Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill 2013 [Legislation Debate]

This speech was delivered on 15/10/2013 in the NSW Upper House. You can read the full debate online here.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [11.59 a.m.]: On behalf of The Greens I speak on the Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill 2013. I say at the outset that this legislation, to the extent that it repeals the Game Council, did not come from a sudden outbreak of rational thinking by the Government. Both this Government and the former Government have irrationally supported ineffective, ad hoc, ground-based recreational hunting on public land for more than a decade. This Government continues to want to lavish resources, spend millions of dollars, on a failed program of ad hoc recreational hunting, which has no impact on the overall feral animal population.

The program has no impact on saving native animals and it has no impact on protecting our primary industries and crops. An example of how irrational and ideological is this Government’s approach to feral pest control would be including the pink-eared duck on the game bird mitigation program. The pink-eared duck apparently is being shot under laws promoted by this Government, because the duck is going to impact on rice crops. Anyone who has looked at the pink-eared duck knows that it does not eat any commercial grain crops. It is a native bird that is being shot under laws supported by the State Government, which means that it is taxpayer funded—

The Hon. Robert Borsak: They like to shoot them and eat them.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: It is being shot because they like to shoot them and they like to eat them. I support the Government’s moves to date to abolish the Game Council and I commend the Government for abolishing it. The Game Council was a hunter-dominated State Government authority paid for by taxpayers. It sat in Orange and celebrated what, in its eyes, was the joyful killing of animals in the wild. It has been shut. It has been closed. It has had to take down the signs. The Game Council is gone; the Game Council is shut. I have respect for the Hon. Robert Borsak and the Hon. Robert Brown, a former chairman of the Game Council, on some matters, but their one-eyed approach to recreational hunting and to the organisation that they ran, the Game Council, in spending taxpayer dollars to promote hunting, to increase the public space for hunting and, in the ultimate betrayal of public trust last year, to join with the O’Farrell Government and open hunting in national parks shows why the Game Council never should have been on the statute books.

It is an indictment of the former Labor Government and the current Labor Opposition that they continue to support the Game Council. They continue to deny the fact of the matter, although it has been proven chapter and verse in the Dunn report, that the Game Council was a canker on public administration in New South Wales. The report found that the Game Council had a direct conflict of interest in its purported regulating of hunting, while at the same time devoting the majority of its resources to promoting hunting. When the Game Council had access to the better part of $5 million of public funding, it spent taxpayer dollars on putting up stalls at gun shows and ammunition expos promoting pig hunting.

The Game Council spent taxpayer dollars on competitions offering the first person to bring the blood of six pigs to the Game Council a pig-hunting pack of armour for their dogs, a subscription to Babes and Boars magazine and a new bowie knife to stab feral pigs. The Game Council was an extraordinary mistake. I genuinely commend the Government for having already moved on the Dunn report and having shut down the Game Council. The staff of the Game Council have not lost their jobs: They have been moved to the Department of Primary Industries. As I said in a discussion with the Minister for Primary Industries last month, the Government is to be commended for having killed the Game Council. We know that the Game Council cannot be resurrected.

The Hon. Robert Borsak: It will come back.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: I hear the Hon. Robert Borsak and the Hon. Robert Brown saying that that the Game Council will come back. The Game Council is dead and dusted, just like the pink-eared duck under the Government’s game bird mitigation program. That is a shameful example, but the demise of the Game Council has been broadly welcomed across New South Wales. We commend the Government for having abolished the Game Council. We support this legislation to the extent that it tidies up the statute books and removes the Game Council from the statute books as a formal legal matter. We advised the Government that we support that aspect of the bill, but there is a raft of measures in this bill that are deeply problematic.

The first thing that troubles us about this bill is that in practice it will re-establish hunting in State forests, having already got rid of the Game Council. Without this bill and the machinery put in place for this bill, the further failed program of hunting in State forests cannot get started. We know it has failed, because after the better part of a decade of hunting in State forests not a single feral pest species in a single State forest has been controlled in any meaningful way by ad hoc recreational hunting in State forests. The Game Council’s report gives figures extolling the fact that in the 2011-12 financial year recreational hunters had killed 285 feral cats in New South Wales. They said that was an achievement, but the Game Council said they thought there were about 18 million feral cats in New South Wales. Killing 265 feral cats would have no impact at all on the overall feral cat population.

The Game Council figures showed that in a good year hunters would kill about 16,000 rabbits in New South Wales. Killing 16,000 rabbits from a population of millions of rabbits in New South Wales would have no effect. One of the primary reasons that there are feral pest species—whether they be cats, rabbits, pigs, dogs or foxes—is that they are extraordinarily fecund. They have massive reproduction rates and enormous litters. The great bulk of any generation of those feral pests is described by experts who look at feral pest control as the “doomed surplus”. They die in any given year because of natural causes—disease, lack of access to food or other predators. If we want to have an ongoing impact on those populations of feral pest species, sending untrained amateurs with no skills to wander around State forests and take a few pot shots will have no impact at all.

If we want to reduce feral pest numbers meaningfully we have to go beyond taking a few pot shots at the doomed surplus. That surplus will die over the course of the next year from those causes. One would need to reduce the numbers to fewer than 15 per cent, otherwise the massive reproduction rate any remnant has would mean that the next year just as many feral pests would exist as existed the year before. A couple of random, unplanned, ad hoc, ground-based shooters taking pot shots at pigs, rabbits or foxes in State forests or national parks has no meaningful impact on the overall number of feral pests in New South Wales.

We know that not a single feral pest species has been controlled in a single State forest in New South Wales. This bill is required to re-establish that failed program in State forests. True it is that it will no longer be regulated by the Game Council, because we know that the Game Council is long gone, but it will be regulated by the Department of Primary Industries under a Minister in the form of Katrina Hodgkinson, who is blind to firearm safety, animal welfare and sensible population-based feral pest control, and who is looking to provide a sop to the shooters in New South Wales through the promotion of hunting in State forests.

Part 2 of the bill proposes establishing a new advisory board, the membership of which is to include representatives of regional New South Wales who—and this is the key point—are persons who together have expertise, skill or knowledge in pest management, wildlife veterinary science, hunting, education and community engagement. The proposed membership does not include two key positions: representatives to deal with animal welfare and representatives to deal with firearm safety. Months ago we proposed to the Government an amendment to insert those additional essential skills into the membership of the advisory board. The Government stalled and prevaricated. If the Government was willing to engage with us on sensible reforms and to do population-based feral pest control, we were willing to talk to and work with the Government to achieve a better outcome for this bill. But today we have learned that the Government rejects the amendments relating to animal welfare and firearm safety.

We informed the Government that we were very concerned that the function of the advisory board is to represent the interests of game hunters, to provide advice on game and feral animal control, and to tell the Government how to spend money from the Game and Pest Management Trust Fund. Our amendments proposed that the functions include the important factors of looking at animal welfare and population-based controls for feral animals. Again the Government completely refused to engage. Another significant concern is the objects of the Game and Feral Animal Control Act, which are to provide for the effective management of introduced species of game animals and to promote responsible and orderly hunting of those game animals on public and private land, and of certain pest animals on public land.

The Hon. Robert Borsak: Highly commendable.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: I note the interjection of the Hon. Robert Borsak, who says it is “highly commendable”. That is promoting hunting. This is legislation designed to promote hunting. We propose that the objects be aligned with what can only be described as sensible population-based feral pest management control. Rather than promoting hunting, this bill should be about controlling feral pests effectively. We propose that the objects of the Act be amended to provide for the effective, safe and humane control and eradication of introduced species of feral pest animals, and to regulate the responsible, orderly and safe hunting of those animals on public and private land.

Although our policy position is against any hunting on public land, we recognise that we must engage with both the Government and the Opposition, which are mad set on promoting hunting. We realise that even though we have a policy position that recreational hunting should not occur on public land, the clear intent of the majority of members in this House is to have hunting on public land. But we should not be spending money promoting game hunting; we should be spending public money regulating the responsible, orderly and safe hunting of feral animals on public and private land. Again, out of pure blind ideology, the Government has been wedded to legislation on the statute books that promotes hunting in New South Wales.

Another significant concern we have about the entire Game and Feral Animal Act, which is replicated in these amendments, is the whole concept of game: The idea that there would be a large population of animals in New South Wales—foxes, rabbits, deer, pigs—that are not treated as feral pests to be controlled and, where possible, eradicated or at least reduced to negligible numbers wherever possible on public land, but instead are protected and treated as harvestable game animals with entire species being promoted. We know that recreational hunters have been prosecuted for seeding pig populations and releasing deer onto public land to get their game populations together. We know from genetic studies that have been done by at least one decent government department—the Department of Primary Industries in Western Australia—that the genetic pattern of feral pigs in Western Australia can only be explained by the active promoting and seeding of populations there.

This Government is not interested in looking at that issue because that would highlight the obvious conflict in its policy of promoting game animal hunting and what the great bulk of landowners and the general public in New South Wales want—rational feral pest control. We say: Treat feral pests as feral pests, deal with them as feral pests and control them at a population level, but do not treat them as sets of game species to be actively managed, actively harvested and actively promoted so that a very small minority of shooters in New South Wales can have their sport on public land. We have proposed amendments that would amend the Game and Feral Animal Act to remove the reference to game animals and game hunting licences and instead insert what should have always been there—references to feral pest hunting licences and to feral pest animals.

But the Government, in its ideologically hidebound commitment to the Shooters and Fishers Party, has refused to even consider it. We have circulated amendments, which are opposed by the Government, that would wind back the ridiculous June 2012 amendments, which resulted in widespread genuine concern across the breadth of the community at the Government’s initial proposal to let a whole bunch of recreational shooters—with no competency tests, no proof that they could distinguish a feral pest animal from a native animal, no eyesight tests, no nothing—be released into national parks to hunt feral pests, notwithstanding that those national parks are places where millions and millions of New South Wales residents and international visitors want to be able to go in safety, free from the risks of having recreational hunters take pot shots—accidental pot shots—at them.

If there are no eyesight tests and no competency tests then heaven help the rest of the public if this Government goes ahead with its proposal to unleash recreational hunters in New South Wales national parks. Despite the Government’s promises that it was going to introduce world’s best practice on regulating a supervised hunting regime in national parks, as with so many of the Government’s promises there is nothing in the legislation about that. At least the Shooters and Fishers Party is right: This mob is not to be trusted. [Time expired.]

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