Duck Shooting: Response to motion by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party | Sue Pennicuik

Duck Shooting: Response to motion by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 - 10:00am
Sue Pennicuik

I would like to start my reply to Mr Young's motion by saying that 87 per cent, if not more, of Victorians oppose duck shooting and they are dismayed to know that it is going ahead again this year given what has gone on in the past few years, with escalating massacres of birds, an increasing disregard of the flimsy regulations and the lack of enforcement of those regulations every single duck shooting season.

A growing number of regional Victorians are voicing their opposition to duck shooting. I have gone to observe duck shooting on opening weekends and at other times for the past 20 or so years, and there have always been a large number of regional Victorians who have expressed their opposition to duck shooting, but there are more of them now, and that can be seen by the recent creation of Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting, which is gathering a lot of support amongst regional Victorians.

I just want to start by going to some of the comments made by Mr Young in speaking to his motion. He talked about how duck shooting is an experience. Actually, the first paragraph of his motion says it is an opportunity to 'enjoy time with family and friends' and it has the 'health benefits of an outdoor physical activity'. Of course those things can be experienced without shooting ducks. You can spend time with family and friends. You can have an outdoor experience, even a camping experience, by the wetlands without shooting ducks. So I agree that those types of pastimes, spending time with families and friends and outdoor physical activity, are good; I just do not agree with combining that with shooting ducks.

I will take up Mr Young's interjection with regard to no-one visiting wetlands without duck shooting. In fact a lot of people visit wetlands to take photos of ducks, and a lot more would visit them if there were no duck shooters there. As I said, I have been to the wetlands many, many times and I have seen what happens, and I concur with the comments that were aired on 7.30 just last week as a result of the release of the Pegasus report as well as their own investigations and interviews with people that unsustainable hunting practices are on the rise. That is certainly what I have witnessed.

Mr Young talks about the minority of hunters doing the wrong thing. In fact my experience and my observation is that Mr Young, who talks about how he does the right thing, is actually in the minority.

Well, I go by what I see. He talks about misinformation. The reason I go is so that I do know what happens; I do see what happens. Someone has to go and witness and report accurately what goes on, and that is not you, Mr Young.

Mr Young also said misinformation was peddled regarding fluffy animals. Well, I have seen for myself what happens when female ducks with ducklings have been shot. Those ducklings are just lost then because ducklings follow their mothers and have their behaviour imprinted on them. They are basically helpless once they lose their mother. I have personally seen ducklings dying on the water or being brought in by duck rescuers and put into incubators but not surviving. They are fluffy ducklings. It is not misinformation, Mr Young; it is what I have seen with my own eyes. It does happen. So often not only do ducks that are wounded fly away and ducks that have died not get recovered by the vast majority of irresponsible shooters, but if there are ducklings involved then that is the end of them as well. It is not misinformation.

The 7.30 report confirmed what I have observed and experienced over the years — unsustainable hunting and irresponsible hunting; the leaving behind of birds and the non-retrieval of birds, which is against the regulations; shooting before the opening of the season; shooting protected species; and shooting swans, avocet, egrets, all sorts of birds that are not even ducks and just leaving them on the water. Of course the shooters leave them on the water because theoretically they would be prosecuted if they picked them up, but of course that never happens. And this is on the rise.

Mr Young spoke to it. Ms Symes spoke to what happened last year at the Koorangie marshes, where I was. I have been there for many, many years. I was visibly upset; I was in tears at what was going on at those marshes, where so many birds were just shot out of the sky. And it was not just ducks. Anything that happened to be flying was shot out of the sky and left there. Mr Young might roll his eyes, but this was what I actually saw with my own eyes. Some 1500 birds were recovered just from that wetland that had not been retrieved by the shooters. That is so many birds that it cannot just be a minority of shooters. It is the majority of the shooters who are leaving them on the wetlands dead or wounded and who do not bother to go to pick them up. In fact that is why the new regulation has been brought in — to force shooters to go and pick them up, as they are meant to do. But they do not do that. So 1500 birds, including 296 protected species, were just left on the lake to die or they were already dead. It was not a minority of the shooters but the majority of them who were engaging in this behaviour. The majority of them started shooting before the shooting time. That is what I saw and heard when I was there. Just a little bit later, two big pits of birds that the shooters had shot, then recovered and buried were discovered. Again, it is not a minority of people involved.

The 7.30 report talked about questionable hunting practices and downed ducks left to die while hunters just continued shooting. I have seen that with my own eyes. I saw it with my own eyes last time; I have seen it at other times. It is not an isolated incident.

The findings of the Pegasus report that I referred to earlier today are damning. They found that non-compliance with shooting regulations is commonplace and widespread; it is not a minority. They found that it is commonplace and widespread, and it is. That is what I have seen. The GMA staff do not believe themselves that they can in any way ensure compliance or effectively sanction hunters. That is what the staff themselves say.

It undermines their credibility of course, and they failed to deliver on what is their responsibility to enforce the hunting laws. Of course the Game Management Authority was set up by the previous government. We opposed it at the time. We said it would turn into an organisation that just promotes hunting, and that is in fact what the Pegasus report found. It is made up of the people it is supposed to be regulating — the shooters — and it is advocating for them and promoting them. It is not dissimilar from the discussion we had yesterday about Racing Victoria — again, an organisation which is meant to promote racing as well as regulate it. You cannot do the two; it is a conflict of interest, and the GMA has an inherent conflict of interest. Funding of $5 million every year goes into the GMA, and it does not serve the public interest. It is not impartial in the way it operates.

What was also interesting in the 7.30 report — and I do urge people to have a look at it — was an interview with a person from the country about the economic role of duck shooting, which of course is overestimated, overblown and overstated by both governments. After I came back from the season opening last year, I said that I made an effort to go around the town of Kerang to see if I could see any duck shooters in any shops or restaurants or at the supermarket. They were not there. They were all already out on the wetlands with their eskies full of alcohol, and they were not coming into the town. But I do not just rely on my own observation there; I asked people if they were getting any more visitors. I asked restaurant owners and the fish and chip shop owner — not that I would frequent a fish and chip shop, but I went in to ask questions — and I was informed that, no, they had not noticed any increase —

I thought that might be the sort of thing duck shooters might take away to the campground with them, but I am told it is not. The Pegasus report finds the same thing.

I do not agree with Mr Young's first point about the enjoyable pastime of shooting ducks. I do not agree with his second point. Well, in some ways I partially agree with his second point in that the changes to the arrangements are ill-conceived and unworkable. I am not sure about them being ill-conceived. They are probably unworkable. They are more likely to just be irrelevant because they will be, like all the other regulations, flouted by the shooters and not enforced by the Game Management Authority. His third point is really the most amazing one, given the release of the Pegasus report — that is, he wants us to affirm that the Game Management Authority is best placed to administer, regulate and manage game hunting in Victoria as a statutory authority. I just cannot agree with that. I have never agreed with it. The Greens have always opposed the Game Management Authority, as I mentioned.

It is worth, I think, going to the Pegasus report and reading out some of the key findings. It is 116 pages of damning findings on the role of the Game Management Authority, but let us just pick out a few things. The executive summary states:

"The GMA has not been able to effectively fulfil its compliance and enforcement responsibilities. While many hunters" — it does not say the majority; it says many — "are responsible and respect the … laws, non-compliance with the game hunting laws is commonplace and widespread, and the GMA is widely perceived by its external stakeholders and its own staff as unable either to ensure compliance with the game hunting laws or to effectively sanction offenders …"

It goes on to say:

"The GMA lacks … critical mass, but its resourcing and operating models are not the primary reasons for its lack of effectiveness. The regulatory and institutional frameworks in which the GMA operates are extremely fragmented, and the game hunting laws are widely perceived by internal and external stakeholders to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to effectively enforce in the field."

When I said that before, Mr Young said I was paraphrasing. No, I was directly quoting from the executive summary: it is impossible to effectively enforce in the field. And that of course is the truth, because there are so many wetlands, there are so many shooters in small pockets on these wetlands and there are so few game management compliance officers that it can never be effectively enforced — never, never and not with the recommendations in this report either. The executive summary continues:

As a small statutory body, the GMA is vulnerable to capture by the interests that it is seeking to regulate … The GMA is not currently perceived by all of its stakeholders as independent or impartial in its administration of the game hunting laws.

That is because it is not impartial. Most of the staff of the Game Management Authority, including the chair, are duck shooters. So how can they be impartial? They are and always have been duck shooters. It goes on: "The separation of the GMA's regulatory functions from other advisory and promotional activities … would protect its independence, as would locating it within the department, which is what happens in other areas."

It continues: "As a publicly funded and accountable regulator, the GMA owes a duty to the community as a whole … not just to duck shooters."

It goes on: "The GMA's current position exposes the minister and the board to considerable policy and regulatory risk and if not addressed will contribute to continued non-compliance with the game hunting laws …" et cetera.

The report's findings, which are some three pages of damning findings about the operation, the effectiveness, the regulatory governance, the approach to regulation, the operating model and the capacity and capability of the GMA, state: "The accountability and governance frameworks that underpin the operating model are inadequate and out of date."

They also state: "… additional funding alone would not necessarily provide better compliance and enforcement outcomes or prevent a recurrence of the events that have been experienced during recent duck seasons and elsewhere."

I say that because in this report it does talk about some of the incidents including, as I mentioned, the Box Flat massacre which happened in 2013, where again thousands of birds, including protected birds, were illegally shot in this particular wetland called Box Flat. The Game Management Authority was warned before that. It was tipped off that a whole lot of hunters were going to go there and shoot everything they could, and they did. The authority also knew that the area had a presence of a whole lot of freckled ducks, which are a highly endangered species. But the authority did not shut it down and they went off somewhere else, to another wetland, and just allowed that to go ahead even though they had been warned.

There is one thing I do agree with Mr Young on, which is that freckled ducks and other protected birds such as blue-billed ducks, brolgas and the blue-winged shoveler, which Ms Symes mentioned, should never be on a game list. I do not believe any duck should be on a game list, but how could the blue-winged shoveler ever make its way to a game list because it is a threatened bird as well. When those birds are present on wetlands and it is known beforehand the government should shut the wetlands down. I agree that it is not the best idea to be shutting them down the night before; they should be shut down as soon as it is known those birds are there.

Already we know of the presence of large numbers of freckled ducks on Lake Elizabeth, Hird Swamp and Lake Cullen near Kerang. We have already lost hundreds, if not thousands, of freckled ducks over the last few years that have been shot on wetlands that have not been shut down when they should have been, when the government knew about it. So there is a very large number there on the Kerang Wetlands, so those wetlands should be shut down now. Again, there are some wetlands near Dunkeld, there are some near Clear Lake and Lake Bolac that also have large numbers of freckled ducks and blue-billed ducks on them. So these wetlands should be shut down. The government has this information now; I know it does, so it should shut them down now. That is how you avoid massacres of protected birds — just do not let the shooters on there. If they are allowed onto those wetlands they will shoot them, like they do every year, and then the government laments that it happens, but it happens because the shooters are there.

I will not spend too much time on this, but a really interesting part of the Pegasus report is on page 28. Ms Symes talked about bag limits in her contribution. It says that in 1992 hunters' bag surveys were conducted at 110 wetlands. Last year they were conducted at 20 wetlands. That is how much compliance is going on at checking bag limits — none.

The other point I want to make is that in the Pegasus report on page 39 it talks about the direction from the hierarchy of the Game Management Authority was a focus on enforcing compliance of protesters. It says:

"The choice to prioritise action against protestors was a management decision reflected in operational planning prior to the event and was not forced upon the GMA … It is difficult to understand why the GMA would attach a higher priority to protestor management than to the enforcement of the hunting laws for which it has the primary responsibility. Senior game officers and game managers expressed frustration with the priority attached to protestor management and indicated they could be more effective if they were able to focus on hunters."

This reinforces the comments of a spokesperson from a hunting organisation who said, regarding the events at Koorangie marshes, that charging the small number of hunters acting illegally and confiscating their firearms on the spot would have had a much greater and immediate effect than concentrating on the protesters. I saw heaps of them shooting before the starting time, shooting birds, leaving them down, shooting protected animals and nothing happened. But the first protester to go into the water and pick up a duck was arrested.

Lastly: "GMA staff feel that many hunters hold the organisation in contempt and openly flout the hunting laws … and … openly engage in illegal behaviour in front of them, in the knowledge that GMA authorised officers are not able to approach them in the absence of … Victoria Police … Facebook posts by individual hunters detailing their illegal hunting exploits only reinforce the impression of widespread non-compliance."

I would also add that those types of people engaging in this activity are also engaged in trolling and abusive posts on Facebook too.

I cannot say that I agree with Mr Young's call for the Game Management Authority to continue in that role. I think this report provides more than enough evidence to shut it down and give that role back to the department where it used to be. In terms of the new regulations, as I said, they will probably make little or no difference because they are never enforced and no-one complies with them, so whether we start at 9.00 a.m. or 7.00 a.m. it does not really matter. Although I do believe at 9.00 a.m. you can probably see the birds and at least identify if it is a duck or a swan, which is not the case at the moment. I think this motion is offensive to most Victorians, and we will not be supporting it.