GMA report flawed
A great deal has been made of the Pegasus Economics report on the compliance and enforcement function of the Victorian Game Management Authority. Anti-hunting activists have seized upon it as evidence of a lawless and inadequate regulation and enforcement
The best antidote to this poisonous finding occurred on the opening weekend in Victoria where the regulations (including new start times and retrieval and harvesting regulations) were met with an increased and effective enforcement effort and almost universal compliance.
It should be noted that engagement and education played an equally critical role, with enforcement staff visiting hunters’ camps and hunters themselves ensuring those around them understood and complied with the new regulations.
No doubt, many hunters, still angered by the report’s main claim that: “While many hunters are responsible and respect the game hunting laws, noncompliance with the game hunting laws is commonplace and widespread …” were determined to disprove this sweeping claim.
So how did Pegasus Economics arrive at this conclusion?
The evidence is scant and in a legal vernacular of a criminal case “entirely circumstantial”.
To understand the context of the report and its findings you have to go back to when and why it was commissioned.
After the opening weekend of the 2017 Duck Season and the well-publicised failings that occurred at Koorangie State Game Reserve, the Board of the GMA indicated to Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford that it would commission an urgent, independent review of the GMA’S operating model and resourcing levels.
Ms Pulford had made it clear publicly that duck hunting remained a “…legitimate recreational activity, provided the rules are followed”, placing enforcement and compliance at the heart of the response to Koorangie. “There is no excuse for not knowing the law, or for hunting in unethical, unsustainable and inhumane ways,” she said. The GMA sought particular advice on: • the relevance and appropriateness of GMA’S compliance and enforcement policy; • the effectiveness of GMA’S compliance and enforcement regime and activities; and • a comparative analysis of resource requirements against other Victorian regulatory bodies and other jurisdictions’ game management regulators. The lines of inquiry included the operating model, comparative resourcing, compliance planning and execution, collaboration and skill sets.
Analysis included desktop research, formal and informal interviews, discussions and focus groups.
Field & Game Australia, the Australian Deer Association and SSAA (Vic) were engaged but so too were Animals Australia, RSPCA, CADS and the vocal but unrepresentative Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting.
The investigation started with a narrative describing what occurred at Koorangie on the opening weekend of 2017, and earlier at Box Flat in 2013, as bad and the GMA was part of the problem.
Evidence supporting that narrative was adopted in the report, but differing views were not.
Both FGA and ADA were present at Koorangie and gave first person accounts, however, the report chooses to use a quote from a newspaper article given by a representative of another organisation who was hundreds of kilometres away.
The quote, suggesting that charging the small number of hunters acting illegally and confiscating their firearms on the spot would have a much greater impact supported the narrative that the GMA incorrectly focused on protector activity at Koorangie rather than on enforcing the game laws for which it has primary responsibility.
The report does not reflect the difficult environment presented by the mix of hunters, protesters and the firearms.
Surely, in this volatile mix, which relies heavily on the tolerance and composure of hunters in the face of often aggressive interference with their legal activity, the safeguarding of human life and the maintenance of public order takes precedence over the enforcement of game regulations.
Protection of its citizens is the first order of any government.
The report relies on anecdotal evidence, examples of boastful Facebook posts and comments from organisations (including anti-hunting activists) to advance the suggestion that “unsanctioned noncompliance with the hunting laws is commonplace and widespread”.
This view has been repeated ad nauseam by anti-hunting groups but its presence in a report does not make it true.
Fisheries Officers conducted more than 47 900 inspections during the period between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017 resulting in 60 prosecutions.
Recreational fishing accounted for 46 593 inspections and 4254 detected offenders (8.8 per cent of inspections) although serious offences resulting in prosecutions were just 0.8 per cent.
The GMA does not record the number of inspections so no comparable figure is available, however, the number of prosecutions in the same 2016–17 period was just six from 26 planned compliance operations.
Greater enforcement logically leads to detection of more offences.
In 2015–16 the GMA conducted 51 planned operations (nearly double) and >>
>> issued 26 court proceedings but far fewer infringement notices.
For hunting or fishing the number of prosecutions is a tiny fraction, especially when you factor in not only the raw number of participants but the frequency of their active participation.
Regulators of hunting and fishing are reliant on high levels of self-enforcement backed by education and licencing that reinforces the rules and encourages compliance.
The vast majority of hunters do comply with the law and are supportive of wellresourced enforcement activities that target the minority who do not.
The report notes the GMA is in a difficult position of regulating an activity that is very highly regarded by its advocates and practitioners but opposed on moral and ethical grounds by other stakeholders, and it cannot afford to be seen to be indifferent or inactive in enforcing the law.
However, that pressure should not allow opponents to get away with the implication that hunting can’t continue because enforcement officers are unable to monitor 100 per cent of the activity.
No regulatory system has complete oversight and to depict hunting as a lawless environment is to ignore the facts. Hunters are ultimately responsible for their actions and the majority of hunters do not break the law.
The Pegasus Economics report makes one other significant claim that antihunting organisations are promoting; that as a small statutory body, the GMA is vulnerable to capture by the interests it is seeking to regulate.
The new regulations imposed on duck hunters in 2018, including the unpopular late opening times and the initially unworkable interpretation of retrieving regulations, is ample evidence that hunting interests have not ‘captured’ the regulator.
Add to the list the continued exclusion of the blue-winged shoveler from the bag, wetland closures, including Hird Swamp on opening weekend because of the presence of a single bittern, and the capture theory unravels.
The report states that some ‘stakeholders’ consider the GMA is not independent and impartial in its administration. The anti-hunting lobby seems to think the regulator must be in the other camp if it isn’t in theirs. The GMA role is to regulate hunting, which the Parliament sanctions as a lawful activity.
The report suggests the GMA should “… engage with stakeholders across a wide spectrum of values and interests and to adapt and adjust to changing community attitudes and expectations”, which hints at addressing more than just ensuring responsible and ethical behaviour and a drift into slow eradication through regulation and red tape.
Those two damaging claims aside, the Pegasus report does have many good points. It outlines in detail many of the same organisational, regulatory and capacity issues that exist.
The majority of these were already well known, and FGA and ADA raised them in a joint submission to Minister Pulford prior to the 2018 Duck Season.
The problems with the GMA are not the fault of the Andrews government but it does have the capacity to deliver a stronger, more effective GMA, which all hunters would welcome.
When the Pegasus report leaked to ABC’S 7.30, Minister Pulford told the program:
“It is entirely possible that the GMA will not survive this process in its current shape, in its current form.”
FGA and ADA do not believe it should survive in its current form: from the beginning the GMA’S scope has been far too limited and it’s resourcing has been far too constrained.
Enforcement staff at Lake Cullen