to be so embarrassed by the Justice’s criticism(s), that the Parliament would amend this ludicrous legislation. They didn’t and an ex-parliamentarian recently informed me ‘Mark, they won’t because loose legislation not only allows their Departments greater latitude to revenue raise … it also gives the DPP lots of latitude to get ‘Not Guilty’ appeals up – in cases such as yours’.
So my choices were to endlessly go back through the exact same Court process again … or plead guilty to something that I am not guilty of … purely to end this nightmare.
The Judge fined me $7K [which is farcical for an indictable matter in the Supreme Court … only because of my ‘priors’ which are just as ludicrous as this debacle – including the ‘taking’ of my own Scallop – cut free from our Aquaculture leases by opponents. Same individuals involved in the prosecution process. Gutless Departmental heads cowering to the militant numbers, rather than stand their ground and defend what could have been an outstanding sustainable industry for all concerned … and the state.
Further, in that latest [Jan ‘18] Court matter, I was charged with ‘taking of fish without a licence’. Absurdly, in Tasmania you need THREE licences to commercially catch fish – the actual fishing licence, another licence for your vessel (quite aside from the Survey registration) and a Personal Fishing Licence. I did not receive the Personal Fishing Licence renewal (??) …. but the A Class Scalefish Licence and Fishing Licence Vessel were both current. Additionally, I reported all of my catches to the Department … who were aware that my Personal Fishing Licence had elapsed – but, [of course] no phone call was made by them to alert me of this (??). The Judge confirmed that at no time was the natural resource illegally impacted upon – and fined me a nominal $1000. Sickeningly, the local press ran a story ‘Eather hooked for catching fish unlicensed’ … the State Government are this newspapers largest client … again, you join the dots.
Once again, an administrative matter that could have been totally averted by a single phone call …. And yet again, what did this absurd waste of everyone’s time cost the State?
I love this industry, and this glorious state of Tasmania, and it deserves better. I have lost count of the amount of people who have approached me with stories of similar bullying … in fact, I don’t know a female in this state that hasn’t at some time been bullied in the workplace, and numerous men, also. This state is so small, and the greater percentage of employment is either directly within the Government sector, or in an associated industry where the Government is the most significant client. A Federal ICAC needs to start right here – in Tasmania – many, many people are well aware of what goes on here, but fear speaking out – as the retribution will be contrived and often career threatening.
Please ask yourself … ‘How on earth does one ‘Traffic’ Lobster that has been legally caught, legally attained, and legally purchased … and further, every one of those ‘Trafficking’ transactions being properly documented and ethically invoiced ?’
I have no doubt that the same ‘Senior Departmental Bureaucrats’ that permit deplorable mass catch techniques in our wild fisheries … and allow environmental (and resource) terrorism such as the current state wide Aquaculture atrocities – have prompted the DPP to continue in this case … purely to keep me silent, and my business / reputation under continual duress, so that I go broke and ‘disappear’.
I can proudly say that they picked the wrong bloke, and these same Bureaucratic Boffins no doubt have feared this statement becoming public for over 6 years.
All of this – for the sake of a single phone call to either the processor or myself ?? ….. you join the dots !! This was a contrived exercise purely to (a) shut me up from exposing their deplorable industry decisions, and (b) to try and majorly discredit me.
I hope that this exposure costs a few notable, insipid, conniving conspirators their jobs.
This beautiful state deserves so much better!