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Duck shooting in South Australia and Victoria, January 2024 update

Life in the air

“The decision to continue duck shooting as recreation in South Australia, makes South Australia particularly vulnerable to shooter tourism from Victoria and particularly so in the case where Victoria bans duck shooting, which is unlikely given its government’s culture”. Peter Hylands

Peter and Andrea Hylands

February 3, 2024

On 9 March 2023, a Select Committee of the Legislative Council (the Committee) was established to inquire into and report on Hunting of Native Birds in South Australia (the Inquiry). The terms of reference for this inquiry were:

  • Community values and perspective;
  • Cultural, social and recreational aspects;
  • Sustainability, environmental and animal welfare aspects of native bird hunting;
  • Economic considerations;
  • Perspectives of First Nations;
  • How native bird hunting is managed in other jurisdictions; and
  • Any other relevant matter.
“The State Government is delivering on its election commitment to review duck hunting laws and will today give notice to establish a Parliamentary Select Committee into the contentious issue”. Government of South Australia

The reasons given by the committee as to why they continue to support recreational duck shooting in the state were as follows:

  • Native birds are an important food source that is organic and free range, is shared amongst family and friends, and there is pride associated with sourcing one's own food;
  • Native bird hunting is more than just a sport or recreational activity, but a tradition that is inter- generational and cultural, as well as a philosophical, moral and lifestyle choice which is related to the "field-to-plate" ethos;
  • Hunters provided benefits to the economy, particularly in regional areas;
  • Native bird hunting is a sustainable activity and may be used as an important tool for game management.
  • Many hunters undertook conservation activities, such as weeding, feral animal management, building and placing nest boxes, or owning land that is suitable habitat for wildlife;
  • Physical and mental health benefits were gained which were often associated with the camaraderie aspects of hunting; and
  • Hunters were concerned about animal welfare and that they spent time practising shooting so that they could ensure clean kills during open season.

This decision comes at a time when research for the University of Queensland’s Threatened Bird Index finds that populations of threatened or near threatened bird species in Australia have declined by 60 per cent (average) in the last 40 years. The largest declines in bird populations were in South Australia and Queensland.

The 2023 duck shooting season in South Australia

“Duck hunting is a challenging issue for many people, and I acknowledge the concerns raised by community members opposed to the practice. In line with our election commitment, the State Government will convene an inquiry to ensure South Australia’s approach reflects community expectations. This Committee will allow the parliament to properly examine all of the issues around duck hunting and will help to inform any changes”. Susan Close, Environment Minister, Government of South Australia

In 2023 the duck shooting season commenced on 18 March, ending 25 June 2023. Duck species in the firing line were:

  • Grey Teal;
  • Chestnut Teal;
  • Pacific Black Duck;
  • Mountain Duck; and
  • Maned Duck.

As a rough estimate we can assume there were 1,200 licensed duck shooters and given the long season, another 25,000 ducks were killed. The Nature Knowledge Channel’s estimates show that, in a range of 25,000 to 80,000 ducks, depending on the season, are killed in South Australia each year. This number does not include wounding.

“Its (the inquiry’s) findings “fail animal welfare, fail conservation and fail to meet our community’s expectations for the protection of vulnerable wildlife. We estimate up to 10,000 of the approximately 45,000 ducks shot in SA each year will be wounded and left to suffer”. Rebekah Eyers RSPCA SA

A slaughter that nobody wants

Large scale recreational shooting of birdlife in Australia occurs in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory. Large numbers of birds (numerous species, including ducks) are also shot in all states, using damage / mitigation permits. In NSW the scale of killing and the individuals involved make this look very much like a recreational shoot.

“In total in 2023, it is estimated that 657,170 waterbirds were shot in Australia during recreational shooting seasons, using state and territory government issued permits. It appears that Victoria leads the pack when it comes to the mass slaughter of birdlife on its Ramsar sites and wetlands”. Peter Hylands

Why the South Australian Government’s decision is so regressive?

The reasons that the South Australian Government will continue to allow duck shooting in the state are the same reasons trotted out by shooters in Australia, they will no doubt be similar in Victoria, when its recommendations are published. These reasons are childish at best, they are also entirely wrong. This is why. These are the facts:

  • Climate change and mass killing of birdlife has led to large scale falls in waterbird bird populations. The decline is obvious if you go and look. So this activity is not sustainable as claimed.
  • That around 800 South Australian duck shooters and a few shooter tourists from Victoria can tie up wetlands (including Ramsar sites) for weeks on end in the driest state on the second driest continent on Earth is beyond any measure of common sense.
  • The economic damage to regions (this is overwhelmingly the case) from locking up wetlands for the use of a very small number of shooters, is significant. Tourism and education and associated development are excluded by the shooting, as South Australia has discovered during previous duck shooting seasons.
  • Claims that ducks killed during recreational shooting are organic and free range is nonsense, particularly given that shooters in South Australia use highly toxic lead shot to kill and wound the birds. Lead shot residue in Australia’s wetlands is a significant and long term problem in many Australian wetlands, including its Ramsar sites. The very last thing the South Australian Government should be doing is to encourage duck shooters to share their dead ducks ‘amongst family and friends’. You will no doubt be pleased to hear that the Committee’s report states, recommendation 11, ‘the Committee recommends that use of lead shot be banned for all native bird hunting in South Australia’.
  • Duck shooting is a cruel and violent activity, desensitising the individuals engaged in the killing. It is highly damaging to mental health, including for the majority (never considered in these types of decisions) who either live nearby where duck shooting occurs or those who witness the mass killing as they visit Ramsar sites and other wetlands. There are very clear relationships between animal cruelty and other forms of violence, including domestic violence. The South Australian Government knows this. Of particular concern is that children are participating in the cruel slaughter of birdlife. Silly claims about animal welfare concerns are total nonsense.
  • As a general comment, the ungoverned and lawless nature of what occurs is described by the Committee's recommendations, including recommendation 8, ‘the Committee recommends that a system be developed by DEW for permit holders to be able to report on the number of birds shot and recovered’. One might ask why this has not been a requirement in the past.

As per all these state based wildlife inquiries in Australia, the public can be certain of one thing, very few, if any, of the Committee’s recommendations will ever be implemented and the public can expect more of the same behaviours in 2024.

“There is a temptation to believe that introducing more regulation and shooter training may reduce wounding and reverse community opposition to duck hunting. But more regulation and training won’t change the physics of how shotguns work on flying ducks or alter the fact that shooters operate, largely unmonitored in remote locations. Similarly, more regulation won’t help overburdened regulators who have so far failed to enforce the Animal Welfare Act for our hunted duck and quail”. RSPCA SA

In short, this is a predictable and terrible outcome for Australia’s waterbirds, which have no place of safety in the south eastern and central regions (which are vast) of Australia.

Victoria update: Signs of things to come

Minority rules, is not okay

As always, the politics of the situation are interesting, particularly given the Victorian Labor Government’s apparent reluctance to implement a ban of duck shooting in the state. Recent analysis describes what we already know, that is, only a small number of Victorian’s want duck shooting to continue, the overwhelming majority want it banned, including most of Labor’s politicians. Figures supplied by Victoria’s AJP Party demonstrate yet again that any electoral impact on Labor would be marginal, just as other state Labor Premiers had advised. For Bendigo East (Victorian Premier’s seat) and West for example (two seats held by Labor):

  • Bendigo East: Winning margin 9,352 / Duck shooters 543 / Active animal welfare supporters, includes volunteers and donors 2,239; and
  • Bendigo West: Winning margin 7,163 / Duck shooters 337 / Active animal welfare supporters, includes volunteers and donors 1,708.

Our view has been that Victoria, given its evident procrastination following its inquiry, embedded killing culture and relationships with shooters, the subsequent additional consultations and attempts at de-listing species, will end up in a very similar place, with the same silly excuses, as South Australia has done. Let’s hope we are wrong. It has become increasingly obvious that the Victorian Government shows little enthusiasm for its Parliamentary Committee's recommendation to ban duck shooting in Victoria.

Here is the most recent de-listing story.

De-listing the Hardhead

“This native species should be kept on the threatened list because it has suffered decline this century and has failed to recover. Climate change and habitat loss will continue these losses. Currently the Hardhead is being artificially supported in a man-made environment, with the majority favouring sewage ponds at the Western Treatment Plant (WTP). The WTP is seriously vulnerable as bird habitat, as it faces growing salinity from rising seawater due to global warming. With hot dry seasons predicted to worsen and El Nino upon us, the environmental situation elsewhere in Victoria is dire for the Hardhead. The precautionary principle must be heeded”. RVOTDS

Another attempt to de-list a threatened species in Victoria became apparent during the Christmas period in late 2023. This time for the Hardhead, populations of which have been destroyed by mass killing events during the ‘recreational’ duck shooting season in Victoria. The next two quotes are from Victorian Government documents in relation to this de-listing attempt.

“The taxon nominated for de-listing is currently listed as Vulnerable in Victoria on the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (FFG Act) Threatened List under Primary Criterion 5.1 – Sub-criterion 5.1.3(b)(ii) (IUCN criterion C2a(ii)) (State Government of Victoria 2021)…. The IUCN guidelines (2022) allow for the removal of a species from the Threatened List (de-listing) when new or corrected information arises since the first or previous assessment. Evidence demonstrates that the taxon does not meet the criterion under which it was listed as Vulnerable in Victoria under the FFG Act (C2a(ii))”.
“Data from the Eastern Australian Waterbird Aerial Surveys 1983 - 2022 (Porter et al. 2022) and the Victorian Duck Season Priority Waterbird Counts 2014 – 2021 (formerly the Summer Waterbird Count) (Game Management Authority 2023a) indicate that while Hardhead numbers fluctuate, there is no evidence of a declining population trend. The past population reduction does not meet the threshold for eligibility under criterion A2, and the future population reduction does not meet the threshold for eligibility under criterion A3”.

The reality, given the drastic decline in waterbirds in south eastern Australia is that the shooters need the de-listing as they can’t afford to allow these listing to occur, otherwise it will signify the end of their heinous and cruel behaviour.

Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting note the argument to remove the Hardhead from the threatened list references an average estimate (18,700) of mature Hardhead 2014-2021.  Given the date range and the GMA reference, it seems this result is related to GMA’s Priority Waterbird Count (PWC) 2014-2021.  

“The quoted 18,700 figure is misleading for three reasons: the calculation appears to be arithmetically incorrect; there is no context provided; and it is only a “snapshot” count of a fluctuating population”. RVOTDS

This attempt at de-listing comes in a year (2023) in which a total of 144 animals and plants and ecological communities were added to the threatened species list. The rate of species endangerment is growing rapidly, the 2023 result around 5 times greater than the yearly average. Mass scale slaughter of wildlife through a range of mechanism combined with shockingly high rates of clearing of native vegetation (deforestation) and climate change combine to create the perfect storm.

Laurie Levy and the media