Leading a parliamentary debate on the future of duck shooting

Leading a parliamentary debate on the future of duck shooting

On 28 August 2019 I rose to move a motion and lead a parliamentary debate on something I feel extremely passionate about. For many years now, I have joined with a great number of Victorians, people from all walks of life, to bear witness to, and to rescue where possible, native Australian waterbirds that fall victim to the annual sanctioned slaughter that is duck shooting season in Victoria. A gazetted period that brings together in protest the outrage of the majority of all communities, all to satisfy the bloodlust of a miniscule number of people that cling to vacuous arguments that have long lost any currency in a caring community.

Waterbirds in Victoria have suffered tremendously at the hands of shooters, but also due to drought across Eastern Australia and the scandalous mismanagement of water resources in the Murray Darling basin resulting in habitat destruction.

The most recent annual waterbird survey in Eastern Australia makes it clear that the long-term trend is in decline for 6 of the 8 ‘game’ species of native waterbird and found no indication of any breeding of ‘game’ birds whatsoever in 2018.

Native water birds remain at population levels only a few percent of their historic numbers, leaving some species perilously close to extinction.

In the criteria that the GMA use for assessing whether a duck season should proceed, the global climate emergency is not considered. Established under a dysfunctional coalition government in 2015, the news that the climate is changing has yet to reach the GMA. In May the UN handed down a comprehensive global report noting that over a million species around the world are at risk of extinction, overwhelmingly due to human activity.

Locally, our record on extinctions is terrible, and every year duck shooters continue to shoot and kill threatened species such as the freckled duck and blue-winged shoveler. Australia is the only place the freckled duck calls home and it is one of the rarest waterbirds in the world, yet they are routinely shot through carelessness or mistaken identity. In fact, at the opening of the 2017 season, 68 rare and endangered freckled ducks were slaughtered by shooters. This is the body count at just one wetland. Now consider this, there’s an estimated 20,000 places to shoot in Victoria. Who knows how many of these magnificent birds are killed each year?

The diminishing number of shooters last season brought the lowest shooter participation rate on record. A reported 1,300 shooters were active across opening. This was attributed by the Game Management Authority to dry conditions and wetland closures.

As far as we can tell, throughout Victoria’s history, as soon as anyone started asking people whether they supported duck shooting, Victorians said “no”.

In 2007, a Roy Morgan poll of randomly selected city and country Victorians showed 75% wanted a permanent ban on recreational duck shooting. A survey conducted this year gave similar results. Overwhelmingly, old or young, male or female, city or country; strong majorities of all Victorians support an end to duck shooting.

Of particular interest is the experience of those who call these shooting sites home.  A recent survey found that local residents are dealing with stray bullets landing on roofs and in their yards as well as terrified children and pets. What’s more – complaints of this nature are not responded to by police or government. The Game Management Authority went so far as to suggest people move away if they don’t like the shooting.

Indigenous communities and environmentalists also oppose shooting and have long documented damage to the land surrounding wetlands.  Evidence of sacred trees cut down for firewood, artifacts disturbed and trails of litter left behind. The high cultural value of these important sites calls for educational tourism above anything else.I recently was taken on a tour of some of the main shooting wetlands around Boort, and shown the evidence of the disrespect shooters have for our 1st Nations culture. Scar trees chopped down and either sliced up by chainsaws or dragged to another spot to build campfires, burial and cooking mounds used as camp spots, and worse, makeshift toilets.

In 2013 DEPI commissioned a ridiculous report that attributed every expense of duck shooters, like their cars and food, to duck hunting, contained no cost benefit analysis, used a biased sample and methodology, and ignored the benefits of nature conservation. In 2016, Dr Kristy Jones published a comprehensive rebuttal. If it were true, the streets of Boort and Donald would be today paved with gold. Let me assure you, this is far from being the case.

An economic analysis by the Australia Institute in 2012 showed that claims duck shooting contribute significantly to the economy of Victoria are false. In monetary terms, revenue from non-hunting tourism is far more important, and negatively impacted by hunting. In non-monetary terms, they estimate the benefit of banning duck hunting at around $60m per year.

Having spoken to the Mayors, CEOs and councillors of many of the affected regions, there is no desire to continue with duck shooting in their municipalities. They want safe communities, healthy waterways, recreational activities for young people and families and an increase in visitor numbers to grow their tourism businesses. Some, like Mt Alexander shire, have actually passed motions to end shooting in their region.

Victoria’s wetlands are recognised internationally through the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands. Having ratified this treaty, we now need to live up to our commitments and protect them, and the flora and fauna they contain.

These sites could be the heart of a thriving nature based tourism industry in rural Victoria, with bird watchers, kayakers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts keen to visit. But currently laws prevent non-shooters from going near the water in the early mornings, and the sound of gunfire discourages them, infringing on their freedoms to quietly and peacefully enjoy the use of public land.

Nature based tourism can bring real economic benefits to rural Victoria. The great ocean road delivers over a billion dollars of tourism revenue every year. Phillip Island does similarly. But country towns throughout Victoria are denied the opportunity to benefit because their wetlands are out of bounds for ordinary people.

This motion is for birds like Piper. A small native teal who fell victim to this year’s duck shooting season. She, like countless other birds, was shot … but not fatally. The indiscriminate nature of duck shooting means that at least 1 in 4 birds shot will not die instantly, leaving them to languish with their injuries for days or even weeks on end. Eventually, they will succumb to drowning, predator attacks or infection.

Piper was shot through the bill, impacting her ability to feed. If she was not found by rescuers, she would have slowly starved to death long after the shooter responsible for her suffering left the wetlands.

Many caring individuals rallied to save Piper’s life. The rescuers who found her. The vet who treated her. The wildlife carer who rehabilitated her. Finally, she was ready to be released onto the tranquil water of Lake Bolac, in my own electorate, and I was honoured to be asked to do it.

Opening the carrier and seeing Piper back in the wild was a truly special moment. I just hope she will never be put at risk of shooters guns again.

It is clear there is no moral, economic, legal or political case for a duck shooting season to go ahead in 2020. I call on the government to listen to the people of Victoria and ensure no season goes ahead.

In this age where technology allows the eyes of the world to turn their gaze to acts of violence and cruelty, the whole world is watching. It is casting judgement on this state. We no longer want to be seen as a cruel and uncaring society, holding out for so-called tradition instead of compassion. The other states and the world have moved on, it is time Victoria does too.