IN THE NEWS: On MAR 1, 2018
The government agency meant to enforce Victoria's game hunting rules lets duck shooters flout the law and is widely viewed as toothless, including by its own staff.
With duck hunting season starting in weeks, a scathing review has found the state's Game Management Authority is not fulfilling its responsibilities in compliance and enforcement, placing pressure on the Andrews government to suspend shooting this year and overhaul the agency.
"While many hunters are responsible and respect the game hunting laws, non-compliance with the game hunting laws is commonplace and widespread," says the leaked report.
"The GMA is widely perceived by its stakeholders and its own staff as either unable to ensure compliance... or to effectively sanction offenders when those laws are breached."
The review, by Pegasus Economics, was commissioned by the GMA board last year in the wake of a controversial start to the 2017 season, in which hundreds of protected birds were killed at the Koorangie State Game Reserve, west of Kerang.
GMA officers found hunters engaging in "illegal, unethical and irresponsible" behaviour including shooting before it was legal to do so, failing to recover shot birds and shooting protected species.
However, only one infringement notice was issued to a hunter for shooting early, and four were later issued to a group who failed to retain a wing on a game duck for identificaiton. In contrast, 11 banning notices were issued to anti-hunting protesters.
The review also found:
- The small size of the agency places it in danger of being "captured" by the interests it is meant to regulate.
- Tougher minimum licensing standards for game hunters are needed.
- The authority's complaints handling system doesn't meet the standards of a good regulator.
- The agency sometimes slides into advocacy and promotional roles that are in conflict with its role as a regulator.
The latest figures suggest the GMA has only one compliance manager and five full-time senior game officers, while Victoria has about 25,000 licensed game hunters.
"They can barely oversee one wetland, let alone up to to 20,000," said Coalition Against Duck Shooting spokesman Laurie Levy, who has called for the GMA to be abolished.
Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford said on Thursday that she asked her department to review the structure of the GMA. But she confirmed the 2017 season would begin on March 17 as planned, pointing out that several improvements had already been made. These included a requirement for hunters to retrieve the birds they shoot and to salvage the meat, as well as for hunting to start later on the opening weekend.
A spokesman for the GMA added that there would be more compliance officers on the ground and in the water this season than ever before.
However, Animals Australia director Lyn White said: "This comes back to the government's obligation to uphold the law. If the Andrews' government cannot provide the Victorian community with a concrete assurance that hunting laws will be monitored and enforced on all Victorian wetlands throughout the three-month season then it should not be allowed to proceed."
With the state election only nine months away, duck hunting is likely to again prove politically dicey for Labor.
Kerrie Allen, from Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting, said her group had sought legal advice on the possibility of a class action that would take into account the impact of duck hunting on rural residents.
It is understood that hunting organisations have also written to the minister expressing concerns about the government's ability to fulfil its role. However, they agree with the government's view: that most hunters abide by the law and that misbehaviour is rare.