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The nature of Australia

Life in the air

Back to 2018 “The report…. found “non-compliance with hunting laws is commonplace and widespread and that by any standard, the GMA has failed to deliver on its responsibility to enforce the hunting laws”.

Peter Hylands, Andrea Hylands

May 21, 2023

We travel to Victoria from Tokyo to attend the opening of the Victorian Duck Shooting season, one of the largest and sustained mass killing and abusive wildlife destroying activities of beautiful and gentle waterbirds on our planet Earth.

We wrote this story on World Wildlife Day in 2018.

Leadership and facing responsibility

“In regards to duck hunting (in Victoria) I can assure you that environmental conditions, waterfowl habitat availability, duck population distribution and abundance are reviewed each year to ensure hunting continues to be a sustainable recreation.” Executive Director Biodiversity, Victoria

The year is 2018. The first thing Andrea Hylands will do is to invite the Hon. Lily D’Ambrosio, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change in Victoria (Australian Labor Party) to attend the opening with us. Andrea will also invite the Executive Director of the Biodiversity Division in the Victorian Public Service (Civil Service) who’s quote in a letter to us appears above, to join us on the opening weekend.

Andrea delivers an invite to Lily

Our point being that while defending this annual slaughter (and others) and refusing to finally put a halt to what is a global crime against nature, and our own research shows that in the last 32 years of slaughter (a period in Victoria representing the death and maiming of 16 million waterbirds with an equivalent body weight of 3,750 Asian Elephants), only one Labor Party politician has attended the opening event.

We also make the point that senior public servants directly responsible for administering this ‘recreation’ and who state that this is a perfectly sustainable and enjoyable set of behaviours should attend the opening event and not remove themselves from the impact of their decisions on the natural world. Behaviour, which includes the most grotesque cruelty to wildlife, some of which is inflicted by children.

Despite Andrea’s invitation the Minister did not attend the opening of the duck shooting season, nor did the senior public servants responsible for this grotesque abuse of the natural world.

We also make the point that no public servant who has actively been involved and supports these activities should be making high level decisions regarding these events as is the case in the (at the time) discredited Victorian Game Management Authority (GMA).

I will also say this, the GMA are meant to administer a vast scale duck hunting season covering a territory of European country scale, which not only includes thousands of shooters and potential shooting sites, but the numerous protestors who try to rescue wounded birds.

Add ICE (a now serious problem for regional Australia), alcohol (and as I understand it the police have no jurisdiction to test shooters for drugs, legal or otherwise once they are on the wetlands) and thousands of guns and then you have a deadly cocktail.

The GMA officers, there were just two of them to manage the Victorian 2018 duck shooting season, are themselves in significant danger.

To serve a fine on a hunter the GMA staff must be accompanied by armed police officers because it is just too dangerous for an individual officer to confront 'illegal' behaviour. This also puts Victoria Police in harm’s way, under this particular set of circumstances, that is a nonsense. Both wildlife officers and RSPCA inspectors in Australia have been shot and killed in the line of duty, but so far not on the wetlands, but this is just a matter of time. The clock is ticking.

“Stuart’s death sent shockwaves through the RSPCA and wider animal welfare community. Verbal and physical abuse were not unknown to RSPCA Inspectors, but murder was simply incomprehensible”. 

The government will also roll-out other staff during the opening weekend, some of which are supposed to be employed in conservation activities, not defending this barbaric destruction of nature. I feel a great deal of sympathy for the GMA officers and I suggest to Agriculture Minister at that time, Jaala Pulford, that this whole thing looked like a total mess.

The more supervision of course, the more the evil of all this is revealed. So we shoot the messenger instead. It seems particularly inappropriate that an employer is prepared to put their general staff in the line of fire in this way (this has occurred in the past), particularly given some of the brutality against nature that people are forced to watch. It was indeed extraordinary that a government is prepared to behave in this way.

What sort of world are we creating here?

Compliance and governance

Despite the assurances from the Victorian Government regarding governance standards and sustainability of this conduct, it now emerges that a leaked government report (which appears to have been concealed) tells a very different story. The leaked report states the obvious.

This from the ABC 7.30 report, 1 March 2018:

“The report…. found “non-compliance with hunting laws is commonplace and widespread and that by any standard, the GMA has failed to deliver on its responsibility to enforce the hunting laws”.
Last year’s (2017) duck shooting season was marred by a bloody opening weekend when at least 260 protected birds were killed at the Koorangie State Game Reserve, near Kerang (one location out of thousands of possible locations) more than a thousand ducks were also uncollected, including hundreds that were found buried whole at the wetland”.


It is not appropriate for governments to provide misleading spin when it is evident that quite a different story is before them. Misinformation is commonplace as is the denigration of Australian species, as is the attempt to silence animal welfare organisations, which is the case in Victoria concerning the RSPCA. It is my understanding that the government has put pressure on the RSPCA to stop its duck rescue operations, if this is the case this is prima facie a Victorian Government ban.

The role of the RSPCA and other animal welfare organisations (which we have funded in a significant way) is to directly assist distressed animals, both domesticated and wild, to provide infrastructure to assist that process, particularly to enable rehoming.

A key function of these organisations is to lay the foundations for social change that enables better protection for all animals into the future. That is what has always happened.

The RSPCA will no longer be on hand at Ramsar sites and other wetlands in Victoria to assist injured birdlife in these killing fields. This, I assume is because of Victorian Government pressure and related threats to remove government funding and the legal status to be able to act on behalf of animals. This is particularly unacceptable given that the public, including us, funds the greater part of RSPCA Victoria revenues.

What is lawful in Victoria should not be

The Victorian Government inquiry in itself was activism to prevent change and proper oversight of the most appalling conduct towards animals (where the governance process is often near non-existent or corrupt) and is a nonsense, particularly given the finding of the inquiry that:

“RSPCA Victoria’s involvement in activism against lawful activities has been harmful to the organisation, both in reputational and operational terms”.

"So who speaks for the millions of animals cruelly slaughtered in Australia each year?"

Australians have a stark choice given the significant escalation of the destruction of biodiversity across the Australian continent, that is either protect biodiversity now, and do so effectively, or lose much of what is Australian forever.

There is only one Australian continent.

Empathy at zero

As we sit watching the ABC news (it is World Wildlife Day, 2018, and there is a state election in Tasmania) an Australian Federal Liberal politician is taking part in a commentary and discussing the shock revelation (again concealed from the electorate) that the Liberal Party intends to weaken Tasmania’s gun laws. The politician states over and over again (it would be intensely boring if it were not so utterly disgraceful) that the change is in response to legitimate concerns of farmers. And yes,, after failing in 2018, Tasmania's Government is yet again trying to weaken gun laws in 2023. If they suceed, this will be a catastrophic for Tasmania's wildlife.

A shooter is interviewed in 2018 mumbling something about the new laws will help them deal with browsing animals. Legitimate concerns and browsing animals are code for destroying even more of the rapidly dwindling Forester Kangaroo population (98 per cent of its population has already been destroyed). Not to mention the adorable Pademelon (already extinct in Victoria), and that is really terrible. 

They will not be satisfied until everything is gone.

Imagine letting off a pump action shotgun into a mob of Kangaroos (this is actually an illegal act in Australia but it happens without prosecution). The attempted weakening of gun laws in Tasmania (2018) is a new and cowardly low for Australian politics.

Back to the ABC and the leaked report on duck shooting in Victoria:

“The state's Agriculture Minister (Jaala Pulford, Labor) has labelled the report "very concerning" and refused to rule out shutting the Game Management Authority (GMA) down”.

We would be extremely surprised if this happens. What normally happens in Australia is when the fuss fades away, things go back to just the way they were.

"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 from a ‘game duck’ species for identification.

In contrast, 11 banning notices were issued to anti-hunting protesters".

What is even more amazing is that we have been highlighting these kinds of issues in Victoria for nearly half a century… and they are still pretending it is all okay.

Ramsar: A no go zone for tourists

Five days on and in the Koorangie Ramsar Wetlands a few days before the annual (2018) slaughter commences we spend time filming and photographing Australia’s birdlife.

We spent two days wandering these lakes and wetlands recording our thoughts about the nature of this world. The images are from Lake Bael Bael, just six days before the opening of the 2018 duck hunting season. The density and diversity of Australia's birdlife here is evident and includes threatened species and a large concentration of one of the rarest of all, the Freckled Duck.

We wandered through the detritus of death from a year earlier, the shotgun cartridges, the beer bottles half buried in the mud, the plastic, the shattered skeletons and skulls of countless birds, so cruelly destroyed by shot gun pellets. Parks Victoria, who claim respect for the Indigenous people of this land on their signs promoting the game reserve, could not even be bothered to clean up the mess from all those months ago.

Breaking news 14 March 2018

Ramsar Wetland closures Kerang Region, no shooting – The Victorian Government (via its GMA) has just announced the following wetlands will be closed to shooters, Koorangie State Game Reserve (First, Second and Third Marsh and Lake Bael Bael) because of the concentration of Freckled Duck and Blue-billed Duck. Hird Swamp State Game Reserve, also near Kerang, will be closed on the western side over the opening weekend only to minimise disturbances to the rare Australasian Bittern. There are further closures in other regions of Victoria.

My comments about the 2018 closure of some wetlands in Victoria to shooters are these. The first thing to know is that if you were not out there protesting about the cruelty nothing would have changed.

"You have to understand the mentality here, that is none of this is about protecting the birdlife, it is about protecting the shooters and their continuing slaughter of these birds. If it were the birdlife the Victorian Government were worried about, the slaughter would have been stopped years ago. Lake Bael Bael, which is closed, is directly next to Lake Cullen. Lake Bael Bael had around 1500 Freckled Ducks at the time of our most recent visit. Lake Cullen also had Freckled Ducks, but fewer in number. These closures do not mean the slaughter will stop; it will just continue unseen".

The scene at Lake Cullen