ALP grassroots challenges Bracks Government’s ‘marginal seats policy’ on duck shooting

The excuse bandied around the Labor Party by certain MPs for opposing banning the recreational shooting of native waterbirds is that the ALP risks losing marginal seats at the 2006 state election if it does ban the activity. It is time that these ALP politicians consider the facts and the figures, and instead take an appropriate ethical stance on the issue. Figures for registered duck shooters in marginal seats have been

obtained through Freedom of Information and cross referenced with the percentage of Green votes and two party preferred votes at the last election.

Analysis of the figures throws up some interesting results. The naive assumption that country ALP MPs would face a

backlash if the Bracks Labor government bans the shooting of native waterbirds for recreation in Victoria is not supported by the figures. The figures below are consistent with a recent ACNielson Poll that reveals 70% of the public would like to see the recreational shooting of Australian native waterbirds permanently banned.

Registered Duck Shooters in Labor held Marginal Seats

Victorian State Electorate Member % of duck shooters % Green vote % two party preferred ALP vote
Bendigo East Jacinta Allan 2.7 6.66 62.96
Bendigo West Bob Cameron 2.3 10.18 65.94
Ballarat East Geoff Howard 1.8 13.12 57.8
Ballarat West Karen Overington 1.6 6.96 59.0
Macedon Joanne Duncan 1.2 10.55 59.25
Ripon Joe Helper 3.3 4.75 57.43
Narracan Ian Maxfield 1.8 5.94 56.82
Geelong Ian Trezise 3.4 7.35 58.1
Lara Peter Loney 1.2 6.71 72.34
South Barwon Michael CrutchField 1.8 9.33 55.01

Table prepared 5/03/05

Some dot point conclusions from an analysis of the figures follows:

1. Currently about 0.6% of Victorian voters are duck shooters.

2. For ALP held rural and regional seats the figure is 2.1% registered duck shooters.

3. For seats like Macedon the figure is as low as 1.2%. Ballarat East 1.8%. With a Green vote of 10.5% and 13.1% respectively, and 45% of preferences bleeding to the Liberals at the last election, the anxiety over losing these two seats at least, does not stand up to scrutiny. If anything, the opposite would seem true, ie, a ban on duck shooting would be an electoral positive for these Members.

4. There are now only 20,000 registered duck shooters. Judging by anecdotal numbers of duck shooters on the Victoria's wetlands for the 2004 season, it is unlikely that the active duck shooters would be a quarter the registered eligible number. Many gun owners retain their duck shooters' status to justify the continued registration of their shotguns.

5. Added to this must be considered the duck shooters who will never vote Labor, particularly in the rural /regional electorates.

6. Swinging and solid Labor voters who are also active duck shooters in regional/rural ALP held electorates are estimated to be no more than an average of 0.5% in rural areas and 0.2% across the state.

7. The numbers of votes that would actually shift to the Coalition if the government were to permanently ban duck shooting, is likely to be between 0.1% and 0.5% for rural seats and less than 0.1% across the state. This would assume that the decision was made now.

8. Also to be considered is how many votes would come to the Labor government if duck shooting was permanently stopped. Although impossible to accurately estimate, it is worth noting, however, that the Green vote at the last state election in these rural/regional seats was 7.3%.

9. The WA ban on duck shooting did not result in the threatened voter backlash threatened by shooters - and it was not reversed by the Court Government, or of course by the current Gallop government.

10. Carr did not face a backlash from shooters when he banned duck shooting there in 1995. The ban is unlikely to be reversed.

Other factors to consider

1. The gun lobby is arguably at an all time low in morale and performance.

2. The Green vote is arguably at a high.

3. If the Government were to legislate an end to duck hunting well before the 2006 season, the gun lobby would have a difficult time sustaining a campaign against the decision over a year period.

4. The Labor Government is in danger of embarrassing the nation with the 2006 duck shooting season coinciding with the Commonwealth Games.

Conclusion

The number of registered duck shooters is around 20,000. The figure confirms that the numbers of duck shooters has fallen sharply in Victoria. Even in rural and regional electorates, the numbers of registered duck shooters in just over 2%. Banning duck shooting is likely to have a very small negative electoral impact, certainly not balanced by the positive impact the ALP could expect from voters, particularly if the ALP develops and markets a vision for the wetlands (see Valuing Our Wetlands on www.alpmods.org.au website).

The government can depend on strong support from conservation groups, animal welfare groups and the general public in any move to place a permanent ban on duck shooting as a sport in Victoria.


ALP Members support a ban

ALP MoDS (ALP Members Opposed to Duck Shooting) attended around twenty ALP Branches in late 2003 prior to the December 2003 ALP State Conference. It was self evident then that on a grass roots

level a great majority of ALP members are absolutely opposed to duck shooting and would like to see the law changed. The issue is not about gun control but respect for our native wildlife and the environment. Most shooters have now

deserted the 'sport' as was evident for all to see during the 2004 duck shooting season when ALP MoDS hit the wetlands. It is no coincidence, therefore, that since 1986 the number of duck shooters has fallen from 95,000 to around 20,000 and the majority of these are clearly no longer active duck shooters.

Latent interest in this issue became evident to party leaders at the ALP December 2003 State Conference when union and branch delegates poured into the Moonee Valley Racing Club Hall as soon as it was announced that the Urgency Motion for an immediate ban was to be debated. Rarely have members witnessed an ALP conference fill up so quickly with delegates to participate and vote on a policy position. Many members are aware that the motion was defeated because Socialist Left delegates, in a pressurised environment, decided on the morning of the conference to vote as a block against the Urgency Motion for an immediate ban having been misled that the Bracks government has a phase out policy on duck shooting. The decision angered and disgusted many Socialist Left union and branch members (delegates and non-delegates) at the conference.

The issue is currently under review by the Socialist Left faction. Those in the Socialist Left fighting to preserve duck shooting have now basically run out of 'procedural motions' to defer finalising a policy position, and without a doubt the issue will be resolved at the next General Meeting of the Socialist Left prior to May 2005 State Conference. With the general membership of the Socialist Left confronted with having to make a substantive decision, ALP MoDS believes it is likely that a ban will become Socialist Left policy prior to May 2005 State Conference, possibly leading to a new resolution by State Conference to ban the activity.


A decade later and
the struggle to reach
the minds and hearts
of ALP politicians still
continues

The Premier may have noticed that the speakers at the December 2003 State Conference opposing the shooting of native waterbirds included the Secretary of Labor Unity and that a large number of members of the right supported the Urgency Motion. Marg Lewis (Secretary of the Environment Policy Committee, SL Member and Senate Candidate) and Joe Helper MP spoke against a ban, admitting publicly their views were based on political expediency relating to protecting marginal seats.

The Premier will have also noted that the campaign run by ALP MoDS (November 2003 - March 2004) attracted much attention from the media. ALP

members used a light aircraft to buzz the wetlands in south west Victoria in the lead up to the 2004 opening of the season, and set up an ALP Duck Rescue Team at Hirds Swamp with support from Laurie Levy and the Coalition Against Duck Shooting. ALP members were interviewed regularly on national and local radio. The ALP Duck Rescue Team received coverage by Channels 9, 7, 10 and 2 News prior to and during the opening of the season. No doubt the party hierarchy and the government monitored some of these events and would therefore have become aware that there was little back lash in the media from shooting organisations. Unlike the Bracks government, shooting organisations and shooters have well and truly lost the will within the public domain to keep up the fight on this issue.

Interestingly, prior to the 2002 state election, certain ALP MPs were adamant that Labor would lose seats if it endorsed a policy to end logging of the Otways. A grass roots group, ALP Otway Ranges Interest Group (ORIG), not only attended over 35 ALP Branches where motions were passed calling for an end to logging of the Otways, but produced a Saulwick Poll at the cost of $12,500 which showed that Labor would pick up seats in South West Victoria if it supported an end to logging of the Otways. The poll was handed to the ALP election committee paving the way for the Bracks government to finally reverse its policy on logging the Otways. This ALP grassroots campaign contributed to the 2002 landslide victory for Labor, with a new vision for the Otways being Labor's key election platform commitment. Still, the same MPs and their associates within various factions who opposed ending logging of the Otways, are now investing much energy into lobbying the Bracks Labor government to get its policy wrong in relation to the shooting of native waterbirds. They maintain, without any evidence to support their case, that the ALP will lose marginal country seats if it ends duck shooting. Their political judgment in light of the Otways scenario is questionable, and also curious given that the majority of shooters are city based and the few thousand active duck shooters spread across Victoria are largely National/Liberal Party voters anyway.

This is not an issue of the city versus the country. There is no reason to believe that banning duck shooting would become a rallying point for country people who may feel grievances towards the Bracks government for various failings to deliver on certain election promises. It is time that the Bracks government looks at the figures, considers the conservation and ethical issues at stake, and stops endorsing and encouraging the institutionalised killing of native waterbirds out of an unjustified fear of losing marginal seats.

Establishing a clear policy position for Victoria

Protecting native waterbirds is not simply about ecological sustainability. Native waterbirds suffer horrific injuries as a result of being shot, and are often left to die wounded in the wetlands. Premier Carmen Lawrence expressed it well in 1990 when she said:

    "There is widespread opposition throughout the community to the cruelty and environmental damage caused by shooters.

    Our community has reached a stage of enlightenment where it can no longer accept the institutionalised killing of native birds for recreation."

The cruelty involved in this sport continues in Victoria despite Western Australia banning the activity in 1990 and NSW banning it in 1995.

In 1991 ALP State Conference resolved to ban duck shooting. It would seem strange now that Labor controls both Houses of Parliament, for the Labor government to ignore the ethical and conservation issues at stake.

Some proponents of the status quo maintain that the Bracks government's 2002 election Wetlands Policy portends the end of recreational shooting of native waterbirds. The policy states that the ALP will:

    "Phase out activities and processes that have adverse effects on wetland ecosystems or are incompatible with the protection of wetland environments and biodiversity."

The wording of this policy is deliberately obscure, particularly given that the Minister for the Environment, Hon John Thwaites maintains that 'science' shows that shooting native waterbirds does not have an adverse impact on the wetlands. The policy also intentionally avoids the cruelty aspect which is a central issue. In fact, it is common knowledge that despite any interpretation of the policy, there is currently no strategy to phase out the annual recreational shooting of native waterbirds, neither now or in the future, and that the Bracks government is yet to discover the political will to end this travesty.

ALP MoDS requests answers to the following:

1. Does the Bracks government acknowledge that the shooting of native waterbirds has adverse effects on wetland ecosystems?

2. Does the Bracks government acknowledge that the shooting of native waterbirds is incompatible with the protection of wetland environments and biodiversity?

3. Does the Bracks government acknowledge that the shooting of native waterbirds for sport is cruel?

4. Will the Bracks government be adopting a strategy to end the recreational shooting of native waterbirds (apart from relying on a natural attrition of shooters)?

5. If so, what is the strategy and when will legislation be introduced into Parliament banning the activity?

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