Lawyers have questioned how two companies and a Cape Bridgewater man are liable for an alleged koala massacre at a former tree plantation site.
Lawyers for James Troeth, Bryant's Forestry and Earth Moving, and KR Hutchinson Rural Contractors appeared in Portland Magistrates Court on Tuesday via video-link for a contest mention hearing.
The three parties were charged by the conservation regulator last year with animal cruelty offences after the alleged mass killing of koalas at a Cape Bridgewater bluegum plantation in February 2020.
Landowner Mr Troeth and Bryant's Forestry and Earth Moving each face 126 charges under the Wildlife Act, including 18 aggravated cruelty charges for causing fatal injuries.
That charge carries a maximum penalty of more than $200,000 for a business and $90,000 or two years' jail for an individual.
Mr Troeth and Bryant's are accused of clearing habitat which wounded and caused unreasonable pain or suffering to dozens of koalas. They are also charged with destroying koalas which are a protected species.
KR Hutchinson Rural Contractors has been charged with one cruelty offence for disturbing the koala population.
On Tuesday barristers Wayne Toohey, representing Mr Troeth, and Adrian Paull, representing KR Hutchinson, questioned how their clients were liable for the massacre.
Mr Paull said it was unclear what allegations would prove beyond reasonable doubt that the rural contractor caused unreasonable pain and suffering to the animals.
He said there were no offences put to business owner Ken Hutchinson and the case appeared to be based on "more a discovery process than anything else".
Mr Toohey said his client had engaged two companies to clear his land and they were not yet in a position to agree or disagree on how the koalas "came to grief".
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning prosecutor Susanna Locke said the case had been fully disclosed to the parties and the factual basis of the charges set out, but they were "at a loggerhead".
She said the summary of alleged offending was in excess of 30 pages long.
Astrid Haban-Beer, representing Bryant's, said court intervention was needed.
A hearing seeking further and better particulars is expected at a later date.
KR Hutchinson Rural Contractors will appear in Warrnambool Magistrates Court again on December 8 for a sentence indication.
Mr Paull said his client wanted to move on with his life.
The conservation regulator last year said 21 koalas were found dead on site and a further 49 koalas were euthanised.
It is alleged an assessment showed 70 koalas were identified as experiencing, or likely to experience, pain or suffering in the form of starvation and/or dehydration, and 25 of those koalas had also sustained fractures.
The regulator said more than 120 koalas were released directly from the incident site back into the wild and more than 70 taken into care.
About 60 of those animals were later released back into the wild.
In April last year chief conservation regulator Kate Gavens told The Standard large amounts of evidence from the plantation had been examined.
Forensic radiography and pathology had also taken place on animals located at the scene.
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