Premier Daniel Andrews faces internal Labor dissent over duck hunting
The Sunday Age’s state political editor.
Some Labor members claim the decision to allow another duck hunting season leaves the party vulnerable to the Greens. Photo: Craig Sillitoe
Premier Daniel Andrews faces internal dissent over his government’s decision to allow another duck hunting season – despite Labor’s own environmental policy committee calling for a permanent ban.
Rank-and-file members are furious by the move, which they claim could blunt Labor’s message against animal cruelty and leave the party at even greater risk to the Greens.
The government has announced the start of a full-length 12-week season, but has imposed fresh restrictions on the daily bag limit amid concerns about low bird numbers and dry conditions.
Illustration: Matt Golding
As part of the restrictions, hunters will be given a bag limit of eight birds on the first day of the season, which begins on March 19, followed by a bag limit of four ducks per day until the season ends on June 13.
However, inside Labor ranks, members have repeatedly called for a rethink on duck hunting by passing a series of motions through the ALP’s Conservation, Resources and Environment policy committee.
The first motion was passed in the lead up to the 2014 state election, urging Labor to “prohibit the recreational destruction of native wildlife on public or private land”.
The second, passed last May, went even further, asking the government to cancel the scheduled duck season that year and noting that the committee would “support permanently banning the recreational shooting of native water birds.”
“People need to be aware that most people in the Labor Party want duck shooting banned, yet they’ve ignored their own policy committee, they’ve ignored their branches and they’ve ignored their members,” said one well-placed source.
News of the angst within ALP ranks came as the authority set up to regulate the hunting industry was accused by the Greens of trying to promote hunting, which is not meant to be part of its role.
Minutes of meetings by the Game Management Authority suggest the body had spent considerable time discussing the potential expansion of hunting in areas where it is currently not permitted, meeting key hunting groups, and attempting to have a more active role in water management.
Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said the documents – obtained under Freedom of Information laws – exposed the GMA as a bureaucracy for the hunting lobby, rather than an independent regulator.
“What the hunting lobby want is open season on pretty much any wildlife that’s on private land,” Mr Barber said. “They’ve now been given their own bureaucracy, with taxpayer resources, that is supposed to enforce hunting laws but is in fact constantly lobbying for expanded hunting opportunities.”
However, Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford disagreed, saying that the authority – whose role among other things is to make recommendations to the government about game hunting management , the control of pest animals, and declaring public land open and closed to hunting – “has been carrying out its functions appropriately.”
Asked why the government decided to open another duck season despite the pleas of its own members and data suggesting that water bird numbers are at significantly low levels, Ms Pulford said: “Labor’s 2014 Platform stated that we would promote a range of sustainable uses of Victoria’s wetlands, including tourism and recreation, where they are compatible with environmental values.”
“While we understand duck hunting may not be everyone’s cup of tea and some say we should not go ahead with it – this is an important recreational activity for thousands of people.”
“Hunting is an important contributor to many small rural communities. Victoria’s 48,000 licensed game hunters, including about 26,000 duck hunters, contribute more than $430 million to local economies each year and help support over 3,000 jobs.”
Hunters have also expressed disappointment at the restrictions announced this year. Shooters and Fishers MP Daniel Young said he was not aware of any scientific evidence to prove that the Victorian duck season had any significant impact on duck populations or their recovery in later years.
“Premier Andrews has stated before that duck shooting is a legitimate activity. The announcement of a modified season flies in the face of this while there is no evidence to suggest the need for changes,” he said.
Duck-season tactic by the State Government reeks of cowardice
January 28, 2016 12:00am ED GANNON Herald Sun
THE State Government took political cowardice to new heights last week. Or should that be new lows?
For weeks, shooters and anti-duck season campaigners have been demanding an answer as to whether duck season will go ahead this year.
With the spreading dry, there has been a view that duck populations may have fallen, forcing the Government to pull the pin on the season.
The annual duck season puts a Labor Government in a no-win position. On one hand, approving the annual cull offends those who hate shooting — more often than not Labor-leaning voters — providing more fuel for them to turn their back on the party and opt for the Greens.
On the other hand, Labor wants to show it is the party for all people, that it isn’t just the level-crossing party for city voters. Ticking off duck season sends the message that it does govern for the bush, where duck shooting is seen as part balancing nature and part rite of passage. And don’t forget the outer suburbs, home to a great many shooters.
So the Government faced three options. Ban duck season and risk the wrath of shooters. Let it go ahead and face the fury of anti-duck season leader Laurie Levy and his band of protesters. Or give it the green light but with restrictions on how many ducks can be shot — an option that tries to please everyone but doesn’t really please anyone
Eventually, it chose the latter compromise, with the 12-week season to start on March 19, and a reduction in how many birds can be shot on any one day.
So, how does the Government make such an announcement? By issuing a media release at 10.30pm last Friday.
The gold standard has always been for politicians to release bad news at 5pm on a Friday, with everyone heading off for the weekend. It’s politically known as “taking out the trash”.
But 10.30pm is a world-class performance. Just as Nick Kyrgios was spitting the dummy at the Australian Open and the Melbourne Stars were pumping the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash League, Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford made the announcement.
If you were willing to give the Government the benefit of the doubt, you could argue it was deliberating all day and only came to its decision at such a late hour.
But it didn’t. For nearly two weeks The Weekly Times was being told an announcement was imminent. Let’s just call it for what is was — an attempt to hide an unpopular decision.
Duck shooting is seen as barbaric by many because the birds are defenceless, and don’t appear to be a pest such as rabbits and foxes. However, for others they are a nuisance that must be controlled. One Mornington Peninsula lettuce grower, Wayne Shields, recently lost 90 per cent of his summer crop and laid off three workers because of damage caused by ducks.
The Government just needed to gulp, hold its nose, and announce duck season in a transparent way, and at a sensible time of the day. It now just looks cynical and sneaky.
And, in doing so, it has failed to win fans of those who support duck shooting, those that oppose it, and those who want open government.
ED GANNON IS EDITOR OF THE WEEKLY TIMES email@example.com
On 4 January 2016 Federal Victorian Labor member for Wills, Kelvin Thomson MP, wrote to Environment Minister Lisa Neville