I first came across the saying ‘Ducks on the Pond’ after reading Australian feminist, Dr. Anne Summers’ autobiography of the same name. It’s an old Australian saying honed over centuries across regional Australian shearing sheds as a warning to change, or at least tone down, the bawdy conversation if a woman traversed this male domain.
Rarely used now, it still rings true for Members of Parliament in Australia, who step into the chambers, or corridors of parliamentary power and raise issues of animal welfare or, heaven forbid, animal rights!
My first experience of this phenomenon was when, in my first year as a Greens MP in the SA State Parliament, I dared to introduce legislation to force a Bill on the cruel and senseless slaughter of ducks, and many other birds, through what is euphemistically titled the sport of duck 'hunting'.
It's not a sport, it's a slaughter.
Each year, during a Government-declared open season, many thousands of ducks are shot. Some are killed outright, but others are wounded; brought down and killed on retrieval and others are wounded and never retrieved by the hunters. Those ducks often die a slow, painful and prolonged death over several hours or even days in the name of what they try to call 'sport'.
The modification of my language in this issue went as deep in the Chamber's culture as the actual Hansard. I deliberately termed the practice Duck SHOOTING; Hansard politely converted that to "duck hunting". A battle of track changes ensued — one which I lost.
Shortly after that vote we rose for a dinner break. Breaking the silence of a now almost empty chamber, the booming voice of the Labor Left, oft progressive, Legislative Council President bellowed at me that I "should drop by [his] place" in the south east of our state "and [he'd] shoot a few ducks for me to cook us up for dinner". This from a man who voted for social justice all his life, but stood by the slaughter of bird life.
Ducks on the pond, indeed. I hadn't realised just how deep the shooting culture ran.
‘Mind your words,’ I was being told. But hey let's not mind the ducks, the geese, the quail, the black swan, the blue-winged shoveler; and don't put legislation on the agenda that leads to exposing it all.
The political culture runs deep in support of animal cruelty. Even in the parliamentary dining room, there is no vegetarian option on the main menu.
Raising animal issues like free-range hens, puppy factories, jumps racing, welfare of greyhounds, ending live export all makes the conversation change. The response from the other side for shutting down debate in extreme responses like Ag Gag laws is a classic case of shooting the messenger rather than changing the message. It's sometimes uncomfortable (on both sides), but absolutely necessary.
The language and discussion changed in the community long ago. Yet in Parliament, old parties are still whispering 'ducks on the pond' to themselves as newer parties and renegade members of all parties start to create new conversations, which are hard, but they are essential.
We need to need to find a voice for the voiceless and start a dialogue in Parliament about animal welfare.
We've had them before but we need to keep them going. The social licence for live export was revoked by the Australian public in 2011, when former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was forced to act after the outcry sparked by the excellent work of Animals Australia and ABC program Four Corners by broadcasting footage showing brutal slaughtering methods and mistreatment of animals inside Indonesian abattoirs.
Despite survey results in 2012 showing 78 per cent of Australians believe live exports are cruel, as well as 74 per cent saying they are more likely to vote for a political candidate who promises to end live exports, that ban has now been revoked and the ongoing cruelty is backed by LNP and Labor both harmonising in a chorus of cruelty.
Recently, in a curious reinvention of history, Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce tried to link the boats headed to the abattoir to the boats Abbott wanted stopped! Unbelievable and unedifying.
The lesson there is, in these conversations, those on the side of cruelty will say anything.
Animal advocates here and abroad are providing a platform for conversations to be had about these critical issues. They are speaking loudly against a culture of apathy about animal justice.
We’ve started the conversation about animals in our Parliaments and we won't be silenced. We will be a voice for the voiceless, and we owe it to the animals to rise with all elected members, regardless of party platforms, to stand strongly together. The community has already spoken. Politicians need to lead by following.
Keep our ducks safe from harm and happily on their pond!
Image of Australian wood ducks on previous page by Ed Dunen, CC-BY-2.0. Header image of rare Laysan ducks on this page by US Geological Survey, public domain.