A man with a long history on both sides of game management regulation, Graeme Ford has been leading the team at the Game Management Authority for just on two years.
With 20 years under his belt as a farmer and a dozen more at the Victorian Farmers Federation, Graeme has a lot to contribute to game and pest animal management.
As chief executive he is expected to have a finger in all regulatory pies. For the GMA it’s all things hunting — education, compliance and licensing.
“I work to ensure the teams delivering education and compliance functions have the tools and resources required to do their jobs and that what we deliver is in line with the requirements of the (Game Management Authority) Act,” Graeme said.
“It is important the operational compliance and enforcement functions are carried out by the experts, our authorised officers, and they have the ability to carry out their functions impartially and fairly.
“My objective from the start has been to create an effective and professional regulation the community can trust.”
In his words, Graeme’s role is focused on ensuring the GMA meets its obligations under the Game Management Authority Act (2014) and that all of the administrative and governance practices are appropriate.
“To do this, I focus on establishing the staff structures and resources the GMA requires, and creating a workplace with the expertise to processes and motivations to do the job well,” he said.
“Some hunters appear to have a misunderstanding of the GMA’s role or would prefer it promotes hunting and hunting opportunities.
“This is apparent from what we see on social media and through some interactions directly with hunters.
“When communicating with hunters and their representative organisations, I try to be as clear as possible on the role of the GMA as the regulator of hunting and the bounds of where we operate.”
After leaving his farm following two decades of hard work, Graeme began working at the Victorian Farmers Federation and spent five years as its chief executive.
Once he left the VFF, Graeme said he was looking for the next challenge and heard the GMA was hunting for a new CEO.
“While I had 20 years of experience in working in policy development and government relations, I hadn’t worked as a regulator,” he said.
“In fact, for most of my time at the VFF, I was on the other side of the table trying to influence regulators and the regulatory environment.
“This experience has helped in my role at the GMA, as I have an understanding of the impacts a regulator has on those being regulated.
“After doing a bit of research into the GMA and the challenges it faced in implementing reforms resulting from a very critical report into its compliance and enforcement functions, I knew it would be an interesting place to work.
“I haven’t regretted the decision once.”
Par for the course, 2020 has not been the kindest to the GMA, with great community upheaval due to the bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping Australia’s shores greatly limiting the GMA’s ability to regulate and organise seasonal hunting.
Thankful for his experience with the VFF disaster relief program when dealing with this situation, Graeme said anyone who worked in disaster recovery quickly learned about the generosity of the community when help was needed.
“The community’s willingness to listen to the experts and to do what is required and responsible, regardless of personal inconvenience, has always been a standout for me,” he said.
“We were confident we could trust hunters to do what was right and what was asked of them, provided the reasons made sense.
“While there were some hunters on social media that complained about the restrictions, hunters have overwhelmingly done what was asked of them for the benefit of the community.
“We worked hard to provide timely information to hunters and thank those who followed the government’s advice.
“I also suspect hunters, being campers and practical people, would have managed their toilet paper needs more responsibly than most others, even without GMA guidance.”
Not a licensed hunter himself, Graeme said after his work as a farmer he understood the importance of effective natural resource management.
“Hunting can’t continue if it is not sustainable and the primary objective of the GMA Act is sustainability and responsibility in game hunting,” Graeme said.
“Hunters have access to community resources for their recreational activity and it is in the best interest of hunters to play an active role in conservation and game management.
“This is already done and done well, whether it is hunters assisting Parks Victoria with targeted deer control or Field & Game Australia branches building nest boxes on wetlands.
“Hunting is a very contested activity across the community and hunters putting effort into environmental and conservation work is not only the right thing, it is a way to demonstrate to the wider community the ethics of the hunting community.”
When it comes to educating people about sustainable hunting, Graeme said it was important people recognised sustainable game hunting was not just about the abundance of the species being hunted.
“For hunting to be sustainable it must be conducted in a way that the majority of the community can support,” he said.
“That means not only not overharvesting a species, but that hunting must be practised in a manner the community does not find unacceptable.
“I think all hunters understand the concept of sustainability of a game species, even though there are many different definitions of what that looks like.
“I’m not convinced all hunters understand that improving hunting practices, so they are in line with community values, is a necessary part of achieving long-term sustainability in game hunting,” Graeme said.
“By working on the issues where there is common ground, such as respect for game and conservation efforts, we are more likely to achieve workable solutions that benefit communities and the game species.”