Paul Stevens is building a strong, visible presence as director of compliance and intelligence for Victoria’s Game Management Authority. It is a role that is critical to the future of hunting and the reputation of hunters.
Most often in hunting you meet people who live and breathe it, they were almost born into it.
Paul is cut from a different cloth.
He isn’t a hunter and has never owned a firearm for recreational purposes but that has no impact on his ability to perform the role.
Part of his bailiwick is dealing with issues of illegal spotlighting of deer and other game offences.
“What we look at now as an organisation, we look at the issues that have the highest risk—so high-powered guns, illegal spotlighting deer, is a big one,” Paul said.
“We try and focus our effort to address these serious issues from a risk perspective.
“Spotlighting is generally people who aren’t licensed—they might have a firearms licence but are not licensed in our space and they are going around just shooting from roads, spotlights into people’s housing community and private property and shooting along those lines.”
They often also leave a mess for the property owner, taking the head off a deer and leaving the carcass, including the valuable game meat, to rot.
“From a risk perspective that’s a big focus of ours and gets a lot of attention from us, Victoria police and partner agencies,” Paul said.
Paul draws on more than two decades of enforcement and regulation experience, beginning with Victorian Police before making his way through the public and private sectors.
Eighteen months ago, Paul found himself on the GMA’s front line, heading up one of the regulators four divisions. Compliance is a two-way street, and it is not enough for responsible and ethical hunters to simply do the right thing, they also need to call out poor behaviour when they see it.
“The GMA encourages people to take some responsibility and take the time to report it in,” he said.
“If they think it’s nothing that serious and isolated, it might not seem much, but actually, it might go towards building a bigger picture of a pattern of behaviour or a pattern of conduct. Where there is a pattern, we can then take steps to address it from a risk perspective.”
Reports from the field land directly on Paul’s desk. They can be anonymous, meaning there is no risk of the hunter doing the right thing being exposed.
“Quite often people think they are going to get a response straight away but that’s not the case generally, unless it’s something heavy, then it should go straight to Victoria Police,” he said.
“We capture that information and put it in an information report which goes into the intelligence system and then we have an intake and assessment panel.”
The more information, the more detail, the more the reviewers have to work with. Often this is critical in linking incidents and determining patterns of activity or problem areas.
“What we encourage people to do is put as much information into those reports, they can remain anonymous and I understand that choice,” Paul said.
“Sometimes we need to go back to them to get more information or get clarification and we do that from time to time.”
Paul urged people frustrated with the feedback on compliance issues to keep the faith because each report is taken seriously and action is being taken.
“Don’t take things into your own hands,” he warned.
“Just gather as much information as you can, report it to us and at the same time report it to Victoria Police. We say to report it to both because that way both of us are immediately aware of the information, the allegation and the complaints.
“And quite often when we’re doing some targeted operations, we include the police and they include us, so it actually works both ways.”
The GMA, as a relatively new agency, has steadily developed and refined its enforcement efforts. Paul gives credit to all those doing the “boot work on ground” to catch offenders, but to also maintain a visible presence in key hunting areas.
“We’ve moved away from being undercover to having a strong visible presence and to start to interact and engage with the hunting community, stakeholders and the general community,” he said.
“And now as a regulator we are getting better recognised by the police, so much so that they’ve come to us recently and they are going to do some operations soon and want our involvement.”
The key message for the overwhelming number of hunters who do the right thing is they have nothing to fear or lose through GMA compliance. They do, however, have a lot to gain by weeding out or pulling into line the minority who damage the reputation, access and social licence of hunting.
“My experience so far is the vast majority — most people — do the right thing and they’re passionate about what they do and take all the precautions,” Paul said.
“There is a small minority that don’t, and they are the ones we need to try and educate or when needed, take through the courts and enforce strong penalties where appropriate.”
“(Hunting) is a legislated recreation — and we are the regulator, we need to promote sustainability in accordance to the legislation and obviously hold people to account.”
Bolstering enforcement capability is useful, but the GMA staff can’t be everywhere. Perhaps the greatest bang for buck comes through engaging with genuine hunters, who share an equally strong view on illegal hunters and the risk they pose.
“It’s more around trying to ensure that we inform and educate people that they need to report incidents,” Paul said.