Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria) (15:36:55) — I am going to speak to Mr Young’s motion today. I am by no means an expert when it comes to duck hunting, and I concede that Mr Young certainly is. His inaugural speech set out his vast background in this space. What I do share in common with Mr Young is the electoral region that we represent. I am quite conscious that there is a lot of legitimate recreational activity in relation to duck hunting that is partaken in our electorate. I have never been involved in any such activities — it is not my thing — but I certainly will not stand in the way of those who do partake in that legitimate activity. While I do respect the people who have those views, I am also actually quite happy to listen to those who have views that are completely opposite to those of Mr Young, and I think we will probably hear a little bit of that today. I will probably be somewhere in the middle.

From the government’s perspective we support this recreation and we believe that hunting in Victoria should be safe, responsible and sustainable. It is acknowledged that an estimated $439 million flows into towns and regional centres across Victoria, supporting approximately 3500 jobs. Just popping up on my Twitter feed today while I was —

Ms Shing — Did you win at Twitter?

Ms SYMES — Facebook — that is how good I am at social media — the other one. On my Facebook page I follow a lot of the local papers, obviously, because it is a good source of news when you cannot be out in your region. The Alpine Observer reported on the highly anticipated Wild Deer Hunting, Guiding and Fishing Expo on the weekend. I am not sure if you attended, Mr Young; did you guys go?

Mr Bourman — I did not, but he did.

Ms SYMES — You did? I did not know about it, but it seems to have been a very, very big success with 500 exhibitors packed into 250 available sites, so it was a great economic generator for the community of Myrtleford and for people who are interested in hunting.

As we heard the minister say today in some of her responses in question time and we also heard this from Mr Young, the vast majority of hunters do the right thing, but last year there was a small group of hunters whose actions were completely unacceptable. That is why the chair of the Game Management Authority (GMA) was asked to undertake a review of the compliance operations following last year’s opening weekend. Last year was the first real test of the GMA’s effectiveness as a regulator since it was set up in 2014. We have taken significant steps to boost compliance capacity for this year’s season and put in place new regulations to make it easier for officers to detect any hunters who choose to do the wrong thing and bring the recreation into disrepute, which Mr Young also touched on. The minister did say yesterday that she was not happy with the GMA’s performance last year and that she is expecting much better compliance activity this year.

Most of the in‑field compliance personnel are from agencies other than the GMA; surge capacity from Victoria Police, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, the Department of Justice and Regulation and Parks Victoria is also crucial to support the work that the GMA purports to do. I understand that those resources have been boosted for the 2018 season.

The season commences on Saturday, 17 March, and it goes for 12 weeks, which means it will close on 11 June. The bag limit, which I think means how many ducks you can have in the bag — is that right, Mr Young? — will remain at the standard 10 birds per person per day; however, like last year, the hunting of blue‑winged shovelers will be prohibited due to persistent low numbers of that species.

Ms Shing — You would not want to be a blue‑winged shoveler.

Ms SYMES — I do not want to be a blue‑winged shoveler. The settings for the 2018 duck season are based on an analysis of habitat and water bird surveys conducted across eastern Australia and other data relating to game duck abundance, habitat distribution and climate. This year, as we have heard, hunting will commence at 9.00 a.m. on Saturday and 8.00 a.m. on Sunday of the opening weekend, and this will apply across the whole state. The revised start times come in at the recommendation of the GMA. They will provide hunters with improved light conditions to identify birds — and I suppose that would be good for those blue‑winged shovelers, Ms Shing — and help minimise the problems experienced last year from early shooting, because obviously it helps the protected birds but it also helps in the recovery of the birds if you can actually find what you may have killed.

Hunters will see more game wildlife police and water police officers out in force during this year’s season. We are increasing the enforcement to target the minority of hunters that do not do the right thing. New regulations have also formalised what is standard practice for most responsible hunters. Hunters will be required to recover the game birds that they shoot, and as Mr Young explained — as I said, I have not been out to a duck shoot — that is a common practice and most people are very committed to that. I understand that the purpose of that is to salvage at least the breast meat. Under the regulations hunters must make all reasonable efforts to immediately recover a downed game bird. For someone like me who is not an expert in this field, a ‘downed bird’ is one that has been brought down to the ground or water as a result of being shot or one that has been shot on the ground. Do you shoot them on the ground?

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms SYMES — Okay, if they are not dead. I am learning as I go along. Once a bird is downed a hunter must focus on that bird only and make all reasonable efforts to retrieve it immediately. Immediate recovery is important to ensure the hunter remains focused on the downed game bird. This will minimise the loss of downed birds and ensure that any bird that is still alive on recovery can be immediately dispatched in a humane way. The expectation that a reasonable effort is made to immediately recover a downed game bird is not new, and Mr Young certainly covered that. It has always been a requirement under the code of practice for the welfare of animals in hunting. The code is made under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986, and the current version has been in place since March 2015.

Under section 3, ‘Hunter conduct’, the code requires that a hunter must shoot to cause a quick and painless death. Every animal which is shot must immediately be examined to ensure that it is dead. Every animal which is not dead on retrieval must be humanely destroyed immediately, and if an animal is wounded and escapes, all reasonable attempts must be made to locate it so it can be killed quickly and humanely before the hunter hunts another animal. Immediate recovery is also best practice under the shotgunning education program which is delivered by hunting organisations. This practice is now simply being replicated in the game regulations.

In addition to the new regulations, we have made it more challenging for people to pass the waterfowl identification test. It is going to be increased from a pass mark of 75 per cent to 85 per cent, which will help improve the skills of any new hunters. I am assuming you and your friends go all right in those tests, Mr Young?

Mr Young — 100 per cent when I was 12.

Ms SYMES — When you were 12? I am not surprised, Mr Young. We understand the importance of education, awareness and communication, and that is why our government has been supporting hunters since we were elected. The 2016–17 Victorian budget set aside $5.33 million for this. That funding has supported government agencies working with hunters to improve the promotion of responsible hunting, provide better hunting opportunities and ensure our game species remain sustainable. The deer association has been supported to coordinate its members to participate in controlled culls of invasive deer species on public and some private land, and funding has also flowed to the Firearm Safety Foundation of Victoria, which educates gun owners and shooters about the responsible and safe storage, handling and usage of firearms.

Our Sustainable Hunting Action Plan set out a multimillion‑dollar investment to support Victoria’s 50 000 game hunters. The plan marked a significant milestone for game hunting in Victoria, because never before had a government and community partnered to develop and see through so many measurable outcomes. Our government is working with our agencies and the community to promote responsible hunting, maximise the economic, environmental and social benefits of hunting to Victoria, improve hunting opportunities and ensure that game hunting remains sustainable. The hunting action plan sets out practical objectives for the GMA, which is the subject of the motion today, but also for the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Parks Victoria.

The plan establishes 22 clear and measurable actions that the government is undertaking through to 2020. Some of the key actions within the plan that Labor is committed to delivering are: the implementation of the waterfowl adaptive harvest model, which will provide a more robust system for monitoring and declaring each duck season; an improved game licensing system, which will allow hunters to pay licence fees online; improved and more accurate maps of hunting areas, which will allow hunters and non‑hunters to better understand where hunting may occur; and a deer management strategy and easier processing of wild deer meat, which will assist hunters and landowners to better manage deer, particularly in north‑east Victoria.

A substantial proportion of the state’s public land is available for recreational hunting, including large areas of state forest and hundreds of state game reserves. Sustainable hunting requires sound game conservation and land management, and it must also incorporate the principles of responsible, safe and humane hunting to ensure that environmental, economic and social benefits are maximised. We have heard through Mr Young’s contribution that he is committed to those outcomes and that responsible hunters that he works with are of the same view. With our deer, duck, quail, pheasant and partridge populations, we are regarded as having some of the best hunting opportunities in Australia. Ensuring that hunting continues to be a safe and sustainable recreation for future generations is a key focus of this government.

So with that in mind, it is extremely important to have some restrictions. I am just a little bit confused by Mr Young’s motion in relation to his view of the GMA, because in one sense he is seeking to affirm that the GMA is best placed but then he has said that the advice they gave was ill‑conceived and unworkable. So I was just a little bit confused about how that support goes — you support someone but then you kind of give them a backhander at the same time. I think the GMA plays an important role, and I think some restrictions are certainly required.

I note that I went back through some of Mr Young’s comments from the past and I am not sure there has necessarily been a duck season that he has been 100 per cent happy with. There always seems to be some issue. I think it comes down to perhaps a little bit of a threshold issue. I was very fortunate to participate in the pollie shoot sometime last year —

Ms Shing interjected.

Ms SYMES — It does not involve shooting pollies. It was the first time that I had held a gun, and I happened to connect with two clay targets. Many of Minister Pulford’s staff proved to be quite good at that activity. It was a fun day, and there were lots of people in attendance from all parties. It is a great economic attraction for gun clubs, and there is a great centre just out of Kilmore.

For me, shooting a clay target is probably the level that I would consider stopping at in terms of my gun activity. Some people would have a view that maybe shooting pest animals on your farm is a level that you might stop it. Then you have recreational shooters as well. I think it is all a bit of an extreme, and depending on where you think that threshold sits —

Ms Shing — Where does that threshold sit?

Ms SYMES — There have been a lot of hunting stories in the media just this week. I do not know if they are conveniently placed with Mr Young’s motion today. Yesterday I was reading, and I do not know how this popped up on my Facebook page either — I do not know what it says about me — that in America —

Mr Ramsay — You’ve got too much time on your hands.

Ms SYMES — Perhaps. In America they are about to remove restrictions on the importing of elephant trophies from African nations on a case‑by‑case basis. This is breaking from President Trump’s earlier promises to maintain an Obama era ban on the practice. There was a formal memorandum over there which withdraws its Endangered Species Act 1973 findings for trophies of African elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia, effective immediately. There are a lot of different levels of what people think is appropriate in hunting.

This reminded me of a conversation that Mr Young and I had last year, and actually Mr O’Sullivan was involved in this conversation. There is a house apparently in our electorate that has game animals in it. It was an interesting conversation that I was having —

Ms Shing interjected.

Ms SYMES — I think they are taxidermist stuffed animals that Mr Young was telling me about. His view was that you should be able to import dead animals into Australia as trophies. It was an interesting conversation, but it was even more interesting when he revealed that he plans on going to Africa to shoot a giraffe. Mr Young is pushing out the thresholds. I think the National Party and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party often have pretty similar views on some of these hunting practices, but I think that threshold was just a little bit high for Mr O’Sullivan, but I will not put words into his mouth.

Ms Shing — On what basis does he want to shoot a giraffe?

Ms SYMES — I did ask why you would want to shoot a giraffe, but Mr Young told me it was similar to shooting a horse.

Ms Shing — Why would you want to shoot a horse?

Ms SYMES — I am talking about thresholds. My threshold stops at the clay targets. Some people have gone through the thresholds, and Mr Young has a very, very high threshold compared to what I think a lot of Australians have. I guess the point I am trying to make is: will Mr Young ever be happy with any restrictions in relation to the Game Management Authority? I take on board his absolute commitment to conservation and ethical standards within the hunting sector. I have heard him talk in the chamber before about making sure that you are responsible, that you take your rubbish away and all those kinds of things, so I am certainly not alleging that he is an advocate for a free‑for‑all. I am just putting on the record that depending on the perspective you come from you might have a different view of what are appropriate restrictions and what are not.

Given the motion today is reasonably critical of our efforts and that it asks the minister to do things that I think she has already put on the record that she will not be agreeing to, I will not be supporting the motion today.