Select Committee on Recreational Native Bird Hunting in Victoria

BATH (Eastern Victoria) (18:06): Well, what an interesting conversation the minister has just had with the house. This is supposed to be an inquiry to look into the Victorian recreational native bird hunting arrangements, but clearly we have heard a speech on the banning, the cessation, of duck hunting in Victoria. Why don’t we just cut to the chase, Minister? Why don’t we just cut to the chase and bring in the legislation? It is an absolute charade. This is a charade, this inquiry. This is a charade, and the Nationals and the Liberals will be opposing this motion before the house.

Minister, we heard you talk about Pope John Paul, His Excellency, all of that. You may as well provide your resignation to the Labor Party and join the Animal Justice Party (AJP), because what we have just heard is the total cessation of all livestock, all management of animals, and birds for that matter, and this is a foregone conclusion from your point. You are not even attempting to be impartial about a motion before the house. What I will say is that it is very clear that the Andrews government has had conversations – and I will keep it on the light – with the Greens and with the Animal Justice Party, and we are going to have a stacked inquiry. We can already see the composition of that. This inquiry is going to waste taxpayers money and it is going to ignore the science that is regularly before the Andrews government via the Game Management Authority and the work that they have done on the sustainability of duck hunting. It is going to give paltry lip-service to the testimonies of hunter conservationists, hunter environmentalists, hunters who spend hours, weeks, days and years on wetlands transforming them from arid wastelands – and I will go to Heart Morass in detail later on. They have made conservation efforts with habitat restoration over decades, and they are going to be given paltry lip-service on that: ‘Well done, go away.’ Then at the end of this inquiry we are going to see the chair feeling ‘compelled’, and I am using quotation marks, by the weight of so-called ‘evidence’, quotation marks, to recommend the cessation of recreational hunting. That is what this inquiry will bring back, and we do not agree with a foregone conclusion and a waste of taxpayers money to do it. I guess what it does do is it gives the people you are needing – you have got 15 members in this Parliament; you need some extra bodies to get you across the line for the next four years – a run out, and that is what this inquiry will do.

I want to take the opportunity to refute much but not all – I will not take all the time – of the false and misleading propaganda that we hear and that we have heard. Let us look at the science. We have heard before from the minister that recreational hunting is highly regulated. We have got the Game Management Authority, and this government amended the GMA legislation some few years ago; it had the opportunity to do exactly what the minister wants to do right now. It could have stopped that. But it probably did some polling – and it is probably some of that very expensive polling that the Premier loves to use taxpayers money for – and thought, ‘Look, we can’t just stop it right now; we’d better do a bit more research and have an inquiry and let various people have the conversations,’ because there are probably voters in some electorates that they want to try and somehow appease.

People will not have the wool pulled over their eyes – and I am assuming we are still allowed to shear sheep in the process. What I really feel needs to be understood – and I have heard it before on radio a number of times that we are one of the last pariah states because there is no longer any hunting in the other states, ‘There’s no longer hunting in New South Wales,’ ‘Western Australia banned it before I was born,’ I heard from the member for AJP the other day. It is as if there are no ducks killed in New South Wales or in WA. It is misleading, and it is unfair.

We have an adaptive harvest model. That was agreed through this government. It was agreed with the previous ministers in this place to look at the best way for outcomes to keep a harvest, and I say ‘harvest’ because people often use the word ‘shooting’. Well, it is not a sport; this is a tradition that has gone on for decades and decades and decades. It is a harvest, and those members who do that, the fraternity that goes out and hunts in the correct season, are legislated to have to take those ducks that they killed home and use that meat, and they do. It is a table response. They must be able to do that, and they do. We hear this, and we heard it just then, ‘Oh, we’re worried about the behaviour of hunters’ and it just gets stuck in my throat in relation to this. It is controlled by the wildlife act of 2012. We see daily limits on harvest. We have seen that in the past it could have been for three months but now it is down to five weeks and a four-bag limit.

In terms of what we hear about hunter compliance, let me look at that. We see we have got these people making sort of rash commentary about this. Well, let us look at the data that is actually from the GMA. We can see the 2022 GMA results: 641 patrols; 216 individual wetlands, and there about that many across the state; more than 1200 licensed game holders were checked; 970 hunter bags were checked; and one hunter was found to have a bag in excess by one duck. So if we are looking at the mathematical statistics around that. Let us round that up, and we are in the area of 99.98 per cent compliance. Yet we have the Premier coming out being dodgy with those comments that he makes in the public, casting aspersions on a law-abiding fraternity. Well, the statistics do not lie, and that is what these are saying. I find that I get the right just to go off on a gambit on what is said in the media. Now, with Raf on Drive on 24 February, the member for Animal Justice said:

But in terms of the birds that have been taken off the shooting list this year, we just don’t think that’s progress at all, because shooters have shown themselves to be lawless year after year …

The next quote:

… they go out there and make it just an absolute bloodbath on our native wildlife.

Well, if that is something that is accepted by the government, those sorts of statements, it is totally misrepresenting the facts, and it is totally misrepresenting law-abiding citizens who want to continue their pursuit after many, many years.

Now, talking about the wetlands. The Game Management Authority collects, and before its incarnation licences were used to purchase what basically was semi-arid or poor-quality land to be used for state game reserves. The one in my electorate that I have been to, Heart Morass, is an amazing story of wetland regeneration.

We saw back in about 2006 – and there are photos and evidence to prove this – that it was somebody’s turnout paddock. It was salt ridden, it was dry, it had flooded and there was no life there of any note. It was taken over, there was a trust set up and then over the past almost two decades we have seen volunteer conservationists, duck hunters and others regenerate that land with thousands and thousands of conservation hours and with their manpower and womanpower. Now not only have we had a variety of waterfowl come back, of a flourishing nature – and I have been down there on a number of occasions – but new species that were not in that area are back and in that region. And we see people coming and doing studies on various types of other waterfowl, insects, frogs, small marsupials and mammals, so we see regeneration.

This is what this inquiry let be known: if you take those licences away and you take the right of law-abiding duck hunters away and they are not allowed to do this, do you think they are going to go out and continue? They will have a very bitter taste in their mouths. If they cannot practise their tradition and their pursuit for a short period of time, they are not going to provide that conservation effort for 12 months of the year, which they do now. I thank them for it. In fact I think ‘Pud’ Howard – Gary Howard – recently won an award for his efforts in conservation and has been recognised by his community, and we thank him for it. I think it may have even been in the Australia Day honours list.

The minister spoke about the economic benefits. If we listen to the government, the whole creation of tourism will be the panacea for all of the industries that the Andrews Labor government is shutting down. We value our tourism industry. The Andrews government locked us out of country Victoria for almost two years, and our tourist industry was on its knees. They are still struggling to get back, if they survived. And now apparently everything will turn to tourism. Well, the economic flowthrough both direct and indirect from hunting has been investigated and reported by the government’s own department – the name has changed, but at the time it was the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions – and by RMCG, an environmental and agricultural consultancy, back in June 2020. This report states to government:

The gross contribution to GSP from recreational hunting by game licence holders in Victoria in 2019 was $356M. This is made up of $160M of direct contribution and $196M in flow-on economic activity.

If we look directly at the duck hunters and the contributions they make – teasing that out a little bit more – 23,000 hunters contribute $65 million annually to the state’s economy and provide in the vicinity of 600 full-time jobs. What we also know is that the majority of those jobs and that economic activity – almost 70 per cent – is located in regional Victoria, and boy do we need some survival strategies in regional Victoria. The minister is right. I have been written to by a number of both the pro- and anti-duck hunting fraternity. There was one gentleman who wrote to me – I happened to be in the office; my office is in Traralgon – Steve Asmussen from the Aussie Disposals in Traralgon.

I took the opportunity to walk down and respond directly, and he said over the last two years he has been shut down and shut down and shut down. He had employed a number of young people in the area, which was fantastic, but he basically broke down because this sort of indecision and shortening of seasons when there has been high rainfall and favourable conditions is absolutely attacking his bottom line and his ability to survive in business. He sells waders, boots, ammunition, carry bags et cetera, but he is saying he had to indent – so, forward buy, as you do if you are in small business. With that very short notice that we had you cannot then go and order. He has ordered, and he looks at losing $30,000 because of this reduced season. What he also said, and this is so true for so many of those duck-hunting fraternities, is that it is not just about the hunting. It is also about, for those people, having a family pursuit, experiencing nature, looking around at the work that they have completed in the last 12 months and bonding with their family and friends but still having an ethical way of dispatching the birds for their table as required by law.

I will conclude in a moment, but the whole idea is that the GMA provide information to the government on the sustainability and on the facts and the recommendations for the minister. I am aware that this hunting season should have been extended because of good numbers, and the fact is that the minister basically ignored them and made her own decisions, rather than listening to the science, rather than looking at the science. Indeed there are multiparty wounding recommendations for improving outcomes for birds in terms of animal welfare. There was a strategy and a plan, and it had the RSPCA. It had Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, Field and Game Australia and others there. They put the recommendations to the now Minister for Outdoor Recreation. But then, over five months ago, they put them to Minister Tierney, and they sat on somebody’s desk. If this government was actually responsive and really cared about animal welfare, why didn’t it look at those joint recommendation, which could have seemed to be opposing, but in actual fact we know that the hunting fraternity want good outcomes in terms of animal welfare. It could have actually taken those recommendations and been using them. It could have dealt with them and be incorporating them right now into regulations. The fact is that it is crying poor, this government, about bird outcomes, yet it has not done anything about it. It is sitting on its hands.

I get very concerned when small numbers of voters vote in one-policy groups and then those policy groups are negotiating with the government to bring the outcomes that they want and our communities, particularly our regional communities, suffer. The science around accessibility and understanding duck hunting and population species is certainly improving, and we want it to evolve and improve all of the time. Hunter compliance is at a high. It is at an absolute high. What many people are actually concerned about is that 10-metre distance – that protesters can come onto wetlands and actually be 10 metres from a hunter. They are very concerned. I have been speaking with many hunters, and they are concerned that that will actually compromise human safety. That is where I think the protesters are reckless in their decisions and their attitudes, particularly on those hunting grounds.

We have a regulated, high-compliance, ethical duck hunting season and pursuit. We need it to continue for economics, for mental health and for traditions in our state, and the Liberals and Nationals will be opposing this motion today.