The language of loathing has characterised the anti-hunting argument through the demise of the NSW Game Council and continues be used openly in the vilification of hunters.
The fact that it has been allowed to influence the debate so significantly is a serious worry for hunters and an indictment of how the discussion has been handled by the media and NSW government.
The Greens and other anti-hunting groups have run strong campaigns using highly charged language that denigrates hunters, and they have purposely tied acts of poaching and illegal shooting with the behaviour of licensed, law-abiding hunters to create the image of uncontrollable shooters endangering the public and native animals.
They have also actively promoted the fallacy that picnickers in places like the Royal National Park and Blue Mountains west of Sydney would be sharing the land with hunters – land that was not earmarked for recreational hunting.
In the No Hunting in National Parks workshops, hunters are described as cowboys, as uneducated and as intentionally cruel.
David Shoebridge appears to be the one who coined the term “amateur hunters”, which has been widely adopted by the media as the correct description in spite of it being mildly derogatory. In the past, “recreational hunters” or simply “hunters” was considered appropriate.
Shoebridge is on record in Hansard as attributing “significant evidence” of cruelty by hunters to sources that contained nothing of the kind; the closest it comes is mentioning the cruelty of a handful of indigenous Australians who were not quickly dispatching animals they caught for food. He has not, as far as is known, sought to correct the Hansard record and the phrase “significant evidence” in relation to alleged cruelty by hunters has been used repeatedly ever since.
The Australian media does not use the word “poacher” to describe illegal hunting. A Fairfax report today carries a story about a “trophy hunter” who is being sought by police for allegedly wounding a sambar stag with a small-calibre rifle before fleeing when he saw other people had seen him. These are the actions of a poacher. A poacher is not a hunter, just as a rapist is not a lover, a mugger is not a boxer, and a thief is not a collector.
Another Fairfax journalist, Kirsty Needham, reported on Steve Dunn’s “damning expose” on the Game Council and said it described “a politically untouchable posse of gun wielding vigilantes” and a “bunch of Wild West public servants”. Dunn himself has stressed publicly that there was much good done by the Game Council but there is not a single positive word about it in the Fairfax report, which signs off with an air of relief as it reports that during culls in national parks there will be “no shooting from horses”.
The complete lack of any attempt to provide a balanced view is certainly not universal in the media, but it’s far too common. Throughout the past few months of contentious debate, there has been little, if any, evidence that journalists have properly analysed the pro-hunting material such as the Game Council’s report on hunting safety in Australia, nor critically questioned the positions put forward by most anti-hunting advocates.
This has only served to reinforce the negative imagery of the antis. Several reader comments on Needham’s story sum up the ignorance held by so many people about hunting. “TC” identifies himself as an ex-cop who’s been around “weapons” since he was 13, and makes sweeping but ill-informed statements about hunters putting on “red vests etc” over camouflage; he clearly has no concept of blaze orange and the colour-blind vision of animals.
“I think part of the thrill is the dressing up and playing soldiers, but they are lucky as the animals do not shoot back, mores [sic] the pity,” he writes, as if hunters see their sport as some form of combat. “Are these die hard hunters really going to wear these red vests when the cameras are not on them? I don’t think so.”
TC’s comments are worth noting because he represents the mindset of a policeman. Is it any wonder law-abiding firearm owners are persecuted by the police when a significant portion of its officers think like this?
A WA Greens MP, who has since been voted out, recently described shooters and fishers as “the disgruntled few” when she implied there was no place in democracy for them, and former NSW Premier Barry Unsworth coined the phrase “rednecks, reactionaries and Rambos” in response to the establishment of what was then the Shooters Party.