THE first shots have been fired in a legal battle between farmers and the Victorian Government over rabbits.
Geelong farmers Colin and Denise Wilkins have accused the Department of Primary Industries of bullying tactics which they say is an attempt to cover up a hotch-potch approach to rabbit control.
A Geelong magistrate last week ordered the DPI to hand over more than 1000 pages of documents in what is increasingly being seen as a test case against government enforcement policies.
The Wilkins are refusing to pay a fine for failing to treat rabbits on their property, plus a $13,000 bill from a contractor employed by the DPI to do the work.
A five-day court contest early next year will centre on the Wilkins' claims they had already done the rabbit clean-up work but were immediately re-infested by rabbits from neighbouring properties.
Prosecutor John Saunders told Geelong Magistrates' Court last week DPI officers had run a co-ordinated rabbit control program in the Wilkins' Thompson Creek area.
He said the Wilkins had done "some poison baiting" but it had been insufficient.
The barrister said the application for the DPI to produce files of the action taken on 30 neighbouring properties, each containing between 50 to 180 pages of documents, was unnecessary.
He said the files were not easy to access, being kept in a place he called "Magic Mountain" (the department's archives) and "were going to take some time to locate". "The files in relation to other landholders are not relevant," Mr Saunders said.
Defence counsel Jim Rutherford said there had "already been substantial non-compliance" to defence requests for information from DPI.
"There has been an attempt to ambush my clients with the late disclosure of evidence," Mr Rutherford said.
"It is indicative of the heavy-handed approach from DPI in this prosecution. "It is oppressive conduct by them which should be condemned."
Mr Rutherford alleged the rabbit control program in the area had not been co-ordinated.
Magistrate Ann McGarvie ordered the documents to be produced and adjourned the hearing for directions mention on February 27, with a further five-day contested hearing from April 8.