New puppets, old show - media lap up outrageous claims during duck hunting protests

The duck season kicked off this year with a new and improved media circus that involved last-minute legal action by Animals Australia and the usual trash talk and photo opportunities on the edge of a wetland. There were some fresh faces at the show due to the repeated poor behaviour of long-time professional protester Laurie Levy finally being dealt with. A court order has prevented him from being near a wetland during the 2016 duck season and some temporary replacements have stepped up to the plate in his absence.

Leading up to the start of the season, two Federal Labor MPs, Victorian Kelvin Thomson and Western Australian Melissa Parke, joined Animals Australia’s team and social media campaign #BanDuckShooting to begin the annual tradition of spreading outrageous claims. These included the fallacy that 50,000 ducks are shot by hunters and are simply left injured where they fall to slowly die.

A few years ago, our Pest & Wildlife Management Officer sent Ms Parke a letter in response to a speech that she had made in Parliament on the subject of duck hunting. In her response, it appeared she didn’t like the information we had brought to her attention, which indicated many of the claims she had made during her speech were wrong or misleading.

One pertinent point in Ms Parke’s recent anti-hunting comments is that she bragged that duck shooting has been banned in Western Australia since 1990. Although access has been limited somewhat, hunters with connections to properties in the South-West Land Division and Eucla Land Division regions can still enjoy a hunt. In fact, Australia’s long duck season, a full six months, is available in WA.

Mr Thomson, who is also retiring from Federal Parliament, showed his inability to understand that hunting as a ‘sport’ per se is solely about the hunting of free-living species under the principle of ‘fair chase’, that is enabling a sporting chance. It has nothing to do with points, goals, victory or a contest that is regularly seen in sports such as AFL, NRL or soccer. To compare these activities, as he did in many press quotes, is just ridiculous.

As we know, hunting certainly has some ‘sport-like’ qualities such as physical and mental exertion. It is not a point-scoring contest between people or teams; it never has been and it never will. The only result at the end of a day is a reward, if you are lucky. A healthy meal of the ultimate in organic free-range food that cannot be found on the supermarket shelves or even on a RSPCA-approved chicken farm.

Depending on what media reports you read, it seemed that the prospect of Animals Australia launching legal action forced the Victorian Government to close a hunting area at the 11th hour. Apparently, the presence of protected species at Lake Elizabeth was deemed the valid reason for this late change, which led to many hunters who had already set up base camp in the area being told to move on and find somewhere else to go hunting for the opening weekend. It does raise the question of why such a move is necessary when all hunters need to undertake a waterfowl identification test (WIT) prior to being able to obtain a hunting permit.

Whatever the real reason or motivation behind this closure, the animal rights groups are claiming success and that they have saved 20,000 native waterbirds from slaughter. This claim is now being used to raise funds for further campaign activities.

We see this so-called victory being used as a common trick into the future. The threat of legal action will become another tool of annoyance by organisations such as Animals Australia to legitimise its extremist views and misleading statements. Legal challenges are a common method used by animal rights groups overseas and it looks like this virus is spreading to Australia. Unfortunately, the media with its appetite for sensational stories will become a willing finger puppet for organisations such as Animals Australia in the lead-up to future seasons.

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