Game and Feral Animal Control Act [Legislation Debate]

This is the transcript of a speech delivered in NSW Parliament on 21 June 2012. It can be seen in its original context here

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [12.16 p.m.]: On behalf of The Greens I place on record The Greens strong opposition to the Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill 2012. This bill is a betrayal by the Premier. He has betrayed his promise to the people of New South Wales that he would not allow hunting in national parks. He repeatedly said—I assume he did not use this language to try to deceive the people of New South Wales—that he would not allow shooting in national parks, nor would he allow national parks to become de facto game parks.

That is exactly what this bill does. For the first time ever shooters will be allowed—amateur shooters, weekend cowboys who are out for nothing other than blood sports—to take their high-powered hunting rifles into national parks and mix amateur hunting, cheek by jowl, with those other users of national parks—the bushwalkers, the picnickers and the hikers—as well as rangers and other national park employees. It is dangerous to the ordinary citizens of New South Wales who want to access our beautiful national parks and deeply dangerous to those who work daily in our national parks.

I commend the actions of the Public Service Association [PSA], the Australian Workers Union [AWU] and the rangers and other national parks workers for saying that they will stand up industrially and not comply with Government directions to force them to allow access to those weekend cowboys and the gun lobby out for nothing other than blood lust and blood sports in our national parks.

The proposal will be ineffective in controlling feral animals and involve proven safety issues. The Premier has failed to explain why it is suddenly okay to let shooters into national parks, despite his previous promise, other than to say that he needs to get the Shooters and Fishers Party onside for its support of unrelated bills on privatisation, workers compensation and the like.

The bill has not come out of thin air. As the Hon. Steve Whan said earlier on behalf of the Labor Opposition, this bill has come about because some 10 years ago the former Labor Government cut another ugly with the Hon. John Tingle of the then Shooters Party to establish the Game Council and put in place the Game and Feral Animal Control Act, which gave some grubby vindication to the idea that those weekend cowboys and amateur hunters had an effective use in controlling feral animals.

The Game Council has ended up being a State-funded ginger group for the pro-gun, pro-hunting lobby and it has sucked millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money. In the first six years of operation the Game Council sucked up $9.4 million of public funding. Some $9.4 million had to be redirected from professional feral animal control and management of our forests to fund a rabid State authority that runs pro-hunting and pro-shooting propaganda.

Most recently the Game Council joined with the weapons manufacturers Beretta and Winchester and used taxpayers’ money to fund the Shot Expo, which was a big gun fair at Homebush. The Game Council runs online competitions, encouraging pig hunters to go out and stab 10 pigs and bring blood samples from the pigs to the Game Council. Then, using taxpayers’ money, the Game Council will give the first pig hunter to bring 10 blood samples from dead pigs extra hunting and bowie knives and armour for pig dogs.

That is tax dollars at work under Barry O’Farrell and the Game Council. The Government is funding gun lobby expos and providing bowie knives and pig dog armour to hunters. There is not enough money for public hospitals and transport and the Government is sacking 15,000 public sector workers, but in this year’s budget $2.56 million is being spent on subsidising the Game Council, together with the millions of other dollars the council receives from hunting licence fees. This is tax dollars at work under Barry O’Farrell, funding the Game Council, which is a pro-gun, pro-hunting body.

But it started on Labor’s watch. In 2002 the Labor Government established the Game Council. By doing so Labor vindicated a minority hunting interest, pro-gun group; and it established a State authority that has been run by hunters and shooters. Indeed, the two members of the Shooters and Fishers Party who grace this Chamber are previous chairs of the Game Council. They used their role in a State authority and Government taxes to promote their radical pro-gun, pro-hunting lobby. Then they used their position on the Game Council, established by Labor and now given extra funding by the Coalition, to get themselves elected to this Parliament. They then put forward these kinds of radical—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Mr David Shoebridge should not reflect on other members except by way of substantive motion.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: They then put forward a radical pro-gun, pro-hunting agenda. As a result of 10 years of subsidies from the State Government they are now in a position to use their two votes in this Chamber to provide, for the first time ever, for the appalling precedent of allowing amateur hunters in national parks. But that comes on top of 10 years of amateur hunters having access to our State forests.

Two million hectares of State forests have been opened up to amateur hunting. What has been the effectiveness of those 10 years of wide-scale hunting in our State forests by amateur hunters? Not one feral animal population has been controlled or eradicated by amateur hunters. There is not one example in one State forest of these weekend cowboys effectively removing or reducing a single feral animal species. And now they are being given access to 79 national parks and conservation areas. There is no evidence to support what amateur hunters have done in State forests.

The Government is giving two million hectares to this minority interest group, blind to the safety issues that will cause to other State forest users. We hear forestry workers say that they are regularly scared to go into State forests because they do not know when the shooters will be there. My office is regularly contacted by people who live adjacent to State forests and who have heard people shooting in the forests at night. Shooting at night is prohibited under any hunting licence given to shooters but they still shoot at night, causing an obvious danger to neighbours whose properties adjoin the State forests and other people using State forests.

How many rangers are employed by the Game Council to control 15,000 hunters in two million hectares across the State? Fewer than a dozen. Indeed, a handful of compliance officers cover two million hectares of State forests. And not one additional compliance officer is being employed for the 79 national parks and conservation areas into which the Government wants to let the amateur hunting lobby.

I am grateful for the analysis done by the Invasive Species Council for the clear evidence about the failure of amateur hunting. Its analysis in 2009 showed that between 2007 and 2008 amateur hunting undertaken by the Game Council amounted to less than 1 per cent of targeted feral animal populations being removed. Indeed, on average, according to the Game Council’s records, the average licensed hunter killed only two feral animals per year, and 50 per cent of them were rabbits. This is not an effective way of dealing with feral animal populations.

A study done in Victoria of a fox bounty given to amateur hunters to eradicate foxes found that 170,000 foxes were brought in. However, that amounted to reducing the fox abundance in Victoria by less than 4 per cent; and as soon as the bounty finished the fox populations returned to their previous levels and in some areas finally increased beyond those levels. So, even when amateur hunters are paid a bounty, at best it reduces feral animal populations by 4 per cent and they bounce back the next year. Indeed, amateur hunting in the ad hoc, opportunistic way that amateur ground-based hunting happens does nothing more than remove what is called the doomed surplus.

That is the proportion of a feral animal population that will inevitably die because of natural predators or other environmental results to the feral animal population. Amateur hunting never gets the last percentage required to reduce the breeding population so that next year’s feral animal populations do not equal or exceed the amount that the hunters opportunistically reduced in the previous year. Furthermore, the disturbing conflict of interest between recreational amateur weekend cowboys and genuine feral pest control is proven by a number of studies about hunters releasing feral animals. The 2009 report of the Invasive Species Council stated:

In the past two years, recreational hunters have killed on average 350 deer a year in NSW state forests. This is only a few more than the 300 rusa deer that need to be killed annually in one relatively small national park … to achieve slight population reductions (0.4 per cent), according to estimates by the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation. Aerial shooting by a skilled professional can be much more effective than ground shooting by recreational hunters. In South Australia, for example, one helicopter marksman shot more than four times as many deer in four hours as 65 recreational hunters did in four days in a conservation reserve.

So recreational hunters have no meaningful impact on reducing feral animal populations, yet we continued to fund the Game Council by providing $9.6 million in its first six years. The Government, in a tight budget, found another $2.5 million for the Game Council this year. If that money was spent on feral pest control regimes, not on funding amateur weekend cowboys out for their blood sports, the impact on reducing feral animal populations would be much greater. In terms of feral deer and pigs, hunters often compromise professional feral animal control programs.

Indeed, hunters proudly put videos on the YouTube website in which they kill a sow and release the piglets. A hunter can be heard saying, “There’s next year’s crop”. Hunters say they are doing a wonderful job so their mates will go hunting the following week. I am grateful for the Invasive Species Council’s analysis of what happens in terms of feral deer herds. It states:

More than half of the 218 feral deer herds in Australia identified in 2000 appear to have derived from illegally translocated deer, presumably to create more hunting opportunities (there is no other likely explanation). There has been a dramatic increase in this practice in recent years, and many deer have been shifted into national parks and state forests. Thirty new locations for feral deer in NSW were observed between 2002 and 2004, probably most due to hunters. Deer can be bought cheaply from failing or struggling deer farms.

In NSW national parks and state forests, deer with ear tags from deer farms located far away have been found, suggesting that hunters have bought the deer in one location and seeded them in another. Three men were recently fined in South Australia for releasing 30 fallow deer onto a property for hunting, but it is usually impossible to detect such illegal activity.

There is a direct conflict of interest between letting these amateur hunters have access to more and more public land and effectively controlling feral animal populations. No amateur hunter wants to eradicate a feral species from State forests or national parks because then they will have nothing to hunt and kill next year. That is proven by the fact that, in the 10 years that the Game Council has been letting hunters loose in our two million hectares of State forest, no feral animal population in any State forest has been controlled effectively by this amateur, ad hoc, ground-based hunting. Those opposite want to expand that failed, expensive program into national parks. It is disgraceful.

The Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill 2012 will not only increase access to our national parks by amateur hunters but also support a proposal to increase the weaponry that is available to hunters. I am grateful for an analysis by Samantha Lee, co-chair of the National Coalition for Gun Control. She is one of the people who best understands the complexity of firearms legislation in New South Wales and the impact of changes to the Firearms Act 1996. Her clear advice is this:

The legislation will allow the hunters to apply for a vertebrate pest animal control firearm licence, instead of a hunting licence. Currently hunters can only obtain low powered rifles. Obtaining a vertebrate licence will allow Game Council hunters to purchase the following firearms: selfloading centre-fire rifles; self-loading rimfire rifles with a magazine capacity of more than 10 rounds; self-loading shotguns with a magazine capacity of more than five rounds; pump action shotguns with a magazine capacity of more than five rounds; and any firearm to which a category C licence applies.

I would like the Government to explain why that is acceptable.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The constant interjections from members who have not yet spoken in the debate, and therefore will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate and respond to matters being raised about which they have some disagreement, are particularly disorderly.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: The Government should explain why it wants to have more dangerous firearms in circulation in New South Wales. We know that the increasing pool of firearms held by licensed firearms holders is the main source of illegal weapons obtained by criminals in New South Wales. The Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill 2012 is of concern not only in respect of inadequately addressing the problem of controlling feral animal and the public safety issue, but also for the people who work in our national parks. I will read a statement from a National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger who was too scared to put his name to it publicly because he is concerned about the ramifications for his employment. He said:

I am personally scared. The freedom that we have enjoyed to walk unthreatened in our national park estates is being stripped from us so that a minority group (less than 0.2 per cent of the population) can indulge their lust for blood sports and potentially injure innocent people and wildlife.

I am scared that it will deny 99.8 per cent of the New South Wales public freedom to enjoy some of the State’s most spectacular national park estate without the fear that they will be confronted by shooters, stray bullets and injury. This Government is pandering to an exclusive club that has been granted privileged access to conduct a blood sport.

I am scared that the professionalism of what National Parks and other land management and pest management professionals have worked hard to achieve in managing feral pests will now be compromised by a vested amateur interest group that is only interested in shooting. Pest management is not a sport and it’s not just about shooting to satisfy one’s ego. It is a regulated and highly controlled business which should not be undertaken lightly. This is because it involves the use of dangerous weapons such as guns, controlled chemicals and the destruction of animals in accordance with humane principles and best practice methodology.

If opportunistic ground shooting of feral pest animals was a viable option in New South Wales national parks it would already be implemented. Opportunistic ground based shooting is not recognised as an effective control method because it disperses animals and makes it even harder to implement the recognised effective control methods.

That is the view of the rangers who are out every day in our national parks. They do not want this legislation; they know it is ineffective. However, it is being forced upon them by a deal between the O’Farrell Government and this minor, right-wing Shooters and Fishers Party, with its pro-gun pro-hunting ideology that it has now forced upon every Liberal and Nationals member in this House. Finally, the sting in the tail of this legislation is that the Government is now trying to outlaw genuine protest. New section 55A of this bill will make it an offence to interfere with hunting. It will be an offence to interfere with someone who has a hunting licence when they go out to shoot in our national parks. It is modelled on the Victorian laws—the Baillieu Government laws.

The Hon. Robert Borsak: It is better than those.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: I hear the Hon. Robert Borsak say it is “better than those”. The bill is modelled on those laws, which were designed to make protesting against duck hunting illegal in Victoria. Under the Coalition between the Government and the Shooters and Fishers Party we will see expanded duck hunting, with more and more national parks under the gun.

Protesters will be criminalised because of new section 55A, which makes it a criminal offence to use one’s democratic right to protest against hunting because if, in the course of doing that, one interferes with some amateur cowboys indulging in their weekend blood sports, one will be liable for criminal prosecution under this Act. Even Labor did not go that far. It is a disgrace.

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4 Responses to Game and Feral Animal Control Act [Legislation Debate]

  1. Glynis Howarth June 21, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    Thankyou for being our voices.
    Your speech was very moving but the O’Farrell Government do not care about animals.
    They care only about themselves and just how to virtually annilate species.
    I have downloaded your petition which I hope people sign..
    I will continue to download more as this is highly important to myself.
    Also a huge thankyou for being the voice of our Natives
    Warmest Regards
    glynis

  2. Cita Murphy June 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    It is just heart breaking that shooting should be allowed in National Parks.
    In our region we fought against the previous bill and with many from across the State were successful in stopping it.
    Now how long will it be before the shooters can shoot in any public land ? After the next bill Barry wants to push through !
    We are no longer the Premier State we are the shooters state!

  3. Cita Murphy June 23, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    Thanks for trying.
    The shooters are cunning .

    Start with 79 parks, then another 79 and so on.

    Do it in small lots so they minimise the enviromental backlash.

  4. Martin June 24, 2012 at 12:13 am #

    Mr Shoebridge,

    Your speech above as well as your ongoing rhetoric in regard to the shooting sports and hunting fraternity is rather offensive.

    You routinely vilify hunters as partaking in a bloodsport, satisfying blood-lust, as weekend-cowboys and various other intentionally derogatory labels. You also direct similar vilification toward firearms license holders and licensed firearm owners by laying blame upon them should they fall victim to theft, with dubious claims of reduced community safety through the mere existence of firearms owned by license holders.

    The art of hunting is one that has been practiced since the dawn of humankind and is arguably the oldest cultural activity still practiced to this day. In a multicultural society such as ours, this deserves celebration as well as respect. An inherent aspect of this culture is something known as “the hunter’s lament”, on a hunters approach to a felled animal, the hunter falls silent and subdued in a moment of solemn respect and thanksgiving. This is indicative of a culture far removed from the flippant descriptions of hunters in your many speeches and articles. Furthermore, how can anyone in good conscience dictate how a person may source their own food, especially when the methods of hunting are more humane than current mainstream farming.

    As for licensed firearms owners in general, (not all are hunters), there are many disciplines within the shooting sports, some partake in just one, others several. Participants of each share a common culture which is not the “pro-gun culture” you often speak of, but rather one of discipline, respect, dedication, accuracy, sportsmanship, heritage and integrity in which firearms are an integral part.

    Perhaps tolerance and acceptance of civil cultures, lifestyles and viewpoints other than your own may be in order. A philosophy you and your party seem to embrace most of the time.

    Sincerely
    Martin