Anti-duck shooting campaign targets Labor

Date: September 14, 2014

by Farrah Tomazin, The Sunday Age’s state political editor.

Greens supporters are waging a provocative campaign against Labor in key inner-city seats, accusing the party of supporting “male gun violence” for not taking a stance against duck shooting.

Dead birds have been placed at the electorate offices of MPs, a graphic 21-page booklet will be distributed to voters, and posters have been displayed in seats such as Melbourne, Brunswick and Albert Park urging people to “vote Greens first and Labor last” at the November 29 poll.

“The Victorian Labor Party and ‘Dictaphone’ Dan Andrews support male gun violence and cruelty to native waterbirds,” the posters say.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews, Photo: Justin McManus

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews, Photo: Justin McManus

The campaign by the Coaliton Against Duck Shooting has outraged Labor MPs who say it is deliberately designed to confuse the party’s message on family violence. Earlier this year, Mr Andrews announced that if elected, he would create a royal commission on family violence to re-examine the issue “from the ground up”.

In a letter to MPs and party chiefs, group spokesman Laurie Levy wrote that while he supported the royal commission, “it makes good political sense to be consistent with your message, and as long as Labor continues to support recreational male gun violence and cruelty to native waterbirds, you risk being seen as hypocritical”.

Mr Levy then goes on to write that “cruelty to animals is regarded as a ‘high risk’ indicator of family violence” and “encouraging children to be cruel to animals can also be seen as a form of child abuse”.

Illustration: Matt Golding.

Illustration: Matt Golding.

Opposition leader Daniel Andrews hit back last week, describing the comments as “disgraceful” and adding that “Laurie Levy should apologise to every victim of family violence across our state”.

Brunswick MP Jane Garrett agreed. “Bringing violence against women and children into the duck hunting debate crosses the line,” she said.

While the anti-duck shooting campaign is not run by the Greens, the issue is nonetheless likely to inflame tensions between the two warring parties as the campaign intensifies, particularly in the inner-city, where the minor party is trying to win its first lower house seat.

Asked if he endorsed the campaign, Greens leader Greg Barber said: “We’ve always opposed duck hunting, most Victorians do and most states have already banned it. The reason Labor and the Coalition are on the wrong side of this question is simple: they are pandering for the preferences of the various shooters’ parties”.

The 21-page booklet produced by Mr Levy’s group shows photos of bloody birds killed during duck hunting season, as well as photos of various MPs, including Mr Andrews, Ms Garrett and state Melbourne MP Jennifer Kanis.

Mr Levy admitted his images and words were provocative, but added that Labor had been silent on the issue for too long.

“We’d be more than happy to change our voting recommendations; advise the public to put the Liberals last if Labor introduces a policy to ban recreational duck shooting,” he said.

Read article at The Age:

Compassion or Cruelty? What is better for Victoria?

The belief that our treatment of animals is closely related to the way we treat our fellow human beings has a long history as documented in the works of classical writers including Pythagoras and Porphyry, medieval scholars including Thomas Aquinas, and early philosophers such as Montaigne (1533-1592) and John Locke (1632-1704). In more recent times, other prominent individuals have echoed the view that cruelty to animals hardens the heart and desensitizes one to the suffering of others. Such a view has been credited with influencing the mandating of humane education in 12 U.S. states. In the UK, this thinking was reflected in the establishment of a Humane Education Society in the early 1920‘s.

By the late 1900s, thinking along these lines strengthened, based largely on consistent findings of a relationship between cruelty to animals and aggression toward humans. The inclusion of “being cruel to animals” as a symptom of Conduct Disorder diagnosis in the 1987 version of American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was perhaps the single most influential factor spearheading a consistent flow of research examining this link. Disordered functioning characteristic of Antisocial Personality Disorder and Psychopathy is also marked by animal cruelty amongst other aggressive behaviors.

Children who are cruel to animals are more likely to bully other children. Adults who are cruel to animals are more likely to commit other crimes, particularly violent crimes including partner or child abuse. At the more extreme end of the antisocial behavior continuum, FBI work has shown that animal cruelty is a prominent behaviour in the profiles of violent criminals. Today, it is accepted by professionals and scientists alike that mistreating animals is not an isolated behaviour but part of a constellation of antisocial behaviours.

Given the influence that witnessing cruelty, aggressive models (particularly significant others such as parents), and media violence have on the learning of aggression. it can be concluded that legalized aggression adversely influences people’s behaviour, particularly young people’s behaviour. This is particularly true for young people with a vulnerable disposition (e.g., a temperament characterized by callous-unemotional traits) toward the development of aggression or those within family environments that have a higher tolerance for aggressive behaviours.

Citizens need to be very concerned about government policies that encourage and legalize aggressive behaviours, such as hunting. Confusing messages are communicated when cruel and aggressive behaviours, such as hunting, are described as “recreational” and “fun”. For young people whose attitudes are still undergoing processes of formation, these associations can only serve as barriers to the development of empathy and compassion. If we were, instead to promote harmonious relationships with animals by encouraging appreciation of life in all its forms, we would be cultivating a culture of compassion and resilience instead of violence and intolerance. Current and future generations would benefit psychologically and economically through such reduced antisocial, violent and criminal behaviour.

Dr Eleonora Gullone is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University.

This article is based on extracts from her recent book:

Gullonc, E. (2012). Animal cruelty, Antisocial Behaviour and Aggression: More than a link. Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., Hampshire.


Duck hunting season opens with tougher laws aimed at protesters

By Oliver Milman, Tuesday 18 March 2014 14.47 AEST

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Camouflaged men and women brandishing guns, animal lovers in fluoro bibs and army-issue goggles, dead ducks scattered on the steps of parliament – the start of Victoria’s duck hunting season has always involved a degree of theatre.

At Lake Elizabeth, near the town of Kerang, the main actors in this annual stand-off, along with a small battalion of police, spent a great deal of time loitering by the water’s edge, waiting for their lines.

The problem, as always, was ducks. Only this time there weren’t many of them. About 3,000 were on the lake the night before, only to be scared away by the 6am arrival of the duck rescuers, the hunters grumbled. Rescuers said the numbers were down partly as a result of the dry conditions.

Once the birds arrived, guns were shouldered and some direct hits were taken. A duck rescuer, who had waded into the water, brought a wounded duck to a triage tent set up to tend to the animals, only for it to expire.

This year’s season (you can shoot ducks in Victoria for another 12 weeks, if you have a licence) comes with a significant new context – Victoria’s controversial anti-protest laws.

Police are now able to remove protesters from a site for up to 12 months, while specific penalties around duck hunting have been stiffened. Going within 25 metres of the water’s edge without a licence can carry a fine of $8,661, where previously it was $1,450. The fine for “harassing, hindering or obstructing” a hunter has been doubled from $2,890.

“It was a test case today,” said Laurie Levy, a veteran of anti-duck hunting activity since 1986, when he first waded onto the wetlands to rescue the fowl. Levy symbolically entered the lake only to be politely escorted out by police. He ended up with a $360 fine and a banning order.

Levy and his group, the Coalition Against Duck Hunting, claim the hunters and the government are in cahoots. Instead of banning duck hunting, which they say is cruel, the government is pandering to the hunting lobby and curtailing the rights of protesters, the Coalition says.

Protesters at Lake Elizabeth in Victoria, Australia Photograph: Tim Mummery for the Guardian
“They can bring in the laws, it won’t stop us fighting it because we are here for the waterbirds,” Levy told Guardian Australia, at the boundary of the park from which he’d just been expelled.

“When we started in 1986 there were 100,000 duck shooters and just 15 rescuers. The shooters and the government couldn’t understand it because those birds had only ever been victims, collateral damage.”
NSW, Queensland and Western Australia have all banned duck hunting, reinforcing Victoria’s position as the activity’s heartland state. Levy says the tide is turning in his group’s favour, that duck hunting will soon be seen in the same light as harpooning whales.

“The Victorian government has been slow to respond but duck hunting is no longer acceptable to the Victorian public and should be banned immediately,” he said.

“Shotguns are imprecise instruments. When triggers pull the shot spreads, one or two pellets out of 200 may hit a bird. It can be lodged next to a wing, or next to a nerve.

“This brutality is all so hunters can get their kicks from blowing these creatures out of the sky. When duck shooters hit a bird and it topples out of the sky, you hear this roar go up, this cheering, laughter, where they have no empathy for the suffering of that bird.

“Rescuers feel that empathy, they feel the pain those birds are going through, which is why they risk lives every year.”

That risk is tangible. In 2011, a duck rescuer was accidentally shot in the face by a 14-year-old (in Victoria, people can hunt from the age of 12). She narrowly avoided losing her sight. Game Victoria, the government body that oversees hunting, said she was in a prohibited area at a prohibited time.

Back at Lake Elizabeth there is little sign of human-on-human violence. Hunters and rescuers sit side-by-side in their respective camps, eating sandwiches and studiously ignoring each other in an almost genteel antipathy.
Simon Toop, the director of Game Victoria, stressed to Guardian Australia that while the state offers good opportunities for game hunters, the practice is tightly regulated.

Shooters have to pass a wildfowl identification test to ensure they don’t kill a threatened species. They can fill their bags with a maximum of 10 birds each and are not allowed to fire onto the water unless it’s to put a bird out of its misery. But the protest laws have been toughened.

“The existing laws weren’t having a deterrent effect,” Toop said. “People were putting themselves at risk, hunters at risk and our wildlife officers at risk.”

Rescuers aim to scoop up birds that have been shot and take them to be rehabilitated. This strategy causes consternation among hunters.

“I shot a bird, it landed on the ground and the bloke grabbed the wounded duck and ran off with him before we could humanely kill it,” said hunter Joe Murrone.

“The greenies make things unsafe, they make things cruel. The fines need to be heavier. Put them in jail for all I care, teach them a lesson.”

The large police presence and rescuer angst over the shot ducks – as well as the annual ritual of placing dead, protected birds onto the steps of state parliament – raises interesting questions about why we value some animals more highly than others.

For whatever reason, ducks have hit a nerve, and the protests against their killing require significant resources for policing and regulation.

“Our society has got into a terrible contradiction and doesn’t realise it,” said Collin Wood, of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia. “If you took pictures of what happens in abattoirs and showed people, they’d be horrified and they’d go off meat. We look at a cow and just think it’s a steak, whereas ducks are wild, free animals.

“Our society hides its head in the sand. If you’re there eating a chicken or steak, don’t criticise me because I kill my own meat. Don’t preach morals to me, because you don’t have any.”

At Lake Elizabeth, the hunters discuss how they will be adding duck to their favourite pasta dish later. But the commercial sale of duck is banned, something Wood feels is wrong.

“This could be a clean, green food source,” he said. “But we haven’t taken that opportunity.”
Wood said the vast majority of hunters were responsible people who provided valuable income for rural communities. But there are aberrations.

Last year a massacre at a private wetland near Boort resulted in almost 800 ducks shot and left in the water. This total included 155 non-game birds, including 40 rare freckled ducks and several black swans. No prosecutions have been made for this slaughter and the government has refused to reveal information on the case.

“We abhor that behaviour,” Wood said. “How that happened, we’re not quite sure.”

For the rescuers, the failure, so far, to prosecute and the new protest laws seem likely to have a galvanising effect.

“We’re not going to stop fighting this,” Levy said. “Duck shooting is legalised government cruelty.”