Elizabeth Anile

Don’t believe the stereotypes that paint Generation Y as selfish and lazy. Most of the many thousands of young Victorians who will vote in next month’s state election care deeply about the world we will inherit, and keep a close eye on what our pollies are up to.

Like many people my age I’m also passionate about the environment, including Australia’s native wildlife. And like the 30,000 Victorians who recently signed a petition to ban duck shooting, tabled in the State Parliament on 7 October, I hope the incoming government will get the message: this unsustainable and cruel practice must stop.

The ducks in question are native waterbirds, and they’re in big trouble.

Long-running aerial surveys by respected environmental scientist Professor Richard Kingsford show waterbird numbers have fallen by 82 per cent across eastern Australia over the past 25 years.

Not only is duck shooting unsustainable, it’s also brutal: because shotgun pellets scatter widely, rather than making a “clean kill”, three out of four birds flies away injured. Many die slow, agonising deaths from starvation or infection.

The petition, tabled by the RSPCA and the Coalition Against Duck Shooting, echoes a 2007 Roy Morgan poll which found 87 per cent of Victorians oppose duck shooting. The petition was presented to retiring Labor MP Carlo Carli who, like many of his colleagues, supports a ban. “I just think the public opinion has really turned, the duck shooters have really lost the arguments,” Mr Carli told AAP.

RSPCA Victoria president Hugh Wirth agrees: “Despite efforts to try and educate shooters we still see a large number of protected birds being shot and birds that shouldn’t be shot also suffer cruelty.” He said registered duck shooter numbers in Victoria had dropped “dramatically” from 100,000 to around 22,000 as public opinion has shifted toward a ban. “It’s becoming socially unacceptable,” he said.

It’s not just the Greens and individual Labor MPs worried about native waterbirds: on September 1, State Liberal MP Andrea Coote put a question to Environment Minister Gavin Jennings in the Upper House, proposing a five-year moratorium on duck shooting to allow waterbird numbers to recover.

Victoria lags behind on this urgent environmental issue: WA banned recreational duck shooting in 1990, NSW did so in 1995, and Queensland in 2005. But despite climate change, drought and falling bird populations, Victoria’s current Labor government still allows native waterbirds to be killed and maimed in the name of “sport”. Why? Because of an unhealthily close relationship that exists between the State Premier and shooters’ organisations.

Premier John Brumby has repeatedly ignored the scientific evidence supporting a ban on duck shooting, instead bowing to political pressure from shooter groups. The Premier’s own Department of Sustainability and Environment advised against a 2009 season, but Mr Brumby called one anyway, on advice from the Hunting Advisory Committee (HAC) – a government-sanctioned lobby group for duck shooters.

Over the years HAC’s membership reveals a strong pro-shooting bias, including hunting lobbyists and members of Field and Game Australia (FGA) and the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (SSAA). The problem here is obvious: it’s like including arsonists on a government committee advising on fire safety.

A court case last year highlighted the contradiction: just before the 2009 duck shooting season, while other Victorians were being urged to save water, FGA’s Gippsland spokesperson Gary Howard – at the time a HAC member, who’d just advised that a season go ahead – was caught illegally diverting water from the Latrobe River onto a private wetland near Sale. The stolen water attracted around 800 native waterbirds to the site, where FGA members had paid to shoot on the season’s opening morning. Mr Howard pled guilty, but was fined without conviction.

The historic “Green swing” in the Federal election suggests young voters feel Labor is ignoring their environmental and social concerns. That trend is echoed in Victoria: November’s State election will be a close call, and Labor risks losing four key inner-city seats to the Greens: Melbourne, Richmond, Northcote and Brunswick (incidentally, Mr Carli’s former seat). Some polls predict a hung parliament, with the Greens holding the balance of power.

Rather than waiting for politicians to catch up, a new generation of young people is taking action on environmental issues. In March I spoke at a rally organised by the Duck Army, a youth group lobbying to ban duck shooting. Their message: if this outdated, unsustainable and cruel practice doesn’t stop, our native waterbirds will disappear completely.

That’s not the future I want, and it’s not what I’ll be voting for on 27 November.

Elizabeth Anile is Director of Australian Teens Against Animal Cruelty (ATAAC) and a journalism student at RMIT.

From: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/40506.html
via Jon Sumby Pic: www.Shutterstock.com