The delay in announcing the duck season arrangements for Victoria for 2020 should be of concern to anyone who is interested in the evidence-based management of wild game. This unvarnished politicisation of seasonal announcements is a real problem. It’s not as though the Victorian Government is not well aware of the problem. Back in 2016 it was not only specifically acknowledged in the Sustainable Hunting Action Plan - the Government committed to fixing it: “Improve seasonal announcements — by effectively communicating information to stakeholders when seasonal variations are required or areas are temporarily closed to hunting.
Early advice will be provided through the Victorian Game Hunting App, Twitter and Facebook.” This commitment was re-iterated in a pre-election promise to the ADA as recently as late 2018 with a commitment to the Adaptive Harvest Model: “This method will strengthen the scientific basis and continue to take the politics out of determining duck numbers”. Work on the Adaptive Harvest Model is underway, in the interim it is clear that the politics are completely overshadowing the science.
In the five and a half years since its inception, Victoria’s Game Management Authority (GMA) has had its fair shares of ups and downs. In recent years the GMA has emerged from early troubles to establish itself as a focused, forward looking and effective regulator - there are still challenges with scope and resourcing, however, the authority is well led, well-staffed, has a diverse and dynamic board and is well on the path to being the sort of authority which will serve Victorians well into the future. GMA still faces heavy criticism from both the hunting community and the extreme animal rights movement, some of that is down to people not understanding the GMA’s role in a complex regulatory and management environment, and, some it is down to discontent when the sectional interests simply don’t get their own way.
In recent weeks we have seen the GMA copping the brunt of criticism from hunters who are concerned and disappointed that the duck season arrangements for 2020 have not been announced. In this instance it’s simply a case of GMA’s role not being well understood. Duck season arrangements are written in the Wildlife (Game) Regulations. These arrangements can be varied by the agreement of the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for the Environment.
The GMA ran a process in mid-December 2019 to consider conditions for the 2020 duck season - the process looked at a broad range of inputs and took written submissions. A roundtable discussion included hunting stakeholders, anti-hunting stakeholders, wildlife and welfare stakeholders and representatives from Agriculture (DJPR) and Environment (DELWP). Concluding this process, the board of the GMA met to consider all of the inputs and to prepare advice for both Ministers on the 2020 season. This process is imperfect, but, at least it follows a logic and allows for clear, considered advice from an informed, independent board which has been appointed by the Government. It should be that simple - the GMA board gives the advice, the Ministers accept it, good or bad.
Here’s where the problem begins - concurrent to the GMA advice, the Ministers also receive advice from their own departments - this is where, if a bureaucrat where to have an agenda, they would have the opportunity to push it - even if that conflicted with the independent, informed advice from the GMA board (or perhaps especially if that conflicted with the independent, informed advice from the GMA board). The Victorian community deserves better. Highly qualified, well credentialed people have gone through a rigorous selection process to sit on the GMA board - their appointments have been ratified by Cabinet - they should not be able to be sidelined and usurped by faceless bureaucrats. There is only one set of informed, independent advice.
It is important for the regulation of Game Hunting in Victoria that hunters have confidence in our regulator - that becomes a difficult case to argue when the Government refuses to show that confidence themselves. When the season announcement is finally delivered it is almost certain that the GMA will once again bear the brunt of the inevitable criticism – it should at the very least be criticism based on their own advice, not on some political compromise with ideological warriors.
It is time for the Government to do what they said they would do and take the politics out of this; stop the games of duelling advice and respect the board and the leaders they have put in place at the GMA.
It is time for the Government to respect the Game Management Authority and to let them do their job.