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

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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

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