2013/06: Are Victoria's new duck hunting regulations a mistake?
What they said...
'Children and international visitors who are unlikely to be able to differentiate between native and non-native animals at a distance, will be more readily armed'
Dr. Siobhan O'Sullivan
'All members of the public who are on wetlands where duck hunting is permitted must ensure they are acting safely and legally. Safety is the number one priority'
Victorian Agricultural Minister, Mr Peter Walsh
The issue at a glance
On 11 September 2012, new regulations were introduced to establish the legal requirements for duck hunting in Victoria.
The Victorian State Government claimed that because of what it called 'significant public safety concerns', it was introducing new laws to keep protesters further away from hunting areas.
This move has been welcomed by Victoria's different shooters lobby groups, including the Sporting Shooters' Association (SSA); however, environmentalists and, in particular, the Coalition Against Duck Shooting (CADS) have been particularly opposed to the new regulations.
The new regulations liberalise or free up the terms under which whole groups of people are able to hunt ducks in Victoria.
These new regulations ...
a) exempt juniors from paying a Game Licence fee.
b) create a new 'Provisional' Game Licence to allow juniors (12-17 years old) to hunt under adult supervision without sitting the Waterfowl Identification Test or the Hound Hunting Test.
c) create a new 14-day non-resident Game Licence to facilitate game hunting by visitors to Australia.
d) create a new 7-day Game Bird Farm Hunting Licence that will be free of charge.
In the name of public safety, the new regulations also restrict the access of non-hunters to duck hunting areas.
a) The Wildlife (Game) Regulations 2012 identify 227 duck hunting areas to which access by unauthorised persons is restricted between the following hours:
i) midnight on the opening day of the duck season, until 10:00am on that day; and from two hours before sunset on the opening day until 10.00 am of the following day and for every other day of the open season
ii) on the last day of the open season, the prohibited period ends 30 minutes after sunset.
b) The areas to which the restrictions apply include all 186 Victorian State Game Reserves and 41 other important wetlands identified in Schedule 8 of the Wildlife (Game) Regulations 2012.
c) The restriction does not apply to the whole of the reserve. It only applies to the waterbody and extends out to 25 metres from the water's edge
d) To be authorised to be present in the prohibited sections of these specified hunting areas during prohibited times, you must hold a current Victorian Firearms Licence (or interstate equivalent) and a current Game Licence endorsed for game birds including duck, or be exempt by the Secretary Department of Primary Industries.
e) It is an offence for an unauthorised person to approach within 10 metres of a person who is carrying a firearm or actively hunting ducks in specified hunting areas during the duck season
This offence applies throughout the duck season and to the same 227 specified hunting areas.
Protestors who place themselves in close proximity to hunters, whether to disrupt hunters from shooting, scare away birds or collect unretrieved birds, can place themselves in extreme danger of being injured or even killed.
f) It is an offence for anyone to interfere with, harass, hinder or obstruct a person engaged in hunting at any location and time.
An overview and justification of the Department of Primary Industries new duck hunting regulations can be accessed at http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/game-hunting/about-game-hunting/legislation-and-regulation/game-regulations-2012/duck-hunting-and-public-safety-on-our-wetlands
The full new duck hunting regulations that have applied in Victoria since September 11, 2012, can be access on the Department of Primary Industries' Internet site at http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/game-hunting/about-game-hunting/legislation-and-regulation/game-regulations-2012
A series of current media releases from the Coalition Against Duck Shooting can be accessed at http://www.duck.org.au/media-releases/2013-media-releases
A series of arguments supporting duck shooting has been put together by the Field and Game Association. These arguments can be accessed at http://www.fga.net.au/secure/downloadfile.asp?fileid=1028770.
This link will take you to a redirect to a pdf download. It will take some time to download and must be opened using a current Adobe reader.
On March 21, 2013, On Line Opinion published an opinion piece by David Leyonhjelm titled 'Volunteer hunters are the true conservationists'. The piece supports the recent decision by the New South Wales Government to allow game hunters in national parks.
The full text of this comment cane be found at http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=14822&page=0
On March 18, 2013, Animals Australia published a news report and opinion piece titled 'Out of control: children shooting animals, and people'.
The report refers to an incident which occurred on the first day of the Victorian duck hunting season in 2013 in which a ten-year-old boy shot a man in the leg.
The full text of this news report and opinion piece can be accessed at http://www.animalsaustralia.org/take_action/kids-with-guns
On March 16, 2013, Independent Australia published a piece detailing the opposition to the new duck shooting regulations from the Coalition Against Duck Shooting (CADS). The piece includes extensive quotes from Laurie Levy, the head of CADS.
The full text of this article can be found at http://www.independentaustralia.net/2013/politics/victorian-government-bans-media-from-duck-season/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=victorian-government-bans-media-from-duck-season
On February 16, 2013, Independent Australia published a comment by Laurie Levy, the head of the Coalition Against Duck Shooting (CADS). The piece is titled 'Protecting our native waterbirds'.
The full text of this comment can be accessed at http://www.independentaustralia.net/2013/environment/protecting-our-native-waterbirds/
On January 23, 2013, The Weekly Times published a news report titled 'Duck protesters fined as debate rages'. The full text can be accessed at http://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/article/2013/01/23/557537_latest-news.html
On November 14, 2012, The Conversation published an opinion piece by Dr Siobhan O'Sullivan titled 'The problem with Victoria's ban on duck rescuers'. The piece focuses on the negative consequences of banning duck rescuers from shooting locations.
The full text of this opinion can be accessed at http://theconversation.com/the-problem-with-victorias-ban-on-duck-rescuers-10078
On September 13, 2012, The Bendigo Advertiser carried a news report titled 'New hunting rules in force in Victoria'.
The report gives a brief summary of the new regulations and includes the reaction of the Coalition Against Duck Shooting (CADS) and the Sporting Shooters' Association (SSA). The full text of this report can be found at http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/327415/new-hunting-rules-in-force-in-victoria/
On August 17, 2012, The Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece written by Jo Wilkinson, a retired senior policy analyst who has worked for a number of Australian government regulators. The piece is titled, 'Game on: relaxed rules to allow teenage shooters a free licence to kill' It criticises the new hunting regulations in Victoria and the manner in which they were introduced.
The full text of this comment can be found at http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/game-on-relaxed-rules-to-allow-teenage-shooters-a-free-licence-to-kill-20120816-24bf3.html
Arguments against Victoria's new duck shooting regulations
1. These regulations increase the risk of accidental shootings
It has been claimed that the new duck hunting regulations in Victoria will increase the risk of accidental shootings. A number of reasons have been offered in support of this claim.
Firstly the regulations increase the access of very young shooters to the Victorian duck hunting season. Animals Australia has noted, 'The Victorian government hands out Game Licences to juniors for free - without even requiring them to pass a Waterfowl Identification Test (the test that is intended to prevent hunters from killing protected species).
As an indication of the risks associated with allowing young duck hunters to take part in the season, it was reported in The Age on March 18, 2013, that the first accidental shooting in the current season occurred when a boy of ten shot a man in the leg at Yundull, near Benalla, on the first day of the current duck hunting season.
Animals Australia commented, 'Hunting is already a dangerous sport - for humans and animals... These risks become exponentially more dangerous when shotguns are placed in the hands of inexperienced shooters. It is therefore unfathomable that the Victorian Government is now providing financial incentives and exemptions from tests in order to let children shoot at animals.'
It has also been claimed that there are also hazards associated with new regulations which create a new 14-day non-resident Game Licence to facilitate game hunting by visitors to Australia and a new 7-day Game Bird Farm Hunting Licence that will be free of charge. It has been argued that each of these provisions make it harder to ensure that the hunters with these temporary licences are competent and pose no risk to other hunters.
2. These regulations increase the likelihood of protected species being shot
It has been claimed that the new regulations also make it more likely that threatened and endangered species will be accidentally shot by hunters unable to distinguish those species they are allowed to hunt from those they are not.
The new regulations allow hunters as young as 12 and tourists new to the country to acquire a game licence without having to pass a bird recognition test.
On November 14, 2012, in an opinion piece published in The Conversation, Dr. Siobhan O'Sullivan stated, 'In short, children and international visitors who are unlikely to be able to differentiate between native and non-native animals at a distance, will be more readily armed.'
In a Herald Sun news report published on March 24, 2013, it was stated that the Department of Primary Industries, with the assistance of Victoria Police, is investigating after reports that more than 200 rare birds and about 2000 other protected and game species were illegally slaughtered at the Box Flat floodplains near the town of Boort. It is believed the birds were shot on the opening morning of the 2013 recreational duck shooting season.
Anti-shooting campaigners claim they found dozens of freckled ducks, one of the 10 rarest birds in the world, as well as threatened blue-billed ducks and around 50 swans and other protected species after the shoot.
It has been claimed that the increase in shooters who have not passed a bird recognition test makes the slaughter of protected species more likely.
3. These new regulations restrict the access of duck rescuers, protestors and the media
It has been claimed that the new regulations which prohibit bird rescuers coming close to the areas where bids are shot will prevent wounded wildlife from receiving assistance.
On November 14, 2012, in an opinion piece published in The Conversation, Dr. Siobhan O'Sullivan stated, 'Under the new rules duck rescuers will be excluded from the water every single day of the duck hunting session. The ban will commence two hours before dusk, and last until 10 am the following morning. Duck rescuers must also be 25 meters back from the shoreline.
This is a terrible shame for those ducks who could be aided by voluntary veterinary service of the sort provided by the Coalition Against Duck Shooting.'
O'Sullivan went on to claim, 'The most pressing matter from the rescuers' perspective is to assist injured birds. The central focus of duck rescue is the provision of veterinary care to animals that are injured but capable of recovering.'
It has also been noted that the new ban prohibiting non-hunters from coming within 25 metres of the shoreline prevents duck rescuers and protestors from collecting the carcasses of killed protected species and using them to draw attention to the harm done by duck shooting.
Siobhan O'Sullivan has further stated, 'the annual display of dead birds...is a means by which distant happenings are brought to the community's attention. The display provides an opportunity for the majority of the community, who will never be out on the wetlands during duck hunting session, to consider whether the hunting laws made in their name really reflect their values.'
It has also been noted that this 25 metre exclusion zone will inhibit journalists and media photographs from reporting on the operation of the duck hunting season.
Laurie Levy, Campaign Director of the Coalition Against Duck Shooting (CADS), has stated, 'New laws introduced by the Victorian Government will attempt to prevent duck rescuers, journalists, photographers and camera crews from going closer than 25 metres to the water's edge during the 2013 duck shooting season.'
Mr Levy has suggested that the government and the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and the Department of Primary Industry (DPI) are concerned to hide the extent of breaches of their own duck hunting regulations. Referring to the follow-up investigation after a reported slaughter of large numbers of protected duck species near Boort on the first day of the 2013 duck season, Mr Levy stated, 'If DPI was serious about its investigation, why did rescuers find 40 of this endangered species a week later? Surely if they are serious, they would have swept the wetland for carcasses for evidence of the true extent of the illegal slaughter... [This] appears to be more of a cover up of the crime scene than an investigation.'
4. These new regulations are politically motivated
It has been claimed that the new hunting regulations were part of a strategy of the current Victorian government to win voter support in key country electorates and to curry favour with shooters and the gun lobby.
In an opinion piece published in The Sydney Morning Herald, Jo Wilkinson, a retired senior policy analyst who has worked for a number of Australian government regulators, made several claims about the new agency which developed the new regulations. Mr Wilkinson has claimed, 'Ted Baillieu needed the support of shooters to win government in 2010. Recently, the New South Wales government, which lacks a majority in the upper house, needed the votes of two Shooters Party MPs to sell its electricity generators. In both states, deals were done. In NSW, Premier Barry O'Farrell broke an election promise, which means shooters can now hunt in a selection of national parks.'
Commenting on the Victorian Government's 2011 decision to extend the length of the duck hunting season, Laurie Levy, Campaign Director of the Coalition Against Duck Shooting (CADS), stated, 'This season is a political season. DSE hasn't done the studies - they haven't carried out the scientific research [to justify extending the season]...Their reasons are based on the fact there is more water due to rainfall, therefore they just assume there are more birds... [however] even in good climatic conditions, recovery for waterbird populations can take many years.'
Mr Levy argues that there are very strong connections between politicians and shooters. Referring to the duck hunting season, he has claimed, 'The only reason that it's continuing is that it is seen as a political issue. Many politicians say behind the scenes that it isn't about native waterbirds - it's about them trading off their interests.'
In February, 2013, Mr Levy wrote, 'If only Minister Walsh had the political courage to rid this state forever of the annual duck killfest.
Instead, Minister Walsh has capitulated to the burgeoning gun lobby and has now extended the kill season to 12 weeks.'
5. These new regulations were introduced without adequate consultation
It has been claimed that the new regulations were developed and introduced without adequate community consultation.
In an opinion piece published in The Sydney Morning Herald, Jo Wilkinson, a retired senior policy analyst who has worked for a number of Australian government regulators, made several claims about the new agency which developed the new regulations. Mr Wilkinson has claimed that the installation of this agency was intended only to promote the interests of hunters, a narrow sectional interest, and that it was established without input from the broader community.
Mr Wilkinson stated, 'In the last few days of 2011, while most Victorians were on holiday, the Baillieu government announced a new agency, Game Victoria, within the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) to deliver on an election promise to "give Victoria's hunting community a stronger voice and better enable the promotion and growth of the game sector'". That promise had been kept well below the radar in metro electorates.'
Mr Wilkinson further criticised the manner in which the new regulations were framed. 'The hunting regulations were due to expire last year, but a 12-month extension kept them alive until Game Victoria was ready to give hunters their voice. Fourteen hunting organisations were consulted earlier this year in developing the proposed new regulations. The process of public consultation is almost finished, except most of the public don't know they are being consulted, or what the consultation is about.'
Wilkinson then detailed the difficulties he believes were put in the way of any genuine community consultation. 'There are 98 pages in the public discussion paper, too many for the average person or community-funded organisation to examine and analyse during the four-week consultation period. DPI did not issue any press release about the public consultation process, and the public consultation process is not easy to find on its website.'
Wilkinson concludes, 'It's hard to escape the conclusion Game Victoria is keeping its deliberations as far from public scrutiny as possible.'
Arguments in favour of Victoria's new duck shooting regulations
1. These new regulations help guard against accidental shootings
The Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) claims that one of the primary aims of its duck hunting regulations is to improve public safety during the duck hunting season by reducing the risk of accidental shootings.
The State Government has claimed that it was because of 'significant public safety concerns', that it introduced new laws to keep protesters further away from hunting areas.
Victorian Agricultural Minister, Mr Peter Walsh, has stated, 'All members of the public who are on wetlands where duck hunting is permitted must ensure they are acting safely and legally. Safety is the number one priority.'
The DPI's Internet site includes the following statement 'The periods where unauthorised people are restricted from entering specified hunting areas are considered to be the minimum to achieve the desired public safety outcomes.
The restrictions only apply to 227, or 6%, of Victoria's 4,000 public wetlands, affect only part of the reserves (the water body and extending out 25 metres from the water's edge), apply to only part of the day (essentially, late evening and early morning) and for only three months of the year.
At all times, unauthorised people are able to freely move about those parts of the reserve which are not restricted (i.e. all land areas to within 25 metres of the water) and, once the daily restricted period ceases, unauthorised people can enter the water (i.e. between 10:00am until two hours before sunset).
Similar provisions have been in place since 1993 and have had little impact on peoples' enjoyment of these areas.'
Colin Wood, of the Sporting Shooters' Association, has claimed that having protesters in the water during the hunting season is dangerous.
Mr Wood has stated, 'It hasn't been satisfactory and we really feel these changes are long overdue. We'd like to see them go a bit further, but honestly it's a massive move in the right direction.'
2. These new regulations protect the rights of duck hunters
The new regulations stress that duck hunting is a legal activity under Victorian law and thus that duck hunters have the right to pursue this activity unimpeded so long as they themselves abide by the relevant laws.
The new regulations also stress that protestors and others who impede the rights of duck hunters run the risk of prosecution.
The Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Internet site states, 'Duck hunting is a legal activity and people should be able to participate in an unhindered way. People who scare birds away, stand in the way of hunters, or distract or abuse hunters may be charged with an offence.
People committing any of these offences can be fined, or arrested and convicted by a court.'
The DPI stresses the penalties which may be imposed on those who infringe duck hunters' rights.
'Penalties for non-compliance with the public safety provisions can result in an Infringement Notice or charges being laid and an appearance in the Magistrates Court. The maximum fine a Magistrate can impose is approximately $2,800 and a conviction can be recorded.
There can be ongoing ramifications for people receiving a court conviction. Many employers conduct record checks of any prospective employees and convictions can limit future employment opportunities and earning potential. In addition, criminal convictions can prevent entry into certain countries.'
3. These new regulations protect the lives of protestors
The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) states that the new regulations affecting protestors have been put in place because of the pervious dangerous behaviour of this group. The DPI's Internet site states, 'Some sections of the community oppose duck hunting. Some anti-duck hunting activists choose to voice their opposition by entering wetlands in a coordinated effort to disrupt hunting by scaring birds away and interfering with hunters.
Such confrontational situations are unsafe for protestors, duck hunters and law enforcement officers. In the past, a voluntary Code of Behaviour was introduced to prevent potentially dangerous interactions. However, this was not effective, resulting in the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police recommending that legislation be introduced to physically separate protestors and hunters to ensure the safety of all concerned.'
The DPI goes on to state further that the new regulations are not intended to infringe on the rights of protestors, who can still enter wetlands to protest and to retrieve birds, but merely to ensure that they do not do so in a way that endangers themselves or others.
The DPI's Internet site states, 'While recognising the right of individuals to express their views, it is also important to be aware of some of the potential risks of engaging in illegal protest activity, particularly for people who are unfamiliar with how to behave in a safe manner around waterways and firearms...
The dangers of inexperienced people being in close proximity to firearms were graphically displayed on the opening day of the 2011 duck season when a protestor was struck by stray pellets while in a specified hunting area during a prohibited time. While the injuries were minor, the protestor was very lucky not to be blinded or even killed.'
4. These regulations will boost rural economies
It has been noted that regulations that help to ensure the smooth operation of the Victorian duck hunting season will be an advantage to rural economies.
The Victorian Agricultural Minister, Pr Peter Walsh, has noted that game hunting generates around $100 million annually and supports jobs in hospitality and recreational supplies, such as vehicles, boats, fuel, firearms and ammunition, plus camping and hunting equipment.
The same point has been made by the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) which states on its Internet site, 'Duck hunting...is a stimulator of the economy, supporting the manufacturing, hospitality and retail sectors. It is also important in generating expenditure in rural economies and supporting jobs.'
This position has also been put in Field and Game Australia's background paper which states, 'Hunters spend millions of dollars annually on their recreation. The dollars 'spent on hunting are not confined to the urban areas, but help sustain the economies of rural Australia.
Many communities benefit directly from the annual influx of hunters' dollars. The ancillary equipment used by hunters leads to direct employment of others to service hunter needs.'
It has been claimed that in addition to the 25,000 registered duck hunters in Victoria, hunters from the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales also travel to this state over the three months of the duck hunting season to participate in this hunting opportunity. This year, under the new regulations, there is a new 14-day non-resident Game Licence to facilitate game hunting by visitors to Australia. This means that tourists from overseas are also being encouraged to visit Victoria and in the process contribute to rural economies along with visitors from interstate.
5. Duck shooters advantage wetlands
Duck shooters and other game hunters claim that they assist in the management and maintenance of the species they hunt and thus that the new regulations allowing their sport to proceed in a safe and controlled manner is actually to the advantage of duck populations.
The Field and Game Australia (FGA) has produced a background paper which claims, 'Hunters play an important role in game management and wetlands conservation and therefore contribute, in a tangible and practical way, to the preservation of our wildlife and game resources. Hunters also make a significant contribution to the eradication of pest animals and vermin.'
The FGA's background paper further states, 'In stark contrast to some other groups in the community, hunting organisations such as Field and Game
Australia (FGA) has adopted a very practical approach to conservation which helps maintain game populations. Since 1958, the Association and its members have contributed time, money and physical resources towards numerous wildlife management and wetlands conservation projects.
It is quite ironic that had it not been for the work of the FGA and hunters, the numbers of wildlife and game that the anti-hunting groups claim to protect would be less than they are today.'
The FGA concludes, 'Hunters are always mindful that the taking of game does not have long term affects on species populations. Population counts of duck and other waterbirds are now made annually. The knowledge of waterbird numbers and species distribution is increasing all the time. Links are being established between waterbird populations and environmental factors such as national rainfall patterns which largely dictate breeding opportunities.
Hunters, through their intimate knowledge of wetlands and all wetland birds, are making a valuable contribution to this library of knowledge.'
A similar point is made on the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Internet site. 'Duck hunting is managed sustainably in Victoria and is regulated to ensure that the conservation status of game ducks and non-game species are not put at risk. Hunting organisations contribute much effort into conserving and restoring waterfowl habitat, installing water control structures, erecting nesting boxes and controlling pest plants and animals.'
The current strengthening of controls on the actions of protesters against duck shooting together with a liberalisation of the regulations allowing children over twelve and foreigner visitors easier access to duck shooting licences appears to be part of a wider trend.
The new Victorian regulations also include a number of changes in the manner in which deer can be hunted in this state. Changes have been introduced to the way Sambar Deer are hunted with hounds. Key changes include allowing Harriers to be used for hound hunting (effective 1 March 2013); allowing up to three pups in training in addition to the existing pack limit of 5 hounds and allowing up to two additional junior hunters to hunt without being considered part of the maximum team size of 10. In addition to the above, laws have been introduced to extend the Red Deer open season from two months to the whole of the year; to allow the selling of taxidermied game products; to remove the requirement to return unused Hog Deer tags and to include four new gundog breeds for deer and game bird hunting.
The relaxation allowing up to two additional junior deer hunters is in accord with the regulations that make it easier for young duck hunters to participate in the sport. Critics of these regulations maintain that the overall intention is to facilitate and promote hunting in all its forms in Victoria.
It has been claimed that the current Victorian government is giving primacy to a narrow set of rural interests in opposition to broader environmental concerns.
On April 9, 2013, Victorian premier, Denis Napthine, announced that the Department of Primary Industries and the Department of Sustainability and Environment are to merge. The new department would be called the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, with Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh at the responsible minister.
The changes come after department numbers were slashed as part of the Sustainable Government Initiative last year. There were 200 jobs cut from the DPI and 400 earmarked to go from the DSE through voluntary redundancies. Further numbers were lost through contracts not being renewed.
Before the last election, the Victorian Coalition promised to restore the DPI to its 'rightful status as the lead Government agency responsible for all management issues on private land'.
The Premier has said the new arrangements would 'sharpen the focus of the public sector on securing investment and jobs, delivering responsible financial management and providing better frontline services to all Victorians'.
Conservationists have expressed concern that these administrative changes represent a downgrading of government commitment to the protection of the state's environment.
Newspaper items used in the compilation of this issue outline
The Age: January 28, 2013, page 8, news item (photo) by Tom Arup, `Public access to wetlands restricted'.
Herald-Sun: March 18, 2013, page 2, news item (photo) by E Portelli, `Farmer shot by duck-hunting child / Unfriendly fire'.
The Age: March 17, 2013, page 11, news item by Toscano and Gough, `Duck protesters fished out'.
The Age: March 16, 2013, page 5, news item by Tom Arup, `Duck hunt begins'.
Herald-Sun: March 25, 2013, page 17, news item (photo of Laurie Levy), `Protected birds "massacred"'. (No online link)