Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill 2012


I oppose the Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill 2012. This bill is a new iteration of a bill introduced by the Hon. Robert Brown in 2009 that did not gain the support of the then Labor Government. Various Government speakers today have told us that this legislation is about the eradication of feral animals. I submit that that is simply not the case. This is not about feral animals; this is about electricity privatisation. I note the media release of Wednesday 30 May 2012 from Barry O'Farrell, MP, New South Wales Premier, and Andrew Stoner, MP, Deputy Premier. In it Mr O'Farrell said:

… the Government had decided to expand the culling program to allow smooth passage of legislation to sell the State's power generators.

The infestation of feral animals across the State is a big problem that all of us involved in public policy must try to solve. Along with habitat loss, feral animals are the greatest threat to Australia's biodiversity. To manage this problem requires very large funds and dedicated public policy making, but often both are lacking. However, handing over the keys to our national parks to recreational shooters will not impact on this problem.

I note the words of the Hon. Rick Colless earlier in the debate—I listened intently to his speech. When he spoke of foxes attacking lambs it brought to mind the experience of my father-in-law, who is a farmer. I have informed this House in other debates that I am not hostile to recreational shooters. I reject the words of Mr David Shoebridge who, time and time again, describes recreational shooters as "weekend cowboys". I have observed members of my wife's family when they go out shooting in order to deal with feral animals—particularly foxes—on their farm. I am aware that their neighbours have had their sheep and lambs attacked by ferals. I know about the problem of feral animals. Speaker after speaker from The Greens today attacked the Labor Party for its establishment and support of the Game Council. I say that the Labor Party is not hostile to an outdoor way of life. The Labor Party is not hostile to recreational shooting. But we do assert, unapologetically, that there needs to be a balance, and we say that our national park estate is not a place where recreational shooters should be allowed access.

Hunting in national parks will not help control the feral animal problem in New South Wales, and may make it worse. Foxes, pigs, cats, dogs, rabbits and goats are the most common ferals and their populations are exploding across New South Wales. According to the Game Council, a total of 14,161 game and feral animals were killed by recreational hunters in New South Wales State forests last year. I take that number from the most recent Game Council annual report. Almost half of those 14,000-odd animals killed were rabbits. In that period there were 15,080 game hunting licences issued in New South Wales. So each hunter killed less than one animal on average. Compared with the total number of feral animals in New South Wales, that figure is minute. The most recent Commonwealth Government figures estimate that Australia has 7.2 million foxes, 2.6 million feral goats and up to 23 million feral pigs. I take those numbers from the Commonwealth Government threat abatement plan for feral animals.

Of the animals killed by recreational shooters in New South Wales State forests last year, 512 were deer. Each year 300 deer are killed by professional shooters in the Royal National Park alone. That reduces the deer population in this one park by only 0.4 per cent. Effective feral control requires killing half the population each year. Unless hunters kill more feral animals than can be replaced by migration or survival of those that would otherwise die, they do not reduce populations. Effective feral management requires culling of huge numbers of animals in a short period over a large area. Programs need to be targeted and coordinated and use multiple approaches. They require careful consideration of target species and their habitats if they are to be successful. Harmful consequences such as increasing rabbit numbers by reducing foxes or cats need to be considered. Programs must also be evaluated.

Recreational shooting is not related to any coordinated program. It is random; it is ineffective. Often, too, hunters' priorities are not those of feral eradication. For example, recreational hunters prefer to shoot male deer so as to get their antlers as a trophy. Females are the reproductive sex so the removal of males has no impact on the birthrate in polygamous species such as deer and pigs. It has been documented that a small minority of rogue hunters move feral animals into areas to improve hunting prospects. I note an article entitled "Illegal Translocation and Genetic Structure of Feral Pigs in Western Australia" from the Journal of Wildlife Management. A small minority of rogues could not be effectively policed in the system that is proposed in the bill. That could make the feral animal problem worse as new gene pools strengthen populations. Skilled shooters say that on-ground shooting of feral animals is not an effective method of feral eradication. Depending on the animal, aerial shooting by skilled marksmen and mustering, baiting and trapping are more effective. On-ground shooting can sometimes increase feral numbers by dispersing and making animals such as pigs more wary.

I met with a number of National Parks and Wildlife Service field officers in November last year. I understand that around 800 field officers work in our national parks. That delegation told me they do not want a bar of allowing amateur shooters into our national parks. Those field officers should be listened to because they deal with feral animals in their day-to-day jobs and they deal with them professionally. They told me of their work from helicopters, engaged in targeted and professional shooting. They work with injured animals, they work with vets, and they work with Taronga Zoo. They are a flexible workforce and are not locked in their own parks—they will move to deal with the issues and problems that arise. I met with some of those National Parks and Wildlife Service field officers again last week when they joined the rally against this move to open our national parks to amateur hunters. People who are engaged in the business of fighting the feral animal plague in our parks tell us that this will not be effective.

Indeed, there are people in the firearms industry and people engaged in sporting shooting who tell us that they do not believe in opening up our national parks to amateur hunters. The Cudgegong Valley Hunting Club has criticised these laws, labelling the changes as "absolute madness". In an article in the Mudgee Guardian last week the club treasurer and Mudgee gun dealer, Mr Jim Pirie, said:

It's not a case of if but when someone gets shot that it will come back to haunt the lot of us.

By its very name it's a park - a place for the public.

All you'll get is plenty of people showing up to protest on those days, so it's a no win situation.

He went on to say:

I've been involved in getting rid of rabbits, foxes and more over the years and just a few people roaming around a park with a gun isn't going to stop them.

It's got to be planned shooting or poisoning and trapping, otherwise whoever goes in there hunting them will just scatter them all over the place and make them harder to cull.

He also said: At rifle ranges, you have to have a fence all around it, warning signage, the red flag up and someone managing the day, yet they're fine to let people go into public places wandering around shooting.

It doesn't make any sense to me, and I'm a gun nut.

Those comments were made by Mudgee gun dealer Jim Pirie, the treasurer of the Cudgegong Valley Hunting Club. It is wrong to characterise opposition to this manoeuvre as simply coming from the environmental or green constituency or from the Labor Opposition. People who have spent their lives researching the problem of feral animals and its impact on our biodiversity criticise opening up our park estate to recreational shooters. People who engage with firearms and describe themselves as "gun nuts" also criticise this move.

Labor is proud to be a party of national parks. One of our great achievements in 16 years in government was to expand the terrestrial reserve system in New South Wales by three million hectares. We apologise to no-one for that; we are proud of it. Labor delivered the country's best-protected wilderness estate. Labor saved coastal forests, north and south, running from the escarpment to the sea. Labor saved the Pilliga, which sits amid the cleared plains of western New South Wales as a beacon and a refuge for nature. And of course we are criticised for it day in, day out by those opposite, but we are damn proud of it. We saved the mighty river red gums, which stand tall because of Labor. We are proud of our national park record. We rejected this proposal from the Shooters Party to our political cost because we genuinely believed that opening up our national parks to recreational shooters was not in the interest of this State. We paid a political price for it but we did what was right.

The Greens come in here and try to lecture us, the party of national parks, about what we did that they think was wrong. They talk about State forests. National parks are national parks for a reason: National parks exist to conserve nature. State forests are multi use. One of the objects of State forests at law is to promote recreational use. The purpose of reserving land as a national park is to identify, protect and conserve areas containing outstanding or representative ecosystems, natural or cultural features or landscapes. That is the purpose. I take that from the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. So we will not be lectured to by The Greens. There is a very good reason we say Labor is a party that is not hostile to an outdoor lifestyle. Labor, a party that recognises the legitimate role that firearms play in the lives of farmers, and indeed sporting shooters, draws the line at allowing amateur shooters access to our national parks.

We draw the line because national parks are special. Mr O'Farrell said that national parks were special and that he would not allow the shooters in them. Robyn Parker, in that quote that has been referred to by so many of my colleagues today, said national parks were special. She said that the slow learners in Labor should stop asking because her Government would never allow amateur shooters into our national parks. Now they have done it. Worse still, the provisions written into this bill crack down on and ban peaceful protest. What will people in New South Wales do when their national parks start being locked down to allow access to amateurs for recreational shooting? There were 38 million visits to national parks last year. Of course, people will be up in arms and they will want to protest. This bill, in a manner reminiscent of the bad old days under Askin, creates laws to crack down on peaceful protests.

But it gets worse. What is worse? At the next election it will be illegal for environment groups to ban together collectively and run a campaign against hunting in national parks. A campaign designed to influence citizens' votes at the next election to overturn hunting in national parks will be illegal. It is no surprise that the O'Farrell Government would devise that. Mr David Shoebridge, who attacked the Labor Party today, did not tell us about his party's role in providing five votes for that stinking, rotten piece of legislation that will make it illegal for environment groups in this State to try to knock over those laws at the next election. Why are The Greens not defending that?

The 13 environment groups that have signed up to the no hunting in our national parks website include the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, the Humane Society International, National Parks Australia Council Inc., the Total Environment Centre, Wild Walks, STEP Inc., the Central West Environment Council, Bushwalkers NSW, the Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc., the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, the National Parks Association of New South Wales, the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales, which has 100 member groups of its own, and the Wilderness Society.

At the next election campaign it will be illegal for all those small, struggling, community, not-for-profit organisations to pool their resources and run a large and effective campaign to influence people to vote for politicians who promise to reverse hunting in our national parks and to vote against politicians who support opening up our national parks to hunting. That is the legislation brought to us by Barry O'Farrell and The Greens. We reject that. We reject the law against peaceful protest. We reject the opening up of our national parks to amateur shooters. It will not work. It was put to us in government. We said no, to our political cost.