Duck and Quail Shooting

March 9 2011


The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:14):  I move:

That the Environment, Resources and Development Committee inquire into and report on duck and quail shooting in South Australia with particular reference to:

1. The extent of the practice and statistical information about:

    (a) the prevalence of kills and wounding of targeted animals;

    (b) the prevalence of kills and wounding of non-targeted animals; and

    (c) the prevalence of kills and wounding of protected or endangered species;

 2. Whether the declaration of an open season for duck shooting contravenes the Animal Welfare Act 1985;

 3. Whether strong community support exists for abolition or continuation of open seasons for duck and quail shooting; and

 4. Any other related matters.

I rise to speak to this Greens motion for an investigation into the practice of quail and duck hunting in this state. It is not a new issue; it is an issue that many members of this chamber have probably debated more than once. But I certainly think that there is a need for a better informed debate, and that is the purpose of this motion before us.

This week on Monday evening another group that believes this issue needs further investigation, the South Australian Coalition against Duck and Quail Shooting—which consists of the RSPCA, Animals Australia, Birds SA, Fauna Rescue and Animal Liberation South Australia—organised a community meeting in the Henley Sailing Club.

 Members of that coalition have long been opposed to the recreational shooting of ducks, and they believe that there is a high level of cruelty involved.

As we know, each year, during a government-declared open season, when they are declared, many thousands of ducks are shot in the name of this sport. Some are killed outright, but others are wounded, brought down and killed on retrieval and others are wounded and are never retrieved by the hunters. Those ducks often die a slow, painful and prolonged death over several hours or even days.

Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland have all banned duck hunting, and in the ACT, it has never existed. One must wonder why South Australia persists with this archaic practice. South Australia is one of the last remaining states in Australia to allow these open hunting seasons, and the state government has the power to end this cruelty. This is why the meeting was organised on Monday night. The meeting was emceed by Sheree Sellick, who is the RSPCA President, and the meeting featured speakers Geoff Russell of Animal Liberation and David Harrison, who is a veterinarian. Dr David Harrison has had experience with treating wounded ducks at Bool Lagoon, and he gave a moving first-hand account of his time on the front line as a veterinarian treating injured animals and these injured ducks. While he said that many of the ducks did recover to fly again, quite a substantial number did not. David used the analogy of a car ploughing into a flock of birds to demonstrate how arbitrary and callous this method of hunting is. Of any given number of birds, some will be killed outright, some maimed and some are destined to die a lingering and painful death.

Jed Goodfellow, who is the RSPCA's legal officer, also addressed the meeting. He raised a question that I do not think has been canvassed adequately in this parliament before. Jed's presentation clearly identified that duck hunting causes excessive pain and suffering and as such it contravenes the Animal Welfare Act. If it were not for the National Parks and Wildlife Act, duck shooters would be able to be prosecuted by the national park rangers under the Animal Welfare Act. So, there is a clear conflict between these two acts that needs to be addressed and removed, and the best way of doing that, I believe, would be to stop open seasons. However, a good first step would be to have an inquiry and have all the facts on the table.

An invitation was also extended to the Minister for Environment and Conservation, the Hon. Paul Caica, and he was ably represented at the meeting by Brenton Grear, the Director of Natural and Cultural Resources in the Department of Environment and National Resources and also by senior ecologist Paul Wainwright.

As I said, this is not a new issue. There certainly have been two previous attempts in this parliament to ban duck and quail hunting. The first was in 1998, when legislation was introduced by the Hon. Mike Elliott of the Democrats, and the second was when my colleague Mark Parnell introduced the National Parks and Wildlife Bill in 2009. Both of these bills to ban the hunting failed in this place, but I believe that a call for an inquiry is somewhat of a new event, although I note that it is not even the first time an inquiry has been called for in this particular session of parliament. I note that the Hon. Steven Marshall, the member for Norwood, recently addressed this issue in the House of Assembly and similarly attempted to have this issue referred to the Environment, Resources and Development Committee, but the motion failed.

While I say that I oppose duck hunting, and I am certainly believe that I have an awareness that supports that view, I am open to a debate—I am open to hear all sides of the debate. I think it would be a healthy process for our parliamentary democracy to investigate the terms of reference of this reference to the ERD Committee.

As we also know, we are currently in the middle of an open season, and that season was declared on 3 February and started on 19 February this year.

 This season will last longer and has an increased bag limit from the previous year's season, but it is still a restricted season. We are also seeing seasons declared in other states, including Victoria. Not surprisingly, we are seeing strong opposition to those seasons.

 In Victoria, there seems to be more access to areas in that state where the practice of the hunting is more transparent to the public. While Bool Lagoon was available for public scrutiny on the opening weekend of the current duck hunting season, a large part of this season will be conducted on private properties. My greatest concern is for the animals that are wounded and die needlessly cruelly. I have said that it is the lucky ducks who are shot by enough shotgun pellets to come straight down and have their lives ended quickly. It is the ducks who suffer needlessly that are of greatest concern. Also of great concern are the ducks who should not have been shot at all, and are not approved targets and yet have been killed.

I note there is a process for applying for a hunting permit. I am a little concerned at the Victorian department and our South Australian process for testing for a license for duck and quail hunting, duck hunting, or specifically quail hunting (there are several categories). The process involves 22 multiple choice questions. The applicant sees a bird for five seconds and then has 20 seconds to respond on a sheet by crossing a box. It is not really what I imagine a hunter would encounter in real life. I note also that you only require a score of 75 per cent or above to pass. In fact, an AA Badge in Victoria receives a special badge if they get above this score, and I wonder what that special badge looks like.

Apparently, there is at least 2,300 licensed duck hunters in South Australia, although this figure itself is also contested. Animal Liberation believes that, in 2010, there were 1,100 hunters, and that there were 807 licensed hunters in 2009. According to DENR, as of 7 February this year, there were 1,320 permits issued for the 2011 open season for ducks and quails, and 89 just for quails.

 It would be advantageous to the debate to acquire the yearly totals for the number of newly issued and annually renewed open season permits for the past two decades, in order to clarify the number of people who are affected and participate in this activity. I would point out that we do have on record the number or registered voters in South Australia which, in December 2010, was 1,106,892. That means that licensed duck hunters, if you are being generous with the numbers and taking the top level, make up approximately 0.21 per cent of the voting population, or about 1 in 481 voters, who would be adversely affected by the ban.

The ducks that are included in the current open season are the Grey Teal, the Chestnut Teal, the Hardhead, the Wood Duck, the Pink-eared Duck, the Mountain Duck and the Pacific Black Duck. Stubble Quail are also on the list of prescribed animals that are able to be shot out of our skies. The Australasian (Blue-winged) Shoveler duck is not included. Of course, there are many ducks that are not in the prescribed list, but we have no way of knowing whether those animals are being unlawfully shot, and in what numbers.

We do know that it is unlawful to use a pump action or self-loading shotgun for the purpose of hunting, and that duck and quail may only be taken with a smooth bore firearm that has a bore not exceeding 1.9 centimetres (or 12 gauge) firing shot, no larger than BB (4.1 millimetres in diameter).

It is also mandatory, and this is to be welcomed, to use a non-toxic shot such as steel or bismuth when hunting duck in South Australia. We are certainly not talking about lead here and so the effects of the toxicity of lead is no longer an issue.

Currently, the bag limits are 12 ducks per day per person, except for the Pacific Black Duck which has a limit of six ducks per day per person, and also 20 quail per day per person. We also know that shooting is not permitted on any other reserve, other than a game reserve, and in 2011 this includes Lake Robe, Currency Creek, Mud Islands, Poocher Swamp and Tolderol game reserves which are open throughout the entirety of the season. Chowilla, Moorook and Loch Luna are partially open but Bucks Lake and Bool Lagoon are, in fact, closed. As I say, these are the two particular sites which might open this practice up to more public scrutiny.

There is a lot of conjecture about this and one of the first things people say to me when I start talking about shooting and hunting ducks and quail is, 'I love duck.' They say, 'I love a good duck roast or a duck a l'orange'—if you were around in the seventies; that is what my mum used to cook. I will put on record that I like to eat duck, as well. I like a good duck dinner. I am not talking about stopping people from eating duck. While many in the coalition are of a mind that they would not themselves personally eat meat of any sort, I am certainly not trying to stop people from eating meat. I am certainly not trying to stop hunters from hunting animals.

I am saying that if you are arguing with me and telling me that you need to kill 12 ducks per day with a shotgun, or 20 quail per day, then you must have a very large freezer or some good recipes for your whole town or whole extended family who must be well fed. I imagine that there are many better uses of your time in your hunting practice by ridding this country of feral animals that could be undertaken. I am certainly not advocating in this particular motion an end to all hunting. I am saying that we should investigate a practice that I believe contravenes the Animal Welfare Act, with the particular mechanics of the machinery of a shotgun inflicting unnecessary cruelty on animals, both targeted and non-targeted.

I also think that concern should be raised when people say that this is an argument about conservation and that the hunters and shooters claim to be supporting the conservation of the habitat of these birds. Under the current structure I note that fees from these open season permits go into a wildlife conservation fund. That sounds all very well and good but in 2009 these fees were worth $48,420—if you have 807 shooters with permits worth $60 which, I would say, is at the top of the range; in 2010 they bought in $66,000 with permits again at the $60 level; and in 2011 we are probably looking at about 1,300 shooters so, if that permit stays at the same price, it will bring in about $78,000.

 If open season permit fees to the value of that 2011 level purely funded the $14.7 million announcement by the minister in December 2010 for wildlife conservations funds, I would be wondering where the government was banking that money to get such a great interest rate. It would actually take over 188 years for the amount that is currently coming from these permits to be collected and for that particular $14.7 million figure to be reached to address the needs of the wildlife conservation fund. I say that this is just a drop in the pool of the revenue for the fund.

It certainly does not address issues of having the hunters engaging in this wetland environment. No doubt they are very well intentioned in their protection and management of it, but I am certain that not a single one of us can say that when we enter an environment we leave it exactly as it was found. I am sure some of the costs they create are not even addressed by the amount they currently contribute to this fund.

 I also urge the parliament to ensure that we have an investigation of the results we collected from the 2010 season survey, which had already been conducted by this government. That survey asked the hunters about their activities on the opening weekend of the 2010 season; it asked them about the number of each duck species caught, the number of quail caught, the number of days their daily bag limit was reached. Of course, it was a survey entirely based on taking on face value the response of those who participated, but I note that we do not even have the results of that survey made public. Surely that should, at the very least, be something this parliament is expecting if we are to see this particular cruel practice continue.

I believe this is recreational cruelty, and it is a particularly inhumane form of hunting. It is not overwhelmingly popular in the South Australian community. There is a vocal minority, but I note that when the Hon. Mike Elliott's bill was debated the petition signed in support of that bill was one of the largest ever seen in the South Australian parliament. Yet over two decades later we persist with this archaic practice.

I urge the old parties, the Labor Party and the Liberal party, to take a fresh look at this issue and, as I said, get all the information on the table. There are a lot of disputed figures in these debates and while I am certainly of the opinion that we should not declare open seasons, I am happy to have evidence presented to me and to take that evidence on board, with further investigation of this issue. I hope that members of all parties, and Independents, would also consider that we need the best possible evidence in this debate to inform an appropriate way forward.

I also think the pressing issue of whether or not declaration of an open season by the minister actually contravenes the Animal Welfare Act needs to be addressed. With that, I commend the motion to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. Carmel Zollo.


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