Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — My question is to the Minister for Agriculture. In the last sitting week I asked you about the number of compliance officers and police that would be deployed across Victoria's wetlands for the opening of the duck shooting season given the massacre of birds at Koorangie marshes last year and the release of the Pegasus report, which stated that it is impossible to police duck shooting across the wetlands. In a written response to me you stated that this year duck shooters are on notice and that that type of behaviour will not be tolerated. However, there are widespread reports of illegal behaviour by duck shooters across Victoria, including bags of ducks being found dumped on the road; shooters not retrieving birds, which I witnessed myself at Lake Cullen; shooting too early and shooting too late after dark; and shooting from moving boats. My question, Minister, is: how is the government going to prevent this behaviour for the remainder of the season?
Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) — I thank Ms Pennicuik for her question about the arrangements for opening weekend and compliance activity across the duck hunting season. It is a matter of interest to a great many members of the community, both those who enjoy duck hunting and those who do not like it at all. It does provide me with an opportunity to give the house a bit of an update on how the compliance effort went on opening weekend.
We are trialling this year and next year some new arrangements for the opening weekend in terms of hours — a 9.00 a.m. start on Saturday and an 8.00 a.m. start on Sunday. We had an increased enforcement effort — as I indicated we would in the last sitting week — and new regulations were in place for the first time that in essence codify best practice hunting behaviour.
My information is that there were no reports of hunters shooting early, so if Ms Pennicuik has further information about that I would very much like her to report that to the Game Management Authority (GMA) or to provide that to me. The compliance effort found 20 hunters in breach of hunting regulations, four of whom had their firearms seized. There were also two protesters who are currently under investigation for interfering with or harassing hunters in breach of the Wildlife Act 1975.
The breakdown of the people who were found to be in breach of the rules is as follows. As I indicated, there were no reports of hunters shooting early. Two hunters will receive infringement notices for failing to make reasonable attempts to retrieve a downed bird, and a further three hunters receive a written warning for failing to comply. Two people will be prosecuted for taking protected wildlife; the firearms of one of those hunters were seized. A group of three hunters will be prosecuted for hunting in a closed area; that was on Sunday, 18 March, and all three had their firearms seized.
There were some other hunting offences which we would describe as, relative to the others, minor offences: one for hunting from a moving boat, one for somebody not having their game licence, one for possession of toxic shot on a state game reserve, one instance of failing to retain a fully feathered wing and one of hunting with toxic shot. There were some written warnings for some other matters: failing to kill on recovery, possession of toxic shot, hunting from a moving boat and failure to retain a fully feathered wing — one instance of each.
What we had was a greater presence on our wetlands. The GMA I think has done a much better job this year, and I note the extensive Pegasus report about how they did not do a very good job the year before. They have certainly done a much better job this year in preparation with some additional support from my department and the information that came to them through the Pegasus report and the process that led to that.
But they have also, importantly, improved their communication to hunters, which for any modern regulator is an important thing. Hunters had available probably not different information, but it was just in a much more accessible form around road closures, wetland closures and the new regulations. I would also take the opportunity to thank the hunting organisations, the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, Field and Game and the Australian Deer Association, all of whom probably had less than enthusiastic sentiments about the new regulations but played a really important role in conveying to their members the importance of everybody abiding by the old rules and the new rules alike.
Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — Thank you, Minister, for your answer. You cannot be looking very hard if you have not heard of any reports of early shooting, because they are pretty widespread, but I am happy to furnish you with that and the other reports of behaviour. I have to say that my personal observation at Lake Cullen was that on the breaches that I saw, we actually had to encourage the GMA officers to do something about it, including one duck which appeared to have been shot by a rifle and which I will be following up with you. But in your written response to me about the numbers of compliance officers, you state that there will be 'significant steps' and, in your recent answer you said to me, an 'increased presence'. What I would like to know is what level of compliance officers were present and on what wetlands on the first two weekends of duck shooting, and what presence and on what wetlands are you planning to have compliance officers and police?
The PRESIDENT — It is an interesting question to send an alert to the hunters.
Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) — I was thinking much the same. There are many wetlands. The enforcement effort is focused on the areas that are frequented by the greatest numbers. Of course they need to respond around closures and to intelligence around where hunting activity is. I can certainly assure Ms Pennicuik that there was a significantly greater number of people involved in the compliance effort for the opening weekend. The compliance effort will continue through the season. I believe that an overwhelming majority of hunters do the right thing. If Ms Pennicuik has reports of early hunting, I would very much encourage her to refer those to the GMA or to provide that information to me. But, no, the government will not be providing a list of places where compliance officers will be and will not be, because for that small percentage who do not want to do the right thing, we do not want to draw them a map of how to get somewhere where. compliance officers might not be.