Legislative Council: Thursday, March 09, 2023


Native Bird Hunting

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. R.B. Martin:

1. That a select committee of the Legislative Council be established to inquire into and report on the hunting of native birds, with particular reference to:

(a) community values and perspective;

(b) cultural, social and recreational aspects;

(c) sustainability, environmental and animal welfare aspects of native bird hunting;

(d) economic considerations;

(e) perspectives of First Nations;

(f) how native bird hunting is managed in other jurisdictions; and

(g) any other relevant matter.

2. That this council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being presented to the council.

(Continued from 22 February 2022)

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (16:23): I rise to speak on behalf of the opposition. We the opposition acknowledge that Labor made an election commitment, albeit not well publicised, to hold an inquiry into the practice of recreational hunting of native birds and that this select committee will fulfil that commitment.

The government's election commitment did not specify whether the inquiry would be performed by a parliamentary committee or the Department for Environment and Water; however, the model proposed will ensure transparency and the ability for relevant stakeholders to participate. Consequently, the opposition supports the establishment of this committee.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:24): I rise on behalf of the Greens to support this motion to establish a select committee. We certainly were aware of the government's promise and paid close attention. It was actually made quite public to a variety of animal advocacy groups, and well known to those of us who were paying attention to such things.

Duck and quail hunting is an annual event that takes place over a variable period each year, but usually commences in March where a season is declared, when species of usually protected native ducks are declared able to be shot under an open season. This declaration is made by the government, and thousands of ducks and other birds are shot by hunters across the state when it is made each year.

Some are killed outright, but others are wounded. Those wounded ducks often die a slow, painful and prolonged death in the name of this so-called sport. The practice of duck hunting is cruel. As many as one-quarter of the native ducks and quails that are shot each year are wounded and not found or retrieved by shooters. If they are not rescued, their fate is to suffer a painful death or to live the remainder of their lives with shotgun pellets in their bodies.

In increasing numbers over the last decade, animal activists have been co-present with the hunters on the wetlands, where they protest and attempt to rescue wounded birds. In January this year, the Malinauskas government declared yet another open season, despite public outrage. We remain lagging behind so many other states when it comes to this barbaric practice. Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales have already banned the vicious practice of duck and quail hunting for recreation many decades ago.

From small volunteer groups to the RSPCA, along with the broader South Australian community, there is support for duck hunting to end. Many vets have attended duck shoots to treat injured birds and have been appalled at the extent and nature of the injuries inflicted. In urbanised areas, hunting is neither an attractive pastime nor a necessary survival activity. Studies estimate that in some waterbird species one bird is wounded for every one killed. In 2019, the RSPCA estimated that between 26 and 45 per cent of the birds shot will be wounded and:

…can suffer from the disabling effects of the injury, from sickness due to infection of the wound, from pain created by the wound or from thirst or starvation if unable to drink or eat often due to the injuries to the bill. Wing fractures, which increase the likelihood of being taken by a predator, are common in wounded birds.

It is a natural assumption that these hunters are firing a single bullet, one at a time, to try to kill that duck or quail. However, that is simply not the case. Native birds are often shot with shotguns, also known as scatterguns. They fire 100 to 200 pellets at a time and, depending on size, many birds will be hit but keep flying. This does not even cover the potential collateral damage for the other species in the air that are often caught in the crossfire.

Pellets have a similar diameter to a roofing nail, so when they are driven into the body of a duck this causes extreme pain and suffering. They can break wings, legs and beaks. Given the size of the ducks and the speed at which they fly, they may be hit by only one or two pellets, which is often not enough to kill them. Those ducks that are shot and injured severely enough to bring them down may die slow and painful deaths if the shooters do not retrieve them. If they are retrieved, hunters will often break their necks to kill them, by swinging their bodies around and around. Otherwise, they might throw the wounded ducks to their dogs to finish them off. They, of course, can do nothing and are simply allowed to struggle until they die from these injuries.

For many of us, when we think of ducks we remember them from our time as young children, from our storybooks and cartoons, and of course in real life at the edge of lakes and rivers. We are encouraged to observe them, to adore them and to make connections with them. We went in our childhoods to feed the ducks at the local pond with our parents or grandparents. These days, children still go to the local pond but are encouraged not to feed the ducks. However, there are often those fond memories handed down from generation to generation. Juxtaposed with this, each year for several months in our state those ducks that many of us are raised to adore are being killed, maimed and traumatised.

Research argues that modern sophisticated technology for locating, tracking, targeting and killing these birds means an unfair stack in favour of the hunters. Despite arguments by hunters, the net economic benefit received from hunting native birds is close to zero. Additionally, banning duck hunting has been modelled to have minimal impact on our economies and, according to the Australia Institute, which has commissioned a report on this matter called 'Out for a Duck', every dollar that is currently spent on duck and quail hunting could be spent on other activities such as the hunting of other species, fishing, boating or camping.

It is often considered that duck hunting is defended by the notion of conservation hunting. However, native birds are not overpopulated and, as native species—native species—are not pests. In this situation, it is known that hunting is a potential threat to viable duck populations, rather than being a means of ecosystem control.

In terms of the decision made each year to declare a duck hunting season, it is not lost on the Greens that that decision is never made on the grounds of animal cruelty. Animal cruelty is not a factor that decides whether or not that season is declared, and only the levels of population and the current climatic and environmental conditions are a feature in that decision.

I would contend that it is actually even being cruel to put some of those animal welfare advisory groups in that room to make that decision. I have had feedback from some of those who have had to sit in that room that it is, indeed, the worst day of the year when they have to attend those meetings, completely constrained from putting forward their opinions that this is a cruel and barbaric and innately painful decision that they have to make, where they are not able to voice their concerns about animal welfare but are only able to give an opinion on the environmental factor.

With that, I do commend the introduction of this review. The Greens look forward to participating in it. We were certainly well aware of the Labor government's promise to have a review of this. It has been well ventilated in the public arena and we hope that we see the parliament get on with it and come back with some certainty for the ducks that allow them to live without cruelty.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (16:31): I will keep it short: I would like to thank the Hon. Reggie Martin for moving this motion. I am looking forward to being on this committee and hearing both sides of the story. As the Hon. Tammy Franks has just explained, there is that element of cruelty that needs to be explored, but I would also like to hear from the other side, the hunters themselves, and the attraction of that, and whether they see it as a sport or as a conservation measure and how they work in with conservation groups. I am sure we will hear a lot of testimony from various interest groups that will enable a committee to come to some recommendations. With that, SA-Best supports the motion.

The Hon. R.P. WORTLEY (16:32): On behalf of the Hon. I.K. Hunter, I move:

After paragraph 1, insert new paragraph 1A as follows:

1A That the committee consist of seven members and that the quorum of members necessary to be present at all meetings of the committee be fixed at four members.

The Hon. R.B. MARTIN (16:33): Very briefly, I would like to thank the Hon. Nicola Centofanti, the Hon. Tammy Franks and the Hon. Frank Pangallo for their contributions and for their support for this committee to be formed, and I look forward to their further contributions as members of this committee, should this motion pass.

Amendment carried; motion as amended carried.

The Hon. R.B. MARTIN: I move:

That the select committee consist of the Hon. M.J. Centofanti, the Hon. T.A. Franks, the Hon. S.L. Game, the Hon. B.R. Hood, the Hon. I.K. Hunter, the Hon. F. Pangallo and the mover.

Motion carried.

The Hon. R.B. MARTIN: I move:

That the select committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records, to adjourn from place to place and to report on 28 June 2023.

Motion carried.