LESS THAN HALF OF ONE PERCENT OF THE POPULATION SHOOT our NATIVE WATERBIRDS. POLLS SHOW MOST VICTORIANS, particularly regional, ARE OPPOSED.
WHO DOES YOUR MP REPRESENT?
Royal Spoonbill - collateral damage in Victoria's "recreational" duck shooting.
Looming Announcement by Ministers
A looming decision by Ministers Mary-Anne Thomas and Lily D’Ambrosio, will again define the way of life (and death) for regional families (feathered families and human families) for up to a quarter of this year. Ministers claim their annual decision on recreational native waterbird shoots, is based on “independent advice from the regulator”, the Game Management Authority (GMA). But documents obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) show GMA is led by long time holders of duck shooting licences.
Another round of submissions to GMA regarding the next bird shoot – are they ever considered?
Given the lack of faith in the regulator to make recommendations “independently” or based on science or social/economic impact studies (as required of it under the GMA Act 2014), many stakeholders sent their submissions directly to the Ministers again this year.
Overall this year there were eight submissions to GMA, totalling over 112 pages. Five of them, including ours, RSPCA and Animals Australia, (consisting of over 98 pages of evidence) recommended the season be cancelled. Reasons included:
According to the best available science, game ducks fell by more than half since the previous year's survey (58%). They are now at just 25% of their long-term average and there is very little overall breeding. Previous governments have cancelled shooting seasons in less dire circumstances.
GMA’s inability to supervise shooters at thousands of locations across the state, often too close to homes and businesses.
Still no safety risk assessments, or social / economic impact studies have been performed (on anyone other than a small group of shooters).
Concerns about the inaccuracy of Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) models and helicopter surveys. (The helicopter survey methodology was found to be flawed by a recent scientific review the error margin is so wide it’s impossible to tell (statistically) whether duck numbers have increased or not. We note shooters are spruiking an alleged increase in birds this year based on the second helicopter survey, but the second helicopter survey includes additional waterbodies such as sewage ponds. We assume it counted the ducks at the Werribee Treatment Plant, one of very few (non-shooting) refuges for waterbirds.)
Cruelty. While GMA say the wound (non kill) rate is 30%, global ballistics studies show it is quite possibly higher. Such a rate would be illegal in any other instance (for example in an abbatoir).
With no respect shown to all other stakeholders who toiled through Christmas and New Year to ensure our submissions met GMA’s unreasonably tight deadlines, Field and Game Australia (FGA) recently lodged a very late submission about the 2022 bird shooting season (this is not on the GMA website). This submission should be disregarded, but will it?
Concerns have been raised that summaries provided by GMA staff to the GMA Board appear cherry-picked and are compiled by hunters within the “independent” regulator.
It is alarming that despite significant ongoing declines in our native waterbirds, GMA plans to cull one-tenth (10%) of the number “estimated” by the recently introduced helicopter survey that relies on flawed mathematics (leading to over estimates according to the recent in depth peer review mentioned above). Further, that FGA - who call themselves “conservationists” - want to cull twice that amount (20%).
The GMA Board is tasked with ensuring the GMA performs its function - to “promote sustainability and responsibility in game hunting” and abides by its guiding principle of “triple bottom-line assessment, which means an assessment of all the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits, taking into account externalities”. With this in mind, we attempted to provide our submission directly to the Board as well but there is no mechanism for this. We are aware that GMA Board members have contact with hunt clubs, yet non-hunters do not have this opportunity. We have hence suggested our concerns be flagged with GMA’s Risk team and will let you know the outcome.
It should be noted, that while “transparency” is a guiding principle of the GMA Board, we are still awaiting copies of minutes of GMA Board meetings which were due to us under FOI in November 2021! We were particularly interested in the discussion pertaining to how last year’s season was determined - in particular, how the kill rate was more than doubled, based on trial helicopter data.. These documents, we believe, should be readily available on the GMA website.
Submissions to GMA regarding the 2022 shoot can be viewed here. Note ours contains first hand testimony (attachments) from land owners as to how duck shooting impacts their lives for up to a quarter of the year.
According to the largest, most long-term dataset available, funded by four state governments, Australian native game duck numbers have fallen by more than half (58%) in just one year, and are now at just 25% of the long-term average.
Graph source: Aerial Survey of Waterbirds in Eastern Australia October 2021, Centre for Ecosystem Science
Who’s Calling the Shots?
RVOTDS as a key stakeholder representing regional residents and businesses adversely impacted by duck shooting, has met several times with senior advisors to the Minister for Environment. However, our eleven requests to meet with the Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development to share the results of our community surveys with her, have all been ignored. Meanwhile FOI showed this Minister (appointed in Dec 2020) met with hunting groups at least five times in her first 6 months.
Interestingly, another FOI asking for copies of documents which show how this Minister identifies and manages potential conflicts of interest in her Office recently returned a result of “no documents”!
Yet another FOI is in play seeking confirmation of precisely who was involved in the recent development of the government’s “Traditional Owner Game Management Strategy” because the promotion of recreational shooting native waterbirds would appear to be alien to most indigenous groups. We expect this to be enlightening.
Meanwhile what many call “bully boy” tactics have started again. The hunt clubs who call themselves “conservationists” (in “strategic partnership" with arms companies and who refuse conservation involvement unless they can kill native waterbirds), and MPs who are personally affiliated with them, are demanding their shoot with no regard to dwindling birds or anyone else, just like tantrum - throwing toddlers.
We are particularly concerned at what appear to be deliberately misleading comments made by members of Parliament. These MPs would be well aware of the tiny percentage of duck shooters (and declining) compared to the majority of voters opposed to duck shooting, and they make spurious claims about the supposed economic benefits of duck shooting. But no cost benefit analysis has ever been done to account for the costs of duck shooting (compliance monitoring, lost tourism, lost ability to work from home near it etc). The Parliamentary Budget Office recently estimated duck shooters spend across Victoria at just $4-10 million. This is clearly not a patch on nature - based tourism hampered by shooting, such as the $2.88 billion spend of tourists who birdwatched in our country in 2019* (pre - COVID).
*Tourism Research Australia Visitor Surveys year ending December 2019
MPs should at least disclose their personal affiliation with hunting clubs when making claims we believe are not only misleading, but detrimental to their electorates socially and economically. We will be pursuing this in regard to the MP Code of Conduct. (NB these are not the only MPs personally affiliated with hunting, who many believe are pushing personal agendas. More on this in the lead up to the election..)
Shooting Lobby Shooting Themselves in the Foot?
To many farmers and members of shooting clubs, the promotion of duck shooting doesn’t make sense. If the clubs want to be respected and grow memberships, wouldn’t it be wiser to join the majority of the population in condemning this unpopular, inhumane, destructive activity and instead promote clay target shooting – a true (and Olympic) sport?
All Eyes on Ministers
So will the Andrews government support regional Victorians, all Victorians who oppose recreational bird shooting, indeed are disadvantaged by it, or a minority hunting lobby?
With an announcement by Ministers due any day, we will soon see who this government represents: the majority of its constituents (including First Nations Clans) and our unique wildlife which so desperately needs protection, or a minority group of bird shooters backed by the gun lobby.
While politicians schmooze hunt clubs, no current Labor or Liberal MP has accepted regional Victorians’ invitations to come and witness the reality of duck shooting.
The SSAA’s report on the Premier’s 2017 visit acknowledged grants of almost three-quarters of a million dollars for the Springvale shooting range. Field & Game Australia has also received huge amounts of taxpayer funding, but that’s a story for another day.
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