Laurie Levy is one of the great characters in the Australian Animal Rights Movement. He is the driving force behind The Coalition Against Duck-Shooting. This year, like all others since 1986, he will be back on the Wetlands of Victoria rescuing the water birds and putting fear into the shooters. We speak to the man himself.
(In case you didn't know, in the picture (right) Laurie is the one with the moustache, and not the one dressed like Rambo and holding a gun.)
Interviewed by Claudette Vaughan
Claudette: What's been happening this past year Laurie?
Laurie: Well when we first started the campaign there were 95,000 duck shooters in Victoria. That was in 1986. Last year at the opening of the 2001 duck-shooting season there were only about 3000 duck shooters out on Victoria's wetlands. Basically I would say that our campaign now is in the mopping up stage.
The opening of duck shooting season is not what it used to be. The majority of shooters now have gone -- only the hard-liners left and they know their days are numbered. It's just a matter of time before we get rid of them once and for all.
Claudette: Laurie where have these shooters gone to? Where are they focussing their energy now?
Laurie: What's happened over the past 15 to 17 years is there's been a major swing in public opinion whereabouts in the early eighties duck shooting was just something that was tolerated each year -- nobody really questioned it. Once we came along and with all the media publicity we've had over the past 17 years it is increasingly seen as an activity that is on the nose. Now it is viewed finally as an antisocial, male activity that is no longer acceptable to the community at large. Shooters have dropped out and I would say that is because there are a lot less shotguns out there than what was there before.
Claudette: How have your strategies changed over the years?
Laurie: Well I guess we've analysed our work constantly and been critical about it. We have analysed our interviews to see how we have been performing through the media, how our opponents have been performing through the media, how the media is handling the issue and we change our tactics to suit the prevailing conditions.
Of course right from the early days we've been successful. For example in 1990 the Victorian government introduced a water fowl identification test and in 1990 the Western Australian government banned recreational duck shooting. In 1993, what happened was the Victorian government introduced political legislation to clamp down on rescuers and the media by fining them for being on the Wetlands. In the past 8 or 9 years we've received in the order of $100,000 in fines. So we raise money each year to pay these fines for rescuers.
After the Port Arthur tragedy the Prime Minister banned semi-automatic weapons. About 75% of duck shooters use semi-automatics or pump-action shot guns. In 2001 we got lead-shot banned and that also helped reduce the number of shooters.
Public opinion is still our best and number one weapon.
Claudette: What advice do you have for our New Zealand readers where they still have a large duck-shooting season with only a few rescuers going out to help rescue the birds?
Laurie: When we first started, 15 rescuers went out against 95,000 shooters. The usual comment was how effective can 15 people be against 95,000 duck shooters? The important thing for anyone to remember -- anyone starting any issues when you are debating through the media it is not 15 against 95,000. It is one on one. It doesn't matter how much money your opponents have or how little you may have, it is who wins the debate. That's why having media there is so important.
The Duck Campaign was based on two images. One was the Duck Shooter dressed as a soldier in camouflage gear carrying a semi-automatic and shooting down small defenseless birds. The other image was of a rescuer coming out of the water with a rescued bird. Now that second image was one of kindness and compassion and that will always beat an act of violence every time.
Claudette: You put 100% into your campaigns even hiring planes to disperse the wetland birds before the shooters arrive. Is that correct?
Laurie: Yes it is. Every year we fly up on a Thursday before the opening and we move the so-called "game" species away. These tactics have always been effective and it upsets the shooters no end. They see it as a preemptive strike in their territory.
Claudette: You've been quoted as saying that the only danger on opening day is usually with shooters mistaking other shooters for birds and firing at them.
Laurie: It's important for rescuers to remember that they are entering a war zone and you've got to be very careful. Always wear white, bright or fluorescent clothing so you can be seen. It's important not to take any silly risks when out there.
Claudette: Are you still receiving that vicious anti-Semitic mail and phone calls that you used to get in duck shootings hey day?
Laurie: In the early days I used to receive a lot of death threats but these days shooters realise their recreational activity is coming to an end. I still get e-mails from American duck shooters via my web-site. Of course they get pretty upset as they really haven't been challenged in America yet as they have been in Australia. They don't like it one bit and it's always nice to upset them (laughter).
Claudette: Lastly, the Victorian government has agreed to fill the Wetlands this year for the 2002 season. What message do you think that is sending out Laurie?
Laurie: Victoria is in it's seventh year of a major drought. Even where we go to the Wetlands that area has had 100mm less rain than last year so what the government has done is help out the shooters and has artificially filled 3 or 4 Wetlands. That says to me that the government is obviously going to go ahead with a duck season in 2002. It'll be on the third weekend in March and we will need as many rescuers as possible if anybody wants to join our Rescue Team. That would be fantastic