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Inquiry into Native Bird Shooting

In February 2023, the Andrews Labor Government moved and passed a motion to establish a Legislative Council Select Committee to examine recreational native bird shooting in Victoria.  The public campaign against duck shooting is in its 38th year and this is the first time we have been given the opportunity to present evidence to a committee in support of a ban. This inquiry is the result of an enormous effort by advocacy groups, wildlife rescuers and the broader community and it is our best chance at ensuring 2023 is the last year of suffering for our native water birds and quail.

Georgie Purcell MP (Animal Justice Party) is a Committee Member alongside Ryan Batchelor - Chair (Labor), Michael Galea – Deputy Chair (Labor), Sheena Watt (Labor), Katherine Copsey (Greens), Melina Bath (National), Bev McArthur (Liberal), Evan Mulholland (Liberal), and Jeff Bourman (Shooters, Fishers & Farmers).

The Committee will deliberate a wide-ranging terms of reference, including the operation of the annual recreational native bird hunting seasons, arrangements in other Australian jurisdictions, their environmental sustainability and impact on amenity, and their social and economic impact. We have been assured that specific issues of animal cruelty fit into the terms of reference and therefore may be presented as evidence. 

The Committee will hold public hearings to learn from key stakeholders such as animal protection groups, shooting associations, and regional communities. You may indicate in the submission form whether you would like to appear as a witness to give evidence at the public hearings - however, these invitations from the Committee will be limited.

A final report is due to be tabled in the Legislative Council by 31 August 2023. If you agree that Victoria’s native water birds deserve better protection under the law, please take the time to share your views. The full details of the Inquiry and the Committees can be found here. 

If you have any queries, please contact Nat Kopas at [email protected].  

Important Dates

Call for written submissions
   27 March - 8 May (6 weeks)
Special meeting #1 for AJP Supporters & Members
   15 April (3pm) RSVP here
2023 recreational duck & quail shooting seasons 
  26 April - 30 May
Special meeting #2 for AJP Supporters & Members
   2 May (7pm) RSVP here
Final report tabled 
  31st August

It is likely that public hearings will be scheduled in June and July.

Our Guide to Making a Submission

Submissions from individuals and organisations addressing the terms of reference can be made online but are also accepted in written and email format. Submissions should be concise. 1-2 pages in your own words is adequate to make your point (although longer, detailed submissions, with attached evidence, are encouraged).

Special Meeting Recording

Our Advocacy Manager, Natalie Kopas, hosted a special meeting to assist Animal Justice Party members and supporters with making submissions to the Inquiry into Victoria's Recreational Native Bird Hunting Arrangements.

The table below provides examples of priority areas you may wish to raise in your submission. You can make general comments on the overall issues with Native Duck & Quail shooting or talk specifically about an issue or theme you are passionate about, or that your organisation represents. Some of you will have drafted letters or collated information for Ministers and MP’s in the past and these can be reworked and re-submitted as part of the inquiry process. General information on completing a submission can be viewed here.

Topic: Animal cruelty (Wounding)

  • Approximately 1 in every 4 birds will not be killed instantly by gunshot. Using the Game Management Authority’s data from 2022, this equates to up to 105,000 wounded ‘game’ birds during the season. (Some estimates of wounding rates are even higher.)
  • Many birds suffer broken wings and legs as well as injuries to eyes and major organs.
  • Due to the indiscriminate nature of shooting and the ‘scattergun’ trajectory of pellets fired from shotguns, protected and even endangered species are also killed and wounded each year.
  • Prolonged suffering is commonplace, and injured birds may eventually succumb to infection, predation, starvation or drowning.

Topic: Animal cruelty (Improper killing methods)

  • Shooters are required to retrieve wounded birds and ‘dispatch’ them immediately; however, wounded birds often continue to fly or fall from the sky into dense reeds where they are difficult or impossible to locate.
  • ‘Windmilling’ (swinging the duck by the neck around in an arc/circle) is frequently observed on the wetlands despite resulting in a slow and painful death. If this fails to kill the wounded bird, they are often shoved into a shooter’s belt or box, still alive.

Topic: Environment (Bird abundance)

  • Throughout Eastern Australia, water bird abundance and breeding pairs have shown significant decline. Researchers estimate numbers to have fallen by as much as 90 per cent in the last four decades. Six out of eight ‘game’ species – those listed for shooting - show long-term decline. A seventh ‘game’ species has collapsed in this last decade. Two ‘game’ species are already listed as threatened. Some species risk being shot to extinction.
  • Victoria has 12 Ramsar-listed wetlands (which have a priority to provide significant habitat for waterfowl). The historic abundance of waterbirds was a key reason for elevating these sites to Ramsar status. However, multiple State Game Reserves, where duck shooting takes place, are in Ramsar-listed sites.
  • The 40th Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey (EAWS) found that despite successive La Niña years, around 41% of surveyed wetlands had no water bird sightings.

Topic: Environment (Contaminated waterways)

  • Wetlands where duck shooting takes place are increasingly impacted by the presence of chemicals such as PFAS and contamination such as blue-green algae making them unsafe to enter or harvest meat from. The Wildlife (Game) Regulations 2012 require shooters to immediately retrieve downed birds, harvesting at least the breast meat for consumption. It is therefore not possible to abide by the Wildlife (Game) Regulations while also following the EPA health warnings.
  • Lead shot was used in duck hunting until 2002 and is still used in quail hunting (which often occurs on land surrounding wetlands). Government estimates suggest more than 5 tonnes of lead are spread across the landscape by quail shooters each year. Toxic levels of lead have still been found present in ducks in recent years, presenting a health and safety risk to the birds themselves, as well as humans and prey animals who consume these birds.
  • Recent botulism outbreaks claimed the lives of over 700 ducks at Bells Swamp and surrounding wetlands. If shooters consume meat from infected ducks there are potentially significant risks to human health.

Topic: Indigenous sites (Site desecration)

  • Wetlands are ceremonial and initiation sites, traditional grounds and boundary markers for Indigenous Australians. Evidence of the damage to Indigenous land caused by recreational shooting is well documented – for example, scar trees cut down and removed for use as firewood, cooking mounds destroyed, and litter and human excrement left behind.

Topic: Economics (Inflated figures)

  • Taxpayer-funded reports have claimed outlandish economic benefit from duck shooting but they are based on shooters’ self-assessment of what they contribute to the economy. These hunter surveys do not seek any evidence to back up shooters’ claims of what they spend. Independent reviews have consistently highlighted the flaws in the methodology of these reports. The Australia Institute’s 2012 Out for a Duck report is the only economic study to consider the effect of a ban on duck shooting. That report found no economic impact in the real-world situation when other states have banned it. The expenditure is likely to shift to other activities (e.g. camping, 4WD, kayaking etc). Supporters of duck shooting often quote the supposed economic benefits from all types of hunting to confuse the issue and bolster their argument.
  • If shooter claims of their expenditure in 2019 (reported in taxpayer-funded surveys) were correct, each duck would cost them $266 to ‘harvest’.

Topic: Human safety (Proximity to housing)

  • Urban areas close to game reserves and other areas where duck shooting occurs make the safety of residents a huge concern. There are hundreds – possibly thousands - of sites across Victoria where the Game Management Authority says shooting is permitted, although the legal basis for this remains unclear in most cases. The Game Management Authority has never divulged the true number of duck shooting sites. Whilst game reserves are signposted, many other areas are not. In Geelong, housing estates have tens of thousands of homes being built within 3km of a game reserve. The new sporting ground will be less than 1km from where shooting occurs. Despite regional growth, there has never been a safety review of all duck shooting sites.
  • Regional Victorians are heavily impacted by the constant sound of gunshot as well as unretrieved bodies left close to their homes.
  • No cost-benefit study has ever been conducted to include the negative impact of duck shooting on regional communities. Locals complain of lost sleep, inability to work from home, lost tourism, distressed children and terrified animals.

Topic: Shooter non-compliance, monitoring and enforcement (Illegal shooting)

  • Each season rescuers find protected duck species who have been shot and abandoned by shooters. In 2017, rescuers recovered hundreds of illegally shot and buried protected species, including over one hundred of Victoria’s rarest water bird, the freckled duck. Target ‘game’ species are also left behind, allowing hunters to continue shooting while not exceeding their ‘bag limit’.
  • Each season duck shooters start shooting before and continue shooting after the legal times, often in total darkness. This increases the chance of shooting a protected species, wounding rather than killing, and makes it near impossible to retrieve birds.

Topic: Shooter non-compliance, monitoring and enforcement (Shooter behaviour)

  • The Game Management Authority (GMA) recently conducted a hunting knowledge survey which found that 80% of duck shooters couldn’t tell the difference between ‘game’ and protected species, 87% failed the question on dispatch of wounded ducks, and 85% were unaware of the risk they pose to human safety.
  • Common breaches of hunting laws by duck shooters include allowing dogs to harass and torture wounded ducks, shooting without a licence, walking with a locked and loaded gun, theft of timber, shooting whilst intoxicated, and failing to retrieve wounded birds before firing again. The Game Management Authority has failed to stamp out such behaviour. Inexplicably, there are no random breath tests for duck shooters. Concerns have also been raised by leading gun control groups with regard to the legal use of guns by children as young as 12 years old, in breach of the National Firearms Agreement. Juniors (under 18) are given free hunting licences to encourage them to become long-term duck shooters.

Topic: Shooter non-compliance, monitoring and enforcement (GMA enforcement)

  • A 2017 review of the Game Management Authority by independent consultants Pegasus Economics found that non-compliance within the shooting fraternity is ‘commonplace and widespread’. Despite growing taxpayer subsidies, the GMA is incapable of monitoring hundreds if not thousands of sites. It is estimated that the Andrews government has invested more than $70m of taxpayer funds to promote hunting (all types) and shooting.
  • GMA has been criticised for being ‘neither impartial nor independent’. As an organisation paid to monitor and enforce compliance of the season, it is in the best interests of the GMA to continue to hold duck shooting seasons because their careers are dependent on it. There are clear and undisclosed conflicts of interest. The Pegasus report recommended that the GMA be disbanded, but the government rejected that means of addressing conflict interests.

Topic: Shooter non-compliance, monitoring and enforcement (Decision making)

  • Each year, the GMA makes a recommendation to the government regarding the length and details of the duck shooting season. The Interim Harvest Model (IHM) informs this decision making.
  • The IHM was established in 2021 and is therefore largely untried and untested. The IHM came into existence after scientific studies such as the Eastern Annual Waterbird Survey kept demonstrating decreases in bird population numbers which would suggest a need to end recreational duck shooting.
  • The model has not been reviewed by any independent panels, nor has it been peer reviewed. The IHM never recommends cancelling a duck season, no matter how low bird numbers are.

Topic: Public sentiment (Growing opposition to shooting)

  • Victoria, alongside SA and TAS, are the last states to put an end to duck shooting, lagging behind NSW by 20 years, and WA by a full three decades. Historical polls have shown up to 85% of Victorians support a ban on duck shooting with the strongest support in regional areas .
  • Residential homes and businesses are impacted as the full three-month long season (a quarter of the year) is disproportionate to the rapidly declining 0.17% of Victorians who actively shoot ducks each year.
  • In 2022, the number of licensed duck shooters was the lowest since 2010 (GMA data). Only half of those with a duck licence took part in the shooting season last year.
  • In 2022, a third of Labor MPs publicly declared support for a ban on duck shooting.

Topic: Tourism (Nature-based activities)

  • For 3 months of the year, nature-based recreational activities on our lakes and rivers are put on hold, and revenue that could be made through these lucrative industries suffers. Regional Victoria earned 10.7 billion during 2021 in tourism.
  • In a recent poll, over 50% of Victorians surveyed indicated they do not visit regional areas during duck shooting due to safety concerns and the inaccessibility of wetlands for nature-based activities.

This guide is available to download as a PDF below

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