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Issue #1583      February 27, 2013

Shooting threat rises in NSW parks

The successful operation of national parks is dependent on the banning of recreational hunting within park boundaries, which protect native animals – not to mention the public – and preserves parks in their natural condition for the public benefit.

Flea Creek campground in Brindabella National Park, NSW.

But in NSW that restriction has been dumped by the O’Farrell government for the benefit of private corporations. Prior to the last state elections, the government promised to look after the NSW parks with great care. However, after taking office it announced it would allow supervised shooting of feral pests by amateur hunters in 77 of the parks.

The government needs the Upper House votes of members of the Shooters and Fishers (S&H) Party, and the announcement followed discussions in which S& F parliamentarians agreed to support the government’s plan to privatise the state’s electricity system.

Preserving public safety and protecting native species under the amateur shooter scheme could only be ensured by having park rangers accompany the shooters during every hunt. However, this would consume the rangers’ work time, thus invalidating the government’s claim that introducing amateur hunters would provide extra personnel to cull introduced predators.

Amateur hunting would also increase the risk of accidental shootings, because of the lower skills of amateurs compared to professional shooters and park rangers. In New Zealand last year three park visitors died after amateur shooters mistook them for deer. In Australia, those who apply for permission to hunt in Australian national parks must have an R-licence, but getting the licence doesn’t require an eyesight test.

Last December a leaked document revealed that the government had received a risk assessment warning of the high probability of accidental death if amateur hunting was introduced. But the government went ahead anyway. It had its mind on other things.

Child hunters and their dads

If you thought things couldn’t get worse, think again. Premier Barry O’Farrell is now seriously considering a proposal from the NSW Gun Council to allow accompanied minors as young as 12 years old to shoot in national parks. The Gun Council, a supposedly independent advisory body, receives taxpayer funding but is dominated by avid amateur shooters.

The proposal includes the use of not only rifles but also high-powered bows and arrows and antique “black powder” firearms. The proposal would involve 55 parks in the “Zone C” category, i.e. those most distant from heavily populated areas. Although remote, these parks are open to the public, just like the others.

Native species would be at high risk because of the difficulty amateurs have in distinguishing between certain introduced and native species that look very similar from a distance. But even more importantly, the risk to visitors would be dramatically increased because the scheme would only involve supervision of children by adults, not parks staff.

Public safety and the protection of native species in these national parks would therefore be dependent on the eyesight, skill, integrity, trustworthiness and stability of adult and child hunters, not dedicated park rangers.

Adolescents tend to chafe at the prospect of having to be accompanied by mum or dad, and sooner or later many will inevitably try going out hunting on their own.

Moreover, there is a major problem with identifying hunting permit applicants whose behaviour is irresponsible or unstable. Rangers are carefully selected under strict job specifications, and their behaviour is vetted over a long period in the course of their work.

The same cannot be said for amateur hunters. NSW police are now said to be gearing up for hostile confrontations between amateur hunters and park visitors, not to mention disputes between amateur hunters themselves.

And there are other problems. The amateur hunter scheme will cost $19 million for hunting coordinators, staff training, shooter education, and safety regulation signage. The scheme has also been criticised by scientists speaking at the University of Technology in Sydney, who described it as expensive, cruel and ineffective in controlling feral pests.

Environmental scientist Dr Daniel Ramp has stated that “recreational hunting … is not an effective tool for dealing with introduced animals. If the number of animals shot is too small to impact on populations, the killing of animals, often in cruel circumstances, simply cannot be justified.”

Spiking the guns

Amateur shooters can’t wait to get their kids out into the parks with a gun. Last year, in anticipation of the scheme’s acceptance by the government, 410 licences were issued to children between the ages of 12 and 17. That’s an increase of 57 percent over the previous year.

The shooters program is now scheduled to begin in April. In the meantime, the government has commissioned further risk assessments for the “child hunter” scheme. However, judging by their reaction to last year’s initial assessment, the government draws the line at taking any notice of warnings the assessments carry.

National park visitors are likely to face the menace of gun-toting adolescents, possibly visually disabled and/or without the presence of a responsible adult, possibly accompanied by an unstable adult, and possibly using antiquated and unreliable weapons. That’s a totally unsatisfactory situation, and the implementation of such a scheme would be totally irresponsible.

But regardless of the public risk, the government is determined to press on, in order to maintain the alliance with the Shooters and Fishers Party and thus get its privatisation agenda through parliament.

According to the Australian Workers Union, the parks employees they represent will take industrial action if the government accepts the amateur hunting recommendation. Union organiser Paul Noack said: “[The child hunter proposal] makes an utter mockery of the government’s proposal to utilise volunteer shooters for supplementary pest control. The AWU draws a line in the sand on this matter.”

The National Parks Association has also held protests over the amateur hunter scheme. Speaking to a rally on behalf of the Association, Justin Mackee declared: “Residents from Armidale have worked tirelessly for years to create a stunning network of national parks in the surrounding area. Every Liberal and National Party member of the NSW government has failed to stand up and protect our ability to enjoy them in a peaceful and tranquil manner.”

The amateur hunter proposal necessitates immediate action by the unions and the public to prevent implementation of the outrageous scheme. However, the government is only interested in using the National Parks to fulfil its state assets privatisation program. Curbing the government’s ruthless agenda will necessitate culling it from office.  

Next article – Logan accuse asylum seekers of “staging photos”

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