Disgorging dingo money…

By Legal Eagle

I’m fascinated by cases where people are forced to cough up their ill-gotten gains (in my field, we call it ‘disgorgement’). Now, as I’ve noted on the recent David Hicks post, most of the cases involve ex-spies or something of that sort. Heath G has alerted me to a case which is a little out of the ordinary:

Queensland Attorney-General Cameron Dick says he will assess if a woman convicted of feeding dingoes on Fraser Island, off the state’s south-east, has breached proceeds of crime laws when her book is finished.

Earlier this month, Jennifer Parkhurst was given a nine-month suspended sentence and fined $40,000 for feeding 17 dingoes over a 13-month period.

She says she is writing a book about her trial and her experiences on the island.

Mr Dick says people are entitled to express their views about the justice system.

“We don’t want to be seen to be gagging people if they have a view to express about the justice system, but where their criminal activities result in ill-gained money or improperly gathered money or other proceeds of crime, then that’s the real focus of the law, not on minor offences,” he said.

“I’d have to see the book and be satisfied that it won’t breach the law.

“Really the focus of the law is on serious and major crime and not on people telling their story about what experience they may have had in the justice system.

“We do live in a free society where people can express their own views about the justice system.”

On the face of it, I wouldn’t have thought that there was enough in the issue to write a whole book about it. However, while researching this post, I learned that the dingo is a controversial animal. Although dingos have some different behaviour and attributes to normal dogs, it is supremely difficult (if not impossible) to isolate genetic differences, and most dingos these days are hybridised with domestic dogs. They do seem to be a little wilder than standard domestic dogs. There are instances of dingos attacking people, including the infamous case involving the death of 9-week-old baby Azaria Chamberlain at Ayers’ Rock.

Related to this last observation, there were apparently a number of dingo attacks on Fraser Island in 2009. In the wake of Ms Parkhurst’s sentencing, authorities linked the rise in attacks on people with the rise in people like Ms Parkhurst feeding the dingos. Ms Parkhurst (who has a website here) denies this.

I have no idea whether feeding dingos increases their aggression to humans — but if there’s a risk that this might occur, it’s probably best to punish people who do it, even if the people have the best of motives. Still, it seems to me that if the Queensland government is thinking about using proceeds of crime legislation to force this woman to disgorge any profits from her proposed book, this is pretty heavy-handed and punitive. She has already been fined a substantial sum of money and adequately punished, from my point of view. I think it looks bad if we don’t take money off David Hicks or Chopper Read (they are hard targets for a variety of reasons), but we do take money off this woman (she’s an easy target).

(Yes, you can construe from this post that the exam marking has finished, apart from standardization. I’m a happy little Eagle.)

7 Comments

  1. David Marks
    Posted November 21, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I have become increasingly concerned about confiscation statutes. Doing exclusively civil work, I am nevertheless concerned about ppl being denied the right to pay for a lawyer, reversal of the onus of proof on whether a person can keep an asset, and this new, insidious threat to freedom of speech.

    Sugden lists the desire of evading forfeiture for treason as one of the reasons for the rise of the use (‘A Practical Treatise on Powers’, 1.1.2).

  2. Posted November 21, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Interesting. The usufruct was used in Roman times for exactly the same thing: avoiding forfeiture for maiestas (treason). The standard trick was to hide property with a female relative, as Roman women did not pay tax and were (seldom) executed/expropriated for political crimes, for particular historical reasons (no taxation without representation):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hortensia_(orator)

    Like David, I am getting more than a little sick of modern states reanimating — at least in part — all of the shittiest bits of western legal history. Reversal of the onus of proof (not just with respect to asset stripping, but that’s as good a place to start as any) is another bugbear of mine.

    [BTW: note for non-lawyers — ‘use’ is an old word for ‘trust’. The Roman usufruct worked the same way, and had identical rules to those developed at common law].

  3. Posted November 22, 2010 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    SL: Agreed, but once you define the role of the state as “doing good”, and as the premier instrument of “social good”, it becomes much easier to justify its extension in both ambit and means of action and rather hard to argue against either.

  4. Tim Quilty
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    Just about dingos – We recently took a 1 week holiday at Hawkes Nest (a bit above Newcastle), and went for long walks on the beach.

    One afternoon, we walked about 15 Km up the beach. On the way we passed several vehicles that had driven up to park and fish. We saw a dingo sitting near one ute, watching the fishermen. When they caught and cleaned a fish it would race down and eat the guts.

    When we turned around to walk back, getting on toward dusk, all the fishermen had left. We passed where the dingo was lying, and he started to follow us, walking along the top of the sandbank about 10 meters away.

    At some point my wife stopped to pick up and clean an interesting shell and I kept walking. As soon as there was about 20 meters distance between us, the dingo lept down, growing and menacing my wife.

    She screamed, I ran back shouting, and the dingo backed off about 1-2 metres, still snarling. At which distance it stayed for the next few kilometers, until I could find a good sold bit of driftwood to use as a club. At which point he dropped back to about 5 meters, but kept following.

    He followed us in the dark all the way to the edge of the town, and I suspect he was still following all the way back to our unit, lurking outside the street-lights. I have no doubt that it would have attacked a small child it could get alone.

    So, yes, when dingos come to associate people with food, it is a problem.

  5. Grendel
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    The Dingo, like most canine species is opportunistic in feeding habits. On Fraser they have come to associate the presence of people with easy pickings and the “no feeding” rule, along with secure disposal of food wastes has reduced (but not ended) the association somewhat. It can never be totally ended, but if Dingoes develop a less ‘immediate’ food association it does reduce contact. In the United States bears have a similar relationship (albeit one writ large and fuzzy) in forest and parklands and similar approaches are tried.

    At least dingoes are somewhat more challenged in the bin-opening skill area.

    As for the proceeds from the book – it sounds like dreadfully dull work from the scant detail thus far, so with luck there will be no proceeds to confiscate – but in any case I think those laws are overreaching somewhat .

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