My question is for the Minister for Agriculture and follows from her verbal and written responses to my questions about the ability of the government to effectively regulate duck shooting over the past few weeks. The Pegasus report that you told me on 18 February you would not release has been released by others and is damning of the ability of the Game Management Authority (GMA) to enforce duck shooting regulations. Surveys are reporting the presence of protected species on many of the most popular wetlands where we have recently seen massacres of all sorts of birds, including protected birds. In your written response to me on 21 February you told me that: "Authorised officers from the … (GMA) and other departments and agencies will be out in force over the opening weekend …" of this season. My question is: what percentage of Victoria's 15 000 wetlands do you expect will be covered by these officers?
Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) — I thank Ms Pennicuik for her question. The Pegasus report that Ms Pennicuik is referring to is now a publicly available document. I am conscious, President, that we might get into some of this in an item that is listed for debate later today, so I probably will not dwell on this for too long. It is a report that the GMA commissioned following my request that they undertake a review into the events of the last duck hunting season opening weekend and also to consider the capability of the GMA itself. It does not make for enjoyable reading at all.
The GMA is a reasonably new entity; it was created in 2014 by the former government. The board, which is substantially a new board, of which the chair has been in place for about a year, have accepted all of the recommendations in the Pegasus report apart from one, which goes to the fundamental question about the design and structure of the GMA. That is really not a question for the board, that is a question for government, and I have asked my department for advice on options that might provide us with better arrangements. The government is very much still considering that part of the report.
I had not proposed that that report be released until we were confident that the operational matters that it goes to were appropriate for release, but it has found its way into the public domain. It now sits on the GMA website so that people to whom it has not been provided and who are interested in this can have a look at it, but it has been recently widely canvassed in the last week.
Most of our hunters do the right thing, and I think that that is a really important point to emphasise. But what we had last year was some completely unacceptable behaviour by a minority. It was the first real test of the new GMA, and they did not pass it well. The focus now of course is on the arrangements for opening weekend in 2018, which is the weekend after this weekend coming. We have put in place additional enforcement effort, and we have amended the regulations, which members in the house would be aware of, as we have spoken of them here before. I have also instructed my department to provide additional personnel and expertise to the GMA to assist with and review operational planning ahead of this year's opening weekend. This is now in place, and the ongoing review of the structure of the regulator is something that we will continue to work on.
But in response to Ms Pennicuik's specific question about the number of wetlands that will be staffed by the multi-agency effort to ensure compliance, I will take that on notice and seek to provide a written response to Ms Pennicuik.
Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — Thank you for your response, Minister. I have read through the Pegasus report regarding the GMA, and I remind the house that the Greens opposed the formation of the Game Management Authority. I think on reading the Pegasus report you would have to say that it is incapable of actually redeeming itself and doing the job that it is meant to do, which is enforce the regulations. The recommendations of the report will not go towards fixing that. You referred to the massacre last year, but there have been massacres virtually every year. The Pegasus report goes back to the 2012 Box Flat massacre, which is mentioned there, and many others. Given the surveys are showing protected species are on many wetlands, will you act now to prevent more massacres by closing those wetlands?
Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) — I thank Ms Pennicuik for her further question. The advice that comes to government about protected species on certain wetlands and the recommendations to close certain wetlands in response to those counts is a decision that will be made in coming days, as is always the case. I have received —
Ms PENNICUIK — Yes, but in the past you've been advised to close them and you haven't.
Ms PULFORD — Well, the government has in each instance acted on the recommendation of the Game Management Authority in relation to recommendations about closures. I received advice from the GMA just last night and will be considering that over the remainder of this week with a view to providing that information to hunters who need it in terms of preparing where they are planning on going and where they are planning on not going in the lead-up to opening weekend.
WRITTEN RESPONSE on 8 March 2018:
Most hunters do the right thing. But last year a small number of hunters acted illegally and irresponsibly.
This year the they are on notice — that behaviour won't be tolerated.
We've taken significant steps to boost our compliance capacity this year and have put in place new regulations to make it easier for officers to detect any hunters doing the wrong thing.
Most of the in-field compliance personnel are from agencies other than the GMA. Surge capacity from Victoria Police, DELWP, DEDJTR, and Parks Victoria has been boosted for the 2018 season.
Hunters will see more Game, Wildlife, Police and Water Police officers out in force during this year's season.
Compliance and enforcement strategies follow a risk-based, intelligence-led approach to delivering safe, consistent, effective and efficient compliance services. The strong enforcement presence will be strategically deployed over the opening weekend to ensure enforcement efforts and resources are targeted to areas of highest risk.