Senator Leyonhjelm thanks Australian hunters

Speech by David Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) in the Senate, The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia

Today I speak to the hunting community in Australia to say, ‘Thank you for hunting.’ You are part of an enduring tradition of humanity. Your endeavours are an integral part of Australia’s rural community and economy. You are a vital resource for managing our lands and saving our precious native fauna. Your love of nature would equal that of the most committed tree-hugging greenie, but your appreciation of freedom would leave theirs far behind. And, yet, you are a vilified minority.

Hunting is a traditional activity – embedded in the evolutionary DNA of the human race. Indeed, hunting is as old as human existence itself. Indigenous peoples hunted to feed themselves long before white settlement. Australia’s indigenous peoples still have the right to hunt certain species in the present day, and rightly so. But why would anyone believe that only Aboriginal people have a cultural attachment to hunting? Deep cultural and intergenerational bonds are a significant part of the hunting ethos of all people. There are hundreds of thousands of Australian hunters who were introduced to hunting by their fathers, who were in turn introduced to it by their fathers, and who will inevitably introduce their children to hunting. Many can also trace their hunting tradition back hundreds of years in Europe and Asia. As for myself, I am proud to have been a shooter and hunter for most of my life – and to show that I am not biased, I also happen to think vegetarians are cool. All the meat I eat is vegetarian – except for the occasional fish.

Hunting is an integral part of Australia’s rural community and economy. A study published recently in the journal Wildlife Research by Associate Professor Peter Murray from The University of Queensland, titled ‘Expenditure and motivation of Australian recreational hunters’, showed Australia’s 300,000 hunters spent over $1 billion per annum on their hunting activities. A report released in June by the Victorian government shows that licensed game hunters spent $417 million on their activities in Victoria alone in 2013, with 60 per cent of that expenditure occurring in regional areas. Millions of dollars in taxpayer funds are spent trying to increase visitor numbers to rural and regional Australia, while recreational hunting continues to grow and contribute to the regional economy without costing the public purse anything at all. Yet, like many minority groups, hunters are often vilified for their activities by those who have never taken the time to understand them. The naysayers – animal rights activists and gun haters – who have no qualifications other than moral indignation, complain long and loud about hunting. Many who loudly claim to be environmentalists rarely enter an environment where they might encounter any creature larger than a cockroach, and the only thing that matches their sense of moral superiority is their lack of real world experience. They heap scorn and vitriol on hunters who go quietly about their activities – self-reliant, self-funded and not asking for handouts, grants or approval, only for tolerance.

I am happy to say that I celebrate hunting and the freedom to choose to own firearms and to hunt. I am proud of the contribution hunters make to the control of foxes, pigs, rabbits, goats and feral cats. I delight in the native marsupials that are saved from extinction because of their efforts. I congratulate hunters for pursuing a healthy diet that includes wild ducks, pigs and venison they have hunted.

But there is much more that could be done. At the risk of mentioning guns and America in the same sentence, let me quote from Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. I am sure he would be admired by all sides in this parliament. He busted up monopolies. He avoided war and indeed won the Nobel Peace Prize. He is famous for the sage advice of ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ – and he was a conservationist, responsible for expanding national parks and forests across America.

Teddy Roosevelt was also a hunter. He said:

The encouragement of a proper hunting spirit, a proper love of sport, instead of being incompatible with a love of nature and wild things, offers the best guarantee for their preservation.

In the United States, recreational hunters are widely engaged with wildlife managers. Taxes on hunting equipment constitute the majority of conservation funding. Legislation also dictates that some of the funds must be used to employ trained wildlife specialists. This hunter-supported taxation has contributed to a well-founded belief in the hunting community that they are the true conservationists. Hunters support their beliefs with funding and effort. This stands in stark contrast to the carping and lack of productive action by naysayers.

There are reasons to believe this American success could be replicated in Australia. In the study I mentioned earlier by Dr Peter Murray, he said:

Wildlife management in Australia could benefit from greater engagement between wildlife managers and the recreational hunting community. The potential exists for this large and active community to become a valuable resource for wildlife managers as many are already hunting feral pests. If the public understands there are pest animals eating native animals and destroying native habitat throughout Australia, it makes a lot of sense for hunters to be allowed to assist in the management of those populations at no cost to the government.

Few hunters disagree. Of the 7200 recreational hunters surveyed as part of the study by Dr Murray, 99 per cent indicated they would be willing to participate in pest control activities if they had the opportunity to do so. More than two-thirds supported the idea of paying a levy on hunting merchandise to contribute to wildlife conservation above and beyond the removal of feral animals. Ninety per cent of the hunters who supported a levy were prepared to pay between five and 10 per cent for wildlife conservation. Dr Murray said:

…should such a levy be introduced in Australia, it could generate significant funding for conservation in this country.

Harnessing the benefits of hundreds of thousands of hunters to assist resource-poor land managers, while at the same time contributing significantly to the local economy, requires a change of policy at both state and federal levels.

We know from many small-scale programs run for years at a local level that much good can be done to control pest animals and protect endangered species. Often these programs are initiated by hunters concerned about species survival, even when those species are not game. One of the best case studies involves the protection of brolgas. Environment ministers everywhere should be working with state land managers to engage with hunters to address the growing problem of pest animals, and regional development ministers should invite hunters into their areas.

So I say to Australia’s many hunters: thank you for hunting, thank you for the billion dollars you spent last year and, most of all, thank you for helping our environment by killing – for free, for recreation, for food and for cultural reasons – tens of thousands of introduced pests when nobody else could or would.

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