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Issue #1588      April 10, 2013

National parks staff demand armour jackets

NSW national parks staff have demanded bright orange-coloured bullet proof vests as protection against the guns of amateur shooters, who are to be allowed to hunt in 79 of the state’s national parks and reserves.

Geo Papas, organiser for the Public Service Association, said, “We think they should be issued at no expense to [park staff] or their agency, in blaze orange so they are readily identifiable.”

Bullet proof vests are classified by law as a prohibited weapon. However, they may be worn if there is a “genuine reason [to do so] … in the conduct of the applicant’s business or employment … ”. The parliamentary secretary for police has confirmed that the legislation potentially permits use of the vest for self-defence.

Mind you, the vests only provide a limited degree of protection. As retired park ranger Arthur Willis pointed out, a vest does not protect the head or other areas it doesn’t cover.

In any case, the government will be extremely reluctant to issue the vests, because they will also be demanded by the fire fighters, electricians, road workers, emergency service trainees and other employees and volunteers who work in the parks.

And if that happens, the very function of the parks may collapse. After all, how many members of the public would be willing to enter an area where every second person is wearing a blazing orange flak jacket? Further, who would want to go parks where amateur shooters are hunting?

Kevin Evans, chief executive officer of the NSW National Parks Association (NPA) commented: “While the Minister for the Environment leads a celebration of national parks around NSW during this year’s Parks Week, the future of national parks is facing irrevocable and destructive change. The coalition’s ‘Supplementary Pest Control Program’ threatens public safety and will cost us millions and do more harm than good for the environment.

“There is no scientific evidence to support recreational hunting having any impact on pest animal populations. The government should be investing large funds into a strategic and integrated professional program to see a long term decline in populations. Spending millions on the Shooters and Fishers Party agenda will solve nothing.”

Big trouble in Dodge City

In January the acting chief executive of the Gun Council of NSW was charged over illegal hunting in the state’s parks, but charges against him were later dropped. A volunteer working for the Council who was also charged is still under investigation, Last year a number of amateur hunters were charged with being drunk or on drugs while in charge of a vehicle, and/or with using prohibited weapons in restricted areas in National Parks.

The Australian newspaper also reported that the Council has been issuing licences to children, who then entered national parks and hunted illegally. Justin McKee, NPA campaign coordinator, declared: “Given the Game Council’s struggle to demonstrate it can manage its current portfolio in a lawful manner, it cannot be expected to assist managing a hunting program within national parks in any responsible fashion.

“This is an amateur group running the agenda for amateur hunters who want unrestricted access to public lands, to see gun controls weakened and to see children learning how to hunt with guns in public places. If today’s report is true, the Game Council is guilty of exposing children as young as 12 years old to possible criminal prosecution for illegally hunting with firearms.”

The government has now announced a delay in the implementation of the amateur hunting scheme, until at least June, pending a review of the Game Council. Many or all of the Council’s members may be sacked. It currently operates as both promoter and regulator of game hunting, a clear conflict of interest, and it is possible that the organisation itself may be disbanded.

Justin McKee observed: “There are plenty of options at the Premier’s disposal for putting the management of pest animals back in the hands of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and for disassembling the Game Council.”

Hunting and responsibility

Amateur shooters have complained, with some justification, that they are all being unfairly labelled as irresponsible rednecks. The criticism of amateur shooters should certainly not be applied to those who behave responsibly. However, in the case of hunting in the parks, responsible behaviour is not limited to taking precautions with firearms, developing marksmanship and conforming to government requirements.

The first national parks were established in the late 19th century with the specific objective of freeing them from amateur hunting. Prior to the last state elections the Liberal/National coalition led by Barry O’Farrell gave no indication that they intended to allow amateur hunting in the state’s parks.

To do so would have seriously damaged the coalition’s chance of election, because the practice would inevitably increase the risk of accidental shooting, and is widely opposed by the public.

An early draft of a risk assessment being prepared for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage concluded that there was a high risk of hunters and visitors being killed or injured if the amateur hunting scheme proceeds. A recent poll indicated that 60 percent of NSW voters oppose the amateur hunter scheme, and only 38 percent support it.

Truly responsible shooters will acknowledge that they have a responsibility to respect the public’s right to visit the parks in safety. To meet this responsibility they should refrain from entering the parks as hunters, and should discourage other amateur hunters from doing so.

They could, in fact, join the campaign to preserve the “free from guns” status of the parks, and support the rally against hunting in national parks, to be held on Thursday 18th April, at 12.30 pm outside Parliament House in Macquarie Street.

Now that would be the really responsible thing to do.   

Next article – Union intensifies scrutiny at Holden

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