Opposing Animal Justice Party Motion to ban recreational duck hunting

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (10:39:54): I rise to speak on behalf of the Liberals and The Nationals this morning in relation to motion 148 standing in Mr Meddick’s name. It will be no surprise to the house that the Liberals and The Nationals will not be supporting this motion. Mr Meddick has also flagged his intention to put forward a bill in relation to duck hunting. At the time that occurred a number of weeks ago I am not sure if other Liberals in this house received—but I know many Nationals, including me, received—some emails in relation to support for that particular bill, and naturally we also received some in opposition to the bill. Why I am raising this this morning is some of the conversations that came in through the email system were quite disappointing and in fact were quite offensive. Some of the comments that came in in relation to the type of people who take their families duck hunting were really unacceptable. It felt to me that these were blanket-coverage statements—ideological statements—about people that they had no great knowledge about. They were very repulsive statements, and I will read one. One of the emails called hunters ‘primitive and challenged psychopaths’ and said that if they could get away with it they would move on to human targets. Now, I find that offensive, and I am sure that most members in this chamber, if not all, would find that offensive as well. We are allowed to have different opinions and that is what this place is for—debate. But to go down those paths, I believe, is quite unacceptable. When I speak with people who enjoy the family pastime, and I know some who are quite close to me who do this and have done so over multiple generations, duck hunting is very much a family occasion and a community occasion. Certainly there are groups of people who have gone out into the wilds to enjoy the beautiful countryside, the wetlands, the environment and the whole ambience of our rural and regional areas and in doing so also take part not in a sport but in an occasion that has happened for decades and decades. Indeed it is a cultural pursuit that families and individuals partake in. They do not shoot for sport, as I have said, they prize the meat and they prize the game. It has a particular flavour. I know from time to time I really enjoy going to the Lost Angel up the road and having the confit duck—it is absolutely to die for. But these people enjoy going out into nature and obtaining their own individual game and cooking it, preparing it or freezing it down for later months. Indeed I thank Mr Dean O’Hara, who I know happens to be in the gallery today, for sending me some information about Field & Game Australia. Mr O’Hara happens to be the CEO of Field & Game, and he went on to say in his letter: As hunters, we take a little during the season, but we are not a threat to Australia’s wild duck populations. The accepted science, here and internationally, is that regulated hunting has no impact on the sustainability of waterfowl populations. The key factors in the sustainability of our waterfowl populations are water and habitat. I want to speak to habitat and water in a moment. He went on to speak about how Field & Game has worked hard over 60 years to preserve and rejuvenate many wetlands. Indeed Field & Game also looked at introducing a licence fee. This is an involuntary tax where hunters pay for the establishment of Victoria’s network of state game reserves, securing critical habitat for waterfowl and other species. He went on to talk about a wetlands environment task force, where the trust and the task force look at purchasing and rehabilitating wetlands. In my electorate the Heart Morass is particularly dear to many Gippslanders and to many Victorians—and indeed national and international tourists—who tread their way there for this pursuit. There are many, many volunteers who put countless hours into that, and again I will develop that area in my debate shortly. I also want to point out that Field & Game have purchased wetlands and an educational centre near Geelong, which is showing a diverse range and interest in this area. They also run various programs like Bug Blitz and a whole range of programs setting up establishments for wetland bird species to breed and flourish. I think this is key: hunters in this pursuit are mindful to encourage and encompass all the benefits and the requirements that keep bird species alive and thriving. As to Mr Meddick’s points, I will just go through a few of them that I think are very pertinent in order to counter his arguments. In relation to Australia’s native waterbirds being perilously low in numbers, indeed the International Union for Conservation of Nature is a global authority and speaks to the status of the natural world and the measures needed in terms of safeguards. Victoria’s game bird species do not feature on the red list of birds under threat in terms of population decline; indeed they are listed as species or a general collaboration of ‘least concern’ for this institution. Australian species are certainly nomadic. Game species are nomadic; that is their very nature. They are highly adaptable and they travel vast distances in response to rainfall. They follow where they can feed and breed, which is most sensible. This is nature. This is how species adapt and survive. A lack of water and habitat will also see a lack of  ducks. So there are not necessarily fewer ducks; it just means that they have sought refuge elsewhere. We know even within our own state at the moment, even within Victoria, that rainfall varies quite dramatically. In South Gippsland, just for example, we have had a great winter season at the moment, but you go 2 hours down the road and in Bairnsdale and all through East Gippsland they still lack water in great severity.  Ducks read the play and indeed travel where they need to. The second argument in relation to the low numbers is that the Kingsford method currently used by the GMA—Game Management Authority—does not count ducks. Field & Game have been advocating for—and also I am pleased to hear that the government has agreed to implement—an adaptive harvest model based on evidence and fact rather than the current method, which just measures one point in time. So in order to get the science right and the numbers accurately dictated and evaluated you have to do the proper science and evaluation. Mr Meddick’s motion says the 2019 duck shooting season saw the lowest shooter participation rate on record. Well, that does not mean that interest is declining at all; it means that shooters also are adaptive and hunters are adaptive to what is going on in their system and what is going on with the birds and nature. In 2019 there were 26 000 duck game licences issued. This number has been consistent over the past few years. The Game Management Authority has stated that duck game licences are stable and not in decline. This is the regulatory body set up by and still currently running with the current government. If we assume there was a low number of hunters when the season was opening, then it would be directly related to duck numbers. What we really understand is that they were respecting the law. Also, they may not wish to engage with protesters who on regular occasions have actually demonstrated a lack of respect in terms of the law. Approximately 1300 hunters took part in the opening weekend in Victoria, and whilst this was lower we certainly understand that there were fewer wetlands. So there is a flux and there is a respect that the hunters appreciate. In terms of a majority of Victorians not supporting duck hunting, if you go to a poll, it can be very much biased depending on how it is asked. I will give one particular example that I raised only last week. We have seen with the regional forest agreements the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning put out a survey. Indeed they also looked at a youth symposium. If you look at the details around that youth symposium of 49 young people, it was incredibly weighted in one area. It was incredibly biased. I will not drill down into the details, but I have mentioned this before. The department put eight pages out in relation to what the youth were thinking. If you want an outcome, sometimes you just have to go to a particular pocket of the room to find that outcome. Mr Elasmar spoke about the government looking at having an inquiry in relation to duck numbers and also the community interest and the economic benefits. I think that at least needs to be on the table in 2019. In relation to the economic drivers for this activity in this region, even Minister Pulford in 2014 spoke about the economic driver of $430 million into the Victorian economy through duck hunting. What we know in the country is that duckhunting is a great pastime. Many people actually direct their funds and choose to spend their money entertaining their families and bringing their families together. They buy fuel. They buy coffee. They go to the hunting shops and buy hunting equipment or coats and the like. They go to the pub. Indeed we know that there are many overseas visitors who come here with hunting pursuits in mind and for duck season. This is very much an important driver for the rural and regional economy, particularly when it is so under pressure for a range of reasons. I was up in Mildura in May and I spoke to some fantastic people up there who really care about the environment and who care about their country town and who want to be able to still be a family and go out and direct their money into the economy in this fashion. I want to spend some time on Heart Morass, which is a wonderful, wonderful environment and wildlife reserve down near Sale in my electorate. I want to speak to what Field and Game Australia are doing in that area. It covers 1800 hectares and it is a wildlife reserve. It can encompass a whole range of activities, and it does. I know Mr Meddick’s motion talks about kayaking, birdwatching, picnicking and hiking. All of those things are currently being conducted on a regular basis and are enjoyed by families at Heart Morass. Only recently there was a tree-planting exercise—I think it was in early July—where many people went out and planted thousands of trees in addition to those already planted by volunteers in Heart Morass. It is a significant wetlands and is part of the Ramsar-listed Gippsland Lakes. It provides for a wonderful range of flora and fauna—frogs, reptiles, fish and the like. I want to put the message to this house that families who partake in duck hunting respect the environment. They respect the animals that they hunt. They respect the fact that they are part of the solution to provide ongoing measures to sustain duck populations. It is important that we support these industries because they have a flow-on effect to rural and regional Victoria. The Nationals and the Liberals will certainly not be supporting this motion before the house today.