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Hunting in our Parks: a Deal with the Devil?

Coming to a national park near you?

On June 20, 2012, the Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill is to be debated in the NSW Legislative Assembly. This Bill proposes to allow hunters largely unrestricted access to many of the best NSW national parks and reserves. A list of the proposed parks can be found here. If this Bill eventually passes it will directly effect how we as a nation are seen to manage and care for the future of our most precious natural landforms. But first, it’s worth looking at why NSW is considering such a backward step.

Despite what appeared to be a pre-election pledge to keep the state’s electricity assets in public hands, NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, announced in late November that his government was to sell off the state’s electricity generators. His comments that the state would retain ownership of the ‘poles and wires’ infrastructure couldn’t hide the fact that this was a major policy back-flip. The vast majority of the NSW public don’t want their electricity generators to be privatised, and who can blame them. There is plenty of evidence around the world that electricity privatisation almost always results in higher prices for the consumer and higher dividends for major shareholders (such as banks and pension funds). Here in Australia this has certainly been the case for both Victoria and South Australia where electricity prices have skyrocketed since privatisation, yet institutions have grown fat on the profits. There is also evidence that privatised electricity companies deliberately hinder the uptake of alternative green energy, which they see as potentially eroding future profit margins.

Unfortunately for Barry O’Farrell there was a fly in his ointment. The electricity privatisation bill had sailed through the NSW lower house in March but now sat gathering dust in the upper house. This is because the NSW Liberal/Nationals don’t have the numbers to pass it into legislation under their own steam. But all was not lost. The NSW Shooters and Fishers Party are represented in the NSW upper house by Robert Brown and Robert Borsak and it’s no secret that they want hunting access to NSW national parks. Of course the vast majority of park users are against the prospect of wholesale hunting in parks if only from a safety point of view. But the Shooters and Fishers Party quickly recognised this as a once in a lifetime opportunity. And so it was that the NSW Government and the Shooters and Fishers Party started negotiations. The fact that the NSW Government had already pledged that there would be no hunting in National Parks was not going to get in the way of the electricity privatisation Bill.

Just for the record, this is is an exchange made in the NSW Legislative Assembly in August of 2011 between Ryan Park, Labor member for Keira and Robyn Parker (NSW Minister for Environment).

Mr RYAN PARK: My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment. ….. what assurances can the Minister give that hunting in national parks will not be reconsidered in return for the support of the Shooters and Fishers Party for her Government’s legislative agenda?

Ms ROBYN PARKER: How predictable. The policy of the New South Wales Government is clear: hunting in national parks is not permitted. I say that very slowly for the slow learner on the Opposition backbench. Parks receive over 35 million visits per year and we provide among other things facilities for visitors to our State, and I advise the member opposite that shooting is not compatible with visitations to our national parks. The member has wasted yet another question. For the benefit of those opposite I repeat that the policy of the New South Wales Government is clear: Hunting in national parks is not and will not be permitted.

Source: Hansard Transcript

But as we know, when it comes to politics truth is the first casualty. Barry O’Farrell needed a deal and if that meant going back on his assurances that there would be no hunting in national parks then so be it.

On May 30 the NSW Government suddenly announced that changes to the Game and Feral Animal Control Act would allow for hunting within 34 National Parks, 31 Nature Reserves and 14 State Conservation Areas. Apparently this equates to roughly 40% of the land area controlled by NSW National Parks and Wildlife. It was a victory for the state’s hunters and a shock to the vast majority of park users who had believed the government’s assurances that this would never happen. Then in late May the Shooters and Fishers Party introduced the Feral Animal Control Bill 2012. This bill proposes to:

  • Allow the minister to make National Parks available “for the hunting of game animals by persons who hold a game hunting license“.
  • Allow for “expanding the list of game animals” that can be hunted on public land.
  • Prevent anti-hunting protesting by making in an offence “to interfere with a person who is lawfully hunting game animals on public hunting land” (including national parks).

Having served as a member of the Victorian Government’s Alpine Advisory Committee during 2010-11 and as a long-time bushwalker, rockclimber and cross-country skier, I well understand the problems we face with feral animals in our parks and reserves. Hell, I even recognise the need for some parks and reserves to be closed for short periods during which strictly managed feral culling can occur (such as what happens periodically in the Gammon Ranges in South Australia). However, I also believe that feral animal control first requires monitoring, evaluation and research. To allow hunters into a national park without scientific scrutiny is not the way to address the feral animal problem. I also don’t believe that hunters are doing this simply because they are suddenly concerned about the environment. In truth they simply want to hunt and there are plenty of hunters out there who are not particularly concerned about what they shoot. And do we really want to have hunters wandering around with high-powered rifles in parks where we are meant to be enjoying ourselves with our families?

As Tim Vollmer (The Fat Canyoners) so eloquently phrased it on his controversial blog, “To put it bluntly, feral animals are a serious issue, but one best addressed by professionals relying on science, not red-necks relying on firepower”.

Should this Bill be passed I can’t help fearing that it may just be the tip of the iceberg and that other states (under pressure of the politically connected shooting lobby) may eventually open up their national parks to hunting. This is something that should concern us all.

Please visit the National Parks Association of NSW for further details.