FEDERAL COURT CHALLENGE

 

Late on Tuesday March 15, the day before the opening of the Victorian recreational duck shooting season, CADS commenced legal action for an injunction to ban duck shooting under the federal environmental law.

This application included a claim for an urgent injunction to stop this year’s 90-day season, based on the Victorian Government’s failure to obtain prior Commonwealth approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act).

CADS challenged the Game Management Authority (GMA) for failing to refer the season for approval, and failing to undertake the appropriate surveys to determine the presence of any nationally threatened or migratory species on wetlands across Victoria.

During the hearing, the GMA’s barrister argued that the GMA was not responsible and only advised the Victorian Ministers for Agriculture and the Environment on duck shooting seasons. The judge ruled in favour of the GMA, and the season opened the next day with volunteer rescuers recovering illegally shot, wounded and dead species that are threatened in Victoria, at Lake Bael Bael, a Ramsar wetland, in just the first two days.


We therefore mounted a second challenge, this time against both the Agriculture and Environment Ministers, as well as the GMA as the alleged regulatory body. The evidence included the illegal shooting at Lake Bael Bael, and the latest expert science showing that duck shooting is unsustainable and has serious environmental impacts on nationally protected species and Ramsar wetlands.


The same judge agreed to the application, but again denied the claim for an urgent injunction. However, following the initial hearing, CADS obtained legal advice from an experienced Federal Court barrister that the Victorian Government has indeed failed to obtain approval from the Commonwealth Environment Minister for duck shooting under the EPBC Act.


According to this advice, CADS has established a legal pathway to ban duck shooting under the EPBC Act, so unless it is banned first, we intend to return to court for the full hearing for an injunction next year, ahead of any 2023 season.

DUCK OPENING


Reports from around Victoria during the recreational duck shooting season again confirmed the trend of ever
diminishing active shooters in 2022. Duck shooting is a dying activity.

The announcement of the duck shooting season had been based on the Game Management Authority’s (GMA)
helicopter survey of waterbird numbers in Victoria conducted a staggering five months before the season
commenced. Contrary to the helicopter survey, our bird number counts just prior to the commencement of the
season showed that many wetlands were dry and wetlands which still held water had very few birds. Lake Bael Bael, a Ramsar wetland of International importance near Kerang, was the exception. Many thousands of so-called ‘game’ species had gathered there so we knew it would act as a magnet for the shooters.


Sure enough, organised shooting groups and their hierarchy turned up for the opening, but could only muster
around 40 shooters, a huge drop from the many thousands which attended in bygone years. They even had somemembers picking up the dead or wounded birds illegally discarded by shooters to prevent our rescuers from recovering the evidence.


The opening days were spread out from Wednesday March 16 to Sunday March 20, which gave the shooters an
extra three days added to the normal duck shooting period.


Although Covid restrictions had been lifted, the pandemic had a big impact on rescuer numbers this year and we also only had two weeks to prepare for the season after the government’s announcement.

 

 

Some of the rescuers setting up the Base marquee at the edge of Lake Bael Bael and preparing to rescue dead and injured native waterbirds.


But despite a greatly reduced rescue team, our impact on the first day was immense, with the authorities grossly
over-estimating the numbers of rescuers. Many birds were saved from the guns because of the rescuers.

 

WILDLIFE VICTORIA


Wildlife Victoria was also in attendance with their CEO, vet, mobile clinic and portable x-ray machine.

Wildlife Victoria’s mobile veterinary clinic, set up and ready
Above: Inside, the vet prepares to treat wounded birds
The x-ray machine

THREATENED & PROTECTED SPECIES


Even with the shooting organisations present to monitor the behaviour of their members, a threatened Blue-winged Shoveler was shot and wounded within the first hour. She was rushed to the mobile veterinary clinic where unfortunately she had to be put down.

One of the five threatened, illegally shot Blue-winged Shovelers recovered during opening

 

When the guns sounded at Lake Bael Bael, thousands of birds took fright and circled the wetland in terror. This
included hundreds of swans. Sadly, many abandoned their flightless cygnets or eggs but some cygnets were
recovered by rescuers and after veterinary check-ups were taken to wildlife carers

An abandoned cygnet being taken into care

DEAD BIRD DISPLAY

Despite the shooting organisations attempts to keep their members under control, rescuers recovered fifty illegally shot birds which were displayed outside the Kerang Agriculture Department on the Monday (photo below). This did not include the birds taken away by GMA officers or a further 23 ‘game birds’ found illegally buried at Lake Murphy, another wetland near Kerang.

AFTER THE OPENING
 

The rest of the 2022 season was extremely quiet with reports of minimal shooting around Victoria.  Rescuers protected the native birds on Lake Bael Bael for the whole of the duck shooting season.  Very few birds were shot and the shooters often packed up and left the wetland due to the rescuers’ presence.

 

During Easter, shooters arrived at Lake Bael Bael with an amphibious vehicle allegedly to flush the large numbers of birds in the middle of the wetland, up into the air and towards the shooters’ guns.  Rescuers contacted the authorities who stopped the shooters from using the vehicle.

On the final weekend rescuers witnessed an unregistered motor boat speeding across Lake Bael Bael in order to flush the remaining birds up towards several shooters’ guns.  This has been reported to the GMA who are investigating and further footage is withheld due to a possible court hearing.

 

ILLEGAL SHOOTER BEHAVIOUR


Despite so few shooters active this year, CADS rescuers still observed multiple breaches of the regulations such as:

Shooters campsite rubbish found by rescuers on the last day of the 2022 duck shooting season at Lake Bael Bael, a beautiful Ramsar listed wetland of international importance.