Originally published in The Advertiser
Like many Australians, I’m disappointed with former Australian cricketer Glenn McGrath. When attacked in the press and social media over his 2008 big-game African safari, he should have stuck to his guns and defended his passion for hunting.
But my disappointment in McGrath is nothing compared with how I feel about the standard of public debate in this country. I can’t remember the last time a story like this was discussed with the balance it deserves.
A basic Google search reveals the importance of big-game hunting to a range of African countries, some of which rank among the poorest in the world. Economically, ecologically and environmentally, trophy-hunting matters.
We’re not just talking about the estimated US$200 million-plus a year it contributes to nations such as Zimbabwe, Ethiopia or the Central African Republic. We’re also talking about the direct financial contribution hunting makes to conservation.
Namibia, for example, charges up to US$350,000 to hunt a single black rhino. They permit three to five carefully selected old, male rhinos to be hunted each year. These males are past their breeding age and are a danger to female and young rhinos. The money raised goes directly to conserving the species, which is endangered.
Landholders in countries like Namibia value game animals for the income and employment generated by trophy-hunting tourism. Native animal numbers have stabilised and even increased because a significant financial reason exists to protect them.
Carefully regulated hunting also provides a range of disincentives to poachers, who inflict a slow, cruel death on countless animals each year. They kill thousands of rhinos for their horns, and an estimated 30,000 elephants for their tusks.
Safari hunting can be used to help control elephant populations which now face culls due to their large numbers in some areas. But Australia is not a nation that wants to have these sorts of informed economic, ecological and environmental debates, let alone introduce these sorts of policies.
Just look at the Northern Territory. For around 20 years the Territory has been applying to federal government to allow the game hunting of saltwater crocodiles. It’s an Aboriginal employment initiative that would take just 50 crocodiles a year out of a population of 100,000.
Hunting packages would be valued between $20,000 to $50,000, providing income to remote Aboriginal communities that don’t have many other tourism or employment opportunities available to them. But federal governments of all persuasions are too gutless to let the Territorians give it a go.
Our politicians like to talk about empowering Aboriginal people and communities, but when faced with a real proposal, that, yes, would take a bit of media management, they crumble.
Which is precisely what Glenn McGrath did at the weekend. Rather than defend his actions and stand by his previous passion for hunting, he retreated.
Really, who can blame him? McGrath is the custodian of the McGrath Foundation, which he co-founded with his late wife Jane. A range of ill-informed individuals said they’d boycott the Foundation — which funds nurses to care for women with breast cancer, as well as awareness campaigns — because of McGrath’s safari hunt.
So while I completely understand McGrath’s decision to apologise for his actions, presumably to protect the Foundation, I find it disappointing. Brett Lee has since been dragged into the ‘‘scandal’’ and I’ll be disappointed if he apologises too.
High-profile sporting champions like McGrath and Lee could have used this opportunity to encourage a debate about the economic, ecological and environmental benefits hunting can bring.
For Africa these benefits are significant. For Australia these benefits could be significant, particularly for Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.
Instead we seem set to remain a nation where informed debate is rarer than an endangered rhino.