A Political Opportunity to End Duck Shooting

Dear Premier and ALP Members of Parliament

The Bracks government has a unique opportunity to economically invigorate areas of rural Victoria by promoting all-year-round tourism of its wetlands. However, whilst recreational duck shooting remains lawful on the wetlands it is unlikely that such a vision can be effectively developed.

Last month duck shooting was banned by another Labor government, this time by the Beattie government in Queensland which has recognised the activity as barbaric. The Victorian government can justify a national approach on the issue by bringing the state into line with Queensland , New South Wales , Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory . Now is the SMART TIME to be politically proactive and to also show visiting nations during the Commonwealth Games that Victoria is an ethical and responsible state.

Figures on duck shooters in Victoria

Following this introduction is a comprehensive table, compiled by ALP Members Opposed to Duck Shooting (ALP MoDS), of the number of registered duck shooters in Victoria by electorates in the Lower House and the proposed Upper House Regions as at 15 July 2005. The figures reveal that despite certain propaganda within ALP ranks over a potential electoral backlash, the number of duck shooters in Labor held electorates is extremely low.

The results are based on the number of Waterfowl Identification Tests (WIT) passes (”registered duck shooters”) for each Victorian postcode as at 15 July, 2005. The post code information was supplied by the Department of Sustainability & Environment through FOI and is the only information available to calculate the percentage of duck shooters in Lower House electorates.

The total number of registered duck shooters listed for all Victorian postcodes is 21,492 which constitutes only 0.57% of Victorians enrolled to vote as of July 2005 and represents a very small percentage of the Victorian community as a whole.

The number of duck shooters may be broken down as follows:

•  Metropolitan post codes - 7,466
•  Non-Metropolitcan (Country) post codes - 14,026
Total - 21,492

A substantial number of duck shooters reside in non-marginal suburban seats. Many, if not the majority of registered duck shooters, are known to be inactive with a few thousand now estimated as participating in the activity. Many have simply retained their licences for convenience in order to comply with the law on possessing shotguns. Registered duck shooters are spread thinly across all electorates. Some of the WIT holders (registered duck shooters) are aged between 12 and 18 years, i.e. too young to vote and many in country areas would be Liberal/National Party voters.

The following figures extracted from the table indicate that the percentage of Greens Party voters at the last election in winnable country electorates, far exceeds the number of registered duck shooters. It also indicates that the banning of duck shooting would have insignificant negative impact on the election results for the ALP and would likely have a positive impact given the greening of country Victoria.

 

Victorian
Lower HouseALP Electorates

 

 

ALP

Sitting Member

% of Duck Shooters

i.e. % of voters
holding WIT passes
at 15/07/05

% two party preferred ALP vote 2002

 

% Green vote
2002

 

Ballarat East

Geoff Howard

1.3

57.80

13.12

Ballarat West

Karen Overington

0.7

59.00

6.96

Bellarine

Lisa Neville

0.9

58.21

10.60

Bendigo East

Jacinta Allan

1.2

62.96

6.66

Bendigo West

Bob Cameron

1.4

65.94

10.18

Geelong

Ian Trezise

0.8

58.10

7.35

Gembrook

Tammy Lobato

0.7

51.92

12.78

Hastings

Rosy Buchanan

0.7

50.81

9.33

Lara

Peter Loney

1.2

72.34

6.71

Macedon

Joanne Duncan

0.9

59.25

10.55

Monbulk

James Merlino

0.6

57.82

15.78

Morwell

Brendan Jenkins

1.8

54.96

5.89

Narracan

Ian Maxfield

1.2

56.82

5.94

Narre Warren North

Luke Donnellan

0.5

59.70

7.56

Narre Warren South

Dale Wilson

0.4

62.60

6.06

Ripon

Joe Helper

1.7

57.43

4.75

Seymour

Ben Hardman

0.9

59.49

9.73

South Barwon

Michael Crutchfield

0.5

54.98

9.33

Deconstructing the ‘duck shooting myths'

The National Party leader, Hon Peter Ryan has falsely claimed that the activity is an important contributor to regional economies. In an article in the Ballarat Courier published on 5/9/2005 a member of the Field and Game Australia (linked to the Country Alliance Party) refuted this claim, stating that duck shooters nowadays “prepare the bulk of their provisions at home, rather than buying them in other towns”. From what ALP MoDS has learned, the majority of remaining active duck shooters turn up from Melbourne in their four wheel drives, shoot up the wetlands and disappear. There's little money in it for regional Victoria . At the opening this year at McDonalds Swamp in Kerang, which is the usual focal point for duck shooters, only about 80 duck shooters appeared and they were outnumbered by rescuers, police and wildlife officers. This is further evidence that what country Victoria needs is a comprehensive sustainable wetlands tourism industry, not myths about the financial benefits of duck shooting.

The Bracks government ought develop and market an election policy to invest tourism dollars in promoting our internationally renowned wetlands which will lead to job creation and long term advantages to regional economies.

Although bush-user groups like the Field & Game Australia periodically make noise about this issue, there is no evidence of any vigorous country based support for their views. A ban would not become a rallying point for aggrieved rural voters – only a tiny minority endorse the activity. Consequently, the Nationals and the Country Alliance and independents would not particularly engender or inspire confidence of country voters if a ban on duck shooting was to be one of the highlights of their carping of the Bracks government during the 2006 State election campaign.

Native waterbirds down the east coast of Australia are at their lowest since annual surveys were commenced in 1984 . And as a result of strong and persistent community opposition to the activity so are the number of duck shooters. Whilst Queensland had a moratorium this year with the number of native waterbirds decreasing from one million to two hundred thousand, the Minister for Environment, Hon John Thwaites, allowed the season in Victoria to go ahead. The Bracks government has not only ignored the cruelty factor but has clearly disregarded the science. Continuing with duck shooting seasons during the worst years of drought that Victoria has seen in its history makes a mockery of the concept of environmental sustainability. The Bracks government cannot politically afford to falsely maintain that duck shooting is sustainable when native waterbirds are at their lowest numbers.

Regardless of the science (or quasi science) used to justify duck shooting seasons, the fact remains that this is an ethical issue. The activity relies on the use of a shot gun, not a rifle. The range of a shot gun is about 50 metres. Birds are frequently wounded by the spray of pellets and are cruelly left to die on the wetlands. The shooting does not involve a ‘clean kill' as with other hunting activities. Members of the ALP across Branches find it extremely difficult to believe that a Labor government continues to ignore this aspect of the activity.

Political embarrassment in the lead up to the 2006 State election

It is foreseeable that the government will have a moratorium (or postponement) on the duck shooting season in 2006 due to the Commonwealth Games. Whilst the excuse used may be lack of police resources, the reality is that shooting native waterbirds on our internationally renowned wetlands during the Games would attract much negative publicity for the State and the ALP. Further, professional athletes would never want to be identified with duck shooting – they would risk losing sponsorship. The image of the modern athlete is someone who is responsible, ethical and environmentally conscious.

It is particularly disturbing that the state government permits children over the age of twelve years to shoot native waterbirds.

The Victorian government's own Animal Welfare Advisory Committee has recommended that it be banned. A statewide AC Nielsen poll shows that 70% of the community wants the activity banned. The RSPCA has called for it to be banned. Bird groups and the Humane Society have called for it to be banned. Twenty-three ALP Branches in Victoria have passed motions calling for it to be banned. On 19 March 2005 The Age published an insightful editorial titled Victoria 's cruel slaughter resumes which concluded:

‘One day, we will look back and wonder how our Government permitted such cruel slaughter to go on for so long.'

Developing and marketing an election policy for Victoria 's Wetlands

The Bracks Labor Government needs to encourage tourism as an economic boost to regional Victoria . The International Wetlands Tourism industry is worth $23 billion every year. Regional Victoria ought capitalise on its wonderful wetland assets, as it does with the penguins at Phillip Island and Southern Right Whales at Warrnambool. Tourism related to penguins brings in about $150 million each year to Phillip Island . The whales visiting Warrnambool, between June and October, bring in about $20 million each year.

Regions like Kerang and nearby Boort and Donald, as well as Gippsland and Geelong , have many diverse wetlands, over 150 species of native waterbirds, and some significant indigenous heritage sites. The Kerang wetlands are listed under the Ramsar treaty as Wetlands of International Importance. Facilities and services that could be developed include boardwalks, hides and telescopes, visitors' centres, cafes and guided tours employing local residents. It would also provide a wonderful employment opportunity for local Koori communities to become tour guides.

ALP MoDS is of the view that the Victorian ALP has a history of making, on the whole, environmentally responsible decisions on behalf of Victorians and supporting the wishes of the majority of Victorians. Recent examples of this are banning of cattle from the High Country in national parks and the ending of logging in the Otways. ALP MoDS asks the Bracks government to show the same courage on this issue by following the lead of other Labor governments in WA, NSW, QLD and ACT in the banning of duck shooting. Such bans in other States have met with little or no opposition and no political fall out, and without the luxury of having control of both houses of parliament and have been achieved without the prospect that the Greens may hold the balance of power after the next State election. There is no better, smarter or safer time, to take this important and inevitable step towards progress and compassion, in the spirit of the Labor tradition.

Alternative phrasing to ALP MoDS policy proposal which states ‘That the Victorian state government ought permanently ban the recreational shooting of native waterbirds,' is

That the Victorian state government will protect native waterbirds all year round and promote income for wetland rural regions through tourism. It will permanently end activities incompatible with such tourism such as duck shooting seasons.

We hope this report assists you in making your decision prior to the 2006 Commonwealth Games to permanently ban the recreational shooting of native waterbirds.

Regards

Trevor Poulton
Co-convenor
ALP Members Opposed to Duck Shooting (ALP MoDS)

 

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