Facing Mackay Magistrates Court, the men did not enter a plea to a charge of taking a protected animal, a chelonia mydus, or green turtle.
Facing Mackay Magistrates Court, the men did not enter a plea to a charge of taking a protected animal, a chelonia mydus, or green turtle. Stuart Quinn

Mackay men charged with taking of protected green turtle

EXCLUSIVE: Indigenous links to traditionally owned land could prove a key component in court after a pair of Mackay men were charged with taking a protected green turtle.

Jaffa Godfrey Ahwang and Patrick John Sabatino appeared in Mackay Magistrates Court alongside each other on Tuesday.

The co-accused men were represented by defence solicitor Chris Colwill, of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Legal Service (ATSILS).

Ahwang of Mackay and Sabatino of Andergrove have each been charged with taking a protected animal, chelonia mydus (green turtle), without authorisation from the locality of Murray Creek Bay on April 16 last year, under the Nature Conservation Act.

"It's averred that the protected animal, being a chelonia midus, was of a class vulnerable wildlife,” said Magistrate Damien Dwyer.

However, Mr Colwill told the court his clients would likely plead not guilty to the sole charge against each of them, which he said was brought on by "Fisheries” (the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries).

Representing the department, Paul Brown phoned in to the courtroom for the case.

Mr Colwill explained to Mr Dwyer that he had been examining potential exemptions in legislation for Ahwang and Sabatino in regards to traditional owners and green zones.

"Your honour, at this stage I'd ask for no pleas to be entered. I've been having some significant discussions with Mr Brown,” he said.

"Mr Brown and I ask if your honour would consider January next year (for an adjournment).”

Mr Colwill added the "difficulty we've had” was in "trying to ascertain where in the legislation” it permits "traditional owners to fish in the green zone”.

" ... and we're trying to determine where it is,” he said, regarding "what a traditional owner can do and can't do”, and "what permission a traditional owner can give to a non-traditional owner”.

Chiming in, Mr Brown said as a result of submissions he was "in the process of conducting further enquiries”.

He reiterated the case should be adjourned to January next year and Mr Colwill added that would allow sufficient time to "get to the bottom of the legal matter”.

Mr Dwyer adjourned the Commonwealth case to January 19, 2019.



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