A former pest management expert for the Victorian government has spoken out against a “confusing” legal loophole that has left wombats unprotected in some parts of the state.
Nocturnal Wildlife Research director Clive Marks’ comments come amid widespread outrage over revelations first reported in The New Daily that wealthy tourists were being invited to a farm outside Melbourne to hunt the marsupials for sport.
The Murrindindi farm is owned by a Chinese businessman and partner of Crown casino at the centre of an explosive Channel Nine investigation into links between casinos and organised crime.
Dr Marks spent more than 10 years investigating methods of killing wombats and other pest animals for the Victorian government.
Now an independent researcher, he says he can “speak freely” about the inner workings of government that have led to a “confusing” legal loophole that means wombats have no protection in 193 regions (parishes) in Victoria.
“The legislation was an administrative quick fix – it was a real nightmare,” Dr Marks told The New Daily.
He said the Victorian government initially declared wombats vermin because they could charge through rabbit-proof fences at a time when “rabbit plagues were serious all over Australia”.
In 1986, after rabbits stopped being a huge problem for farmers, Dr Marks said wombats became protected under the Wildlife Act all over the state – except in 193 parishes east of the Hume Highway.
“There were still a lot of politics about landholders having the right to destroy wombats, even though rabbits were under control,” he said.
Dr Marks said the system of wombat protection was a “horribly confused situation and we need to work it out rather than running away”.
“When you have such a lack of clarity, it’s going to be exploited,” he said.
Several Greens politicians, including state member Sam Hibbins and Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, raised the issue of wombat shooting in Parliament, and more than 132,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Victorian government to protect the animals statewide.
Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said her department was reviewing the rules that allow wombats to be killed without a permit in some parts of Victoria.
“The idea of anyone harming a wombat for sport is appalling and we understand the concern this has caused Victorians,” a government spokesperson said.
“We need to make sure wombats, like all wildlife in Victoria, are adequately protected. That’s why we’re reviewing the rules to ensure the protection of wombat populations.”
The review is due to be finished by the end of the year.
No shooting experience
The New Daily understands the Murrindindi shooting range owners used to hold an Authority to Control Wildlife permit to kill common wombats, but that it was cancelled by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in March last year.
Farmers in Murrindindi have also raised concerns over an exemption in Victorian hunting laws that allows inexperienced foreigners to hunt animals for up to 14 days.
In Victoria, overseas visitors with no shooting experience can obtain a temporary game licence that allows them to hunt animals such as sambar deer or ducks under the supervision of a licensed adult.
Unlike Australian shooters, foreign first-timers don’t have to pass any tests before loading up their firearms – all they need to do is fill out a form and pay a fee.
In response to questions from Murrindindi man Peter Ingham on ABC radio, Premier Daniel Andrews said he would seek advice on “whether we believe the highest standards are being maintained for those temporary licence holders”.
“Whilst (temporary licences) serve a purpose, there should never be a sense that a temporary licence holds you to a lower standard than a permanent licence,” Mr Andrews said.
“[Hunting] is a perfectly legitimate form of recreational activity – I don’t know that shooting wombats would classify under that term, and that’s something that concerns us greatly.”
The Game Management Authority, which regulates hunting in Victoria, said temporary game licences were intended to boost support for Australia’s commercial hunting industry by making hunting more accessible for tourists.
“All international hunters must meet the relevant firearms licence requirements and must comply with all hunting laws in Victoria,” a spokeswoman told The New Daily.
Meanwhile, members of the Murrindindi community are vowing to fight a controversial planning application to build a luxury hotel on the property.