There’s a so-called “dude ranch” in the hills of Murrundindi, about 100 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, where high-rolling Chinese tourists are being invited to hunt wombats. The property is owned by Tom Zhou, a wealthy Chinese businessman who’s considered “royalty” inside Crown casino’s operations, according to Fairfax. And the company is allegedly chauffeuring rich tourists out to the luxury hunting lodge, in stretch limousines, with the promise of shooting native wildlife.
“When we come to Australia, we should experience life that we can’t experience in China. The first thing that should be felt in Australia is to be a wilderness hunter in the mountains of Australia,” reads the company’s website, translated from Mandarin. “Even if you don’t have any shooting experience, it doesn’t matter. With professional guidance, you will be a great shooter!
“Hares, foxes, wombats, wild ducks... A variety of wild animals to spend a happy holiday with you.”
The allegations are part of an ongoing and escalating scandal surrounding Crown casino—sparked by reports from Nine news and Fairfax—which include claims that high-rolling Chinese tourists were being fast-tracked through the visa process, picking up sex workers, and getting access to drugs, according to Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young. Appearing in parliament yesterday, Hanson-Young condemned the “obscene” behaviour and implored the Coalition to do something about it, The Guardian reports.
“This is beyond bizarre. This is stranger than fiction,” she said. “Why on earth is this government doing absolutely nothing to really crack down on this hideous and obscene behaviour?”
“Does the government really think that it is appropriate to fast-track Chinese gambling billionaires through our border protection processes so that they can come to Australia and shoot our wildlife?” she added.
Crown has rejected allegations it offered services to fast-track visa applications for big-spending gamblers flying in from China. Its board of directors also claimed that the high-roller “junkets” were not related to the company, asserting that “they are independent operators who arrange for their customers to visit many casinos globally.”
Whatever the company’s affiliations, it appears to be exploiting a legal loophole that allows people to shoot and kill wombats without authorisation in certain parts of Victoria, according to a report by The New Daily. There are 193 parishes throughout the eastern parts of the state where wombats have been declared unprotected under Section 7A of the Wildlife Act—one of which is Murrundindi. The Wildlife Act states that “in areas where they are unprotected, Common Wombats may be controlled without the requirement for an authorisation.”
It also notes that “in these parishes, wombats can only be controlled by a landholder or occupier engaged in rural production or by their permanent employees” and that “wombats can only be controlled by the use of firearms conforming to strict specifications.” But Australian Wildlife Protection Council (AWPC) secretary Eve Kelly suggested that these laws don’t go far enough to clamp down on recreational hunting and protect wombats from being killed for mere sport.
“Wombats in unprotected parishes have even less regulation, investigation and enforcement of animal cruelty cases,” she told The New Daily. “If land owners can legally kill wombats on private land, what is stopping overseas tourists hunting them for recreational purposes?”
The hunting lodge has sparked controversy and condemnation among locals in the area, with neighbours saying they’re “scared” by the idea of unlicensed and inexperienced tourists firing high-powered guns near their properties.
“They’re not just rich; they’re rich high-rollers coming in luxury cars,” one neighbour told The New Daily. “These tourists are coming in as gun-toting John Waynes.”
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