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Dollars and Sense

Australian wood duck pair, picture Kim Wormald

This weekend our native ducks and rural communities have been spared. Victoria’s recreational bird shoot is delayed, now set to commence in May and run for three weeks.

But whether it’s three months, three weeks or three days, most believe bird shooting has no place in a modern society.

Less than half of one percent of the population shoot birds. Not a single Victorian electorate has more than 2.48% of voters who shoot birds. Most electorates have between zero and half of one percent.

See your electorate here.

Conversely, the latest Ucomms poll (January 2021) shows the majority of Victorians want bird shooting banned and the strongest support for a ban came from regional areas.

There’s good reason.

According to ballistics experts, at least one in four of the tens of thousands of birds shot each year - even in “restricted” seasons - will be wounded only, flapping away to die slow painful deaths over days or weeks (why other states have banned it).

Many farmers are realizing the benefits of ducks: they eat algae and the real crop pests (why they are used overseas to help rice farming). They even eat liver fluke.

Meanwhile, the most robust, long-term scientific data set available shows our native waterbirds in East Australia have fallen 90% just since the 80’s. “Game” bird numbers fell a further 23% in twelve months to October 2020. In Victoria, waterbird numbers took a dive by about 50% in the same timeframe and there’s been little if any breeding despite rain.

From an economic perspective, a 2019 government survey of duck shooters showed their alleged spend fell 46% across Victoria between 2013 and 2019. In the town of Kerang the fall was sharper: 62%, in Swan Hill 54% and Pyramid Hill fell off the list of mentions. Neither the Loddon, Buloke nor Colac-Otway areas made the 2019 list either. Greater Bendigo fell 64% while the West Wimmera, Hindmarsh and Corangamite local government areas seemingly fell to oblivion from their already low alleged duck shooter spend levels in 2013.

Claimed duck shooter spend in East Gippsland and Wellington fell 58%, Baw Baw 73% and Latrobe 52%. The already low spend areas of Bass Coast and South Gippsland fell off the list. The key towns of Traralgon and Bairnsdale fell 72% and 67% respectively while Rosedale – where our billboard was vandalised– slipped to inconsequence.

These shooters surveys don’t count the cost of bird shooting to community either.

Independent economists report duck shooting is detrimental. The costs of bird shooting include loss of tourism, loss of ability to work from home near it (and far more people live near waterways these days), and for shift workers to sleep. Bird shooting sends children into tears, horses through fences and farmer’s into high trespass alert. And let’s not forget the taxpayer dollars pouring into attempts to monitor this minority choice of recreation.

All this poses the question of why MPs such as some in Gippsland persist in promoting it.

In East Gippsland only 2.4% of voters are duck shooters while a poll targeted to East Gippsland in February 2020 showed majority of constituents were opposed to the activity.

Similarly only 1.87% of South Gippslanders are duck shooters while a targeted poll in February 2020 showed majority of constituents in that electorate supported a ceasefire, the highest percentage strongly supporting one.

There’s a better way.

Tourism typically contributes more to Australia’s economy than agriculture, forestry, fishing, media and communications combined. Even despite COVID, tourism was worth over $50 billion, employed about 5% of working Australians and supported one in eight businesses (Tourism Satellite Account 19/20). Nature-based tourism is the fastest growing component.

Tourism Australia Consumer Demand Project

Phillip Island Nature Parks - where they shoot with cameras - is one success story, known to contribute half a billion dollars a year to Victoria’s economy; $120 million and 800 jobs just to the Bass Coast.

Year ending December 2019, over 860,000 domestic tourists birdwatched across our country (Tourism Research Australia National Visitor Survey). More overnight domestic tourists went birdwatching than visited the Great Barrier Reef.

When Independent economists report most holiday-makers avoid shooting areas, it's clear we must make a choice. It's not rocket science to see 860,000 birdwatchers is a better economic opportunity for regional areas than 7000 active duck shooters (Game Management Authority statistics) who typically camp and bring their own supplies.

Victoria’s domestic tourism revenue lags NSW and Qld – both of which have long banned bird shooting and instead focus on nature-based tourism.

With regional Victoria blessed with stunning wetland habitats that could rival Kakadu, home to species of birds unique to Australia, our opportunity is clear.

It’s time Victoria’s rural communities were given the chance to protect our natural assets and in so doing, secure our financial futures.

Around the country: recreational native bird shooting is either banned or restricted in all states except Tasmania.


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