In May 2012 the NSW Government of Premier Barry O'Farrell announced it would be allowing recreational hunting in 34 of the state's National Parks, 31 Nature Reserves and 14 State Conservation Reserves. (The CVCC's initial comments on the proposal in an earlier post.)
The Premier's backflip from his pre-election promise that his government would not allow recreational hunting in the state's national parks system was part of a deal to get the minority Shooters and Fishers Party members (Robert Brown and Robert Borsak) in the Legislative Council to support further electricity privatisation. The Government's spin machine claimed this would be a win for the national parks system because it would make much more effective the eradication of pest species such as foxes and pigs in the parks.
Those who value the state's reserve system were outraged by the sleazy deal and have since campaigned vigorously to have it overturned. In addition to this opposition the government has been beset by a number of problems in trying to implement their deal. There have been studies clearly expressing concerns about public safety and the safety of park workers and the NSW Game Council came under investigation for governance issues.
Dunn Report on NSW Game Council
The report on the review of the Game Council ( Dunn Review Report ) was so damning that the NSW Government has declared it will implement the report's key recommendations. These are:
Transfer the regulatory, enforcement, education, policy and licensing functions to the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI); and
Establish an advisory Game Board that will undertake stakeholder engagement and advocacy.
Furthermore, it has suspended hunting in all 400 State Forests and on Crown Lands pending the transfer of functions to the DPI and the outcome of a risk assessment.
Just how effective the DPI will be in ensuring that hunting on community land is conducted according to the rules remains to be seen.
The New Hunting Plan
In addition to the changes outlined above the Government has recently announced a revised plan for allowing recreational hunters in national parks. There's a new name for the hunting deal – Supplementary Pest Control. In a letter sent out to those who have written to or emailed the Government about their concerns, Environment Minister Robyn Parker and Primary Minister Katrina Hodgkinson have outlined the scheme to have "volunteer" hunters assisting National Parks staff in pest eradication activities in a trial in 12 parks and reserves beginning in October. According to these ministers the new program follows "a rigorous risk assessment process and expert advice" and will give the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) "additional volunteer resources to ensure pest animals are removed from the landscape".
Details of the plan as described in the Ministers' letter are below.
The program will operate under the strictest controls in Australia:
· The program will be regulated and managed by NPWS.
· To participate, volunteers will need to have the equivalent skill, experience and accreditation of our professional NPWS staff and contractors.
· All pest control activities will be scheduled and carefully managed by NPWS.
· All pest control activities will be announced in advance. NPWS will provide notification four weeks in advance and final confirmation to park neighbours and the public a minimum of 48 hours ahead of any activities.
· Areas will be closed to visitors on the days of these pest control activities, with appropriate signage and road closures in place.
· No person under 18 will be allowed to participate.
· Bows and black powder muskets will be banned.
· The program will not occur during school holidays.
· The program will not occur in metropolitan parks and wilderness or World Heritage areas.
Eventually the program may be made available in up to 75 parks and reserves – less than 10 per cent of the total number within NSW. The majority of these parks will be in the State’s west where ground shooting is routinely undertaken for pest control on both public and private property.
(Extract from form letter from Robyn Parker, MP, Minister for the Environment and Katrina Hodgkinson MP, Minister for Primary Industries, dated 12 July 2013.)
A Few Comments
While this is certainly an improvement on the Government's initial "open slather" approach to giving the Shooters and Fishers everything they wanted, there are still serious concerns.
Will the NPWS be adequately funded to operate the program without its management impacting on other NPWS activities and responsibilities?
Which parks/reserves will be involved in the trial?
How long will the trial run?
How transparent will the review of the trial be? It is significant that there is no reference to the program being abandoned and recreational hunters being denied access to the National Parks Estate if the review indicates there are serious problems with the program.