Duck hunting faces a sustained attack in the Victorian Parliament with the presence of an Animal Justice Party MP dedicated to pursuing a ban. However, a motion to stop the 2020 Duck Season going ahead revealed cross party support for regulated hunting.
Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick entered the Victorian Parliament at the last election with just 2.17 per cent of the primary vote, less than half that of the Shooters Farmers and Fishers Party candidate Geoff Collins, who failed to win a spot once preferences were distributed.
You can argue whether the electoral system delivers just outcomes, but we have to live with the reality that a strong voice promoting a ban on duck hunting now has the platform of a seat in the Victorian upper house.
Ahead of Mr Meddick’s motion to stop the 2020 Duck Season, Field & Game Australia CEO Dean O’Hara wrote to all MPs.
The letter acknowledged Mr Meddick’s right to hold a contrary view but highlighted the need for a sensible debate based on facts and data and not emotion and outlandish statements designed to convey a false impression of the reality of duck hunting.
Field & Game Australia has committed to dealing in facts and data, so in some ways, the public debate is a very unfair fight. Opponents of duck hunting will not only make unsubstantiated claims, they also promote those claims as being endemic, attempting to smear every hunter and the whole activity.
We know issues arise from time to time, that is why the activity is so heavily regulated. Field & Game Australia supports regulation and enforcement, but to suggest every hunter is reflected in the actions of the few who breach the regulations is to ignore the facts.
The saying ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ describes the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments. This is a mainstay of the activist movement and is alive and well in the duck hunting debate.
Take Mr Meddick’s claim that duck hunting is already dying a natural death from a decline in hunter numbers.
To prop up this argument he used one figure in speaking to his motion: that a reported 1300 hunters active on opening weekend in 2019 was the lowest on record. Conveniently, he doesn’t mention that this wasn’t a state-wide figure, just the number of hunters on wetlands where GMA enforcement activities took place.
That hunter numbers were low on popular wetlands where activist numbers were high is hardly a surprise. The GMA’s own data demonstrates that over time in severely restricted seasons the number of duck hunting permits purchased will dip, but it always recovers when conditions and season settings return to previous levels.
The number of hunters buying permits for duck is not declining, but of course, in a season where there is limited opportunity, hunter effort may be reduced.
Claims of broad community opposition, Indigenous support for a ban, incompatibility with other pursuits and that 20 000 wetlands in Victoria will all become iconic eco-tourism attractions are all lacking in evidence and for some reason are never subjected to scrutiny when they are made publicly.
Enough though of the case against; the real story here is the response to the motion that was so overwhelmingly in the negative even Mr Meddick supported an adjournment rather than it being put to a vote.
Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes was asked later in Parliament about the motion not being forced to a vote.
“In relation to duck hunting, as I have said on numerous occasions in this house, it is an issue that there are very divergent views on, as attested in relation to the house at the moment. The Andrews Labor government had a duck season this year and we have got no change of policy in relation to that. I do not actually understand what the furore is about adjourning off a motion till later this day. If we were to vote on the motion, we would oppose it.”
Government support for regulated duck hunting, as outlined by Labor MP Nazih Elasmar during the debate, comes with the usual rider.
“The government recognises that duck hunting is a legitimate recreational activity provided the rules are followed. We are committed to ensuring that game hunting in Victoria is conducted in a safe, responsible and sustainable manner,” he said.
Mr Elasmar said extra funding would deliver a 30 per cent boost in GMA staff and improve enforcement.
“As long as duck hunting is conducted safely and responsibly it can be done in a sustainable way,” he said.
“Published studies using monitoring data collected over long periods of time have failed to detect any significant effect of the hunting of game on game ducks. It is generally agreed amongst scientists that the loss of suitable waterbird habitat, changed waterway and wetland management regimes and climate impacts are the primary factors impacting waterbird populations in Australia.”
The support kept coming when Liberal MP Melina Bath rose to speak.
“It will be no surprise to the house that the Liberals and The Nationals will not be supporting this motion,” she said.
Ms Bath raised the “unacceptable” material sent to many MPs by activists supporting the motion.
“They were very repulsive statements, and I will read one: one of the emails called hunters ‘primitive and challenged psychopaths’ and said 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,” she said.
“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.”
Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party MP Jeff Bourman dismantled the facts underpinning the motion one by one.
“We talk about there being no support for duck hunting, but 6600-and-something signatures – that is the biggest e-petition to date. So there if there is no support for the hunting of ducks, why on earth is that the biggest e-petition?”
Next to rise was Liberal MP Gordon Rich-Phillips, who was just as deft at panning for the nugget of gold buried in the motion.
“It is often the case that those who preach tolerance, those who preach respect for minorities, those who preach respect for other cultures are in fact the most intolerant themselves,” he said.
“We saw the demonstration of that this morning with Mr Meddick’s comments on this motion where he sought to demonise a group of Victorians who participate and have participated for generations in a legitimate recreational and cultural activity, just because he does not like it.”
Tim Quilty, Liberal Democrat MP for Northern Victoria, gave an impassioned response placing hunting in its historical context and arguing that hunters have a deep connection to the land and care for environment.
“Hunters of all kinds share a connection to the environment and a kinship with each other that the keyboard warriors do not understand and probably never will,” he said.
“Today’s hunters, including those Indigenous hunters amongst us, are proud to continue our shared culture and pass it onto our children.”
Western Victorian Liberal Bev McArthur was the last to speak before the time for debate expired.
“There are public spaces and pursuits that country people have enjoyed for generations, and we care about the bush, we care about the country, we care about the native species and most importantly, we do what is best to look after them — not our friends in Fitzroy,” she said,
The motion now languishes on the notice paper and will likely never see the light of day.
However, the battle continues with Mr Meddick (at the time we went to press) still holding off on bringing forward his Wildlife Amendment (Protection of Birds) Bill 2019 seeking to ban duck hunting.
As the government speakers conveniently pointed out in this debate, the future of duck hunting really rests with hunters themselves. Participating, following the regulations and making good use of the birds you harvest is the best argument you can put forward.