The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect the views of Animals Australia.
To secure passage of its electricity privatisation bill through the Legislative Council, the O'Farrell government recently sealed a deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party to allow licensed shooters into NSW national parks with the aim of helping manage feral animals. However, the deal has been widely condemned as environmentally misguided, potentially dangerous to public safety, and a betrayal of a pre-election commitment that a Coalition government would not allow hunting in NSW national parks.
That Barry O'Farrell should be forced to do deals with single-issue parties like the Shooters and Fishers will surprise many. given the emphatic nature of the Coalition's election victory last year, but as the Premier has noted, he must work within the constraints of a system of proportional representation in the Legislative Council that guarantees a representation of minor parties.
To parry criticism of the deal, the Coalition says it will impose stringent controls. Volunteer shooters will be enlisted in managed feral animal control programs but only in parks away from metropolitan, wilderness or world heritage areas. Of the state's 799 national parks, only 79 will be subject to the new arrangements, and volunteers will also be subject to strict operational rules and requirements.
The people best placed to weigh the merits of allowing recreational shooters into nature reserves - wildlife protection officers - argue that a controlled program of baiting and trapping, supported by culls by professional hunters, remains the best method of controlling feral animals. Allowing less experienced shooters into national parks would increase the likelihood of such programs being disrupted, either by allowing wounded animals to escape or causing survivors to scatter beyond the reach of control measures. There is also a risk that native animals, too, might be targeted by less disciplined shooters, or that campers or hikers could be accidentally shot.
Sport shooting remains a legitimate recreational activity, albeit one whose reputation has been blackened from time to time by irresponsible and selfish individuals. Allowing shooters limited access to national parks under strict conditions may seem a harmless enough concession, but it appears at odds with the philosophy that these public assets are intended, among other things, for the public's appreciation and enjoyment.
Having executed an unseemly backflip, the O'Farrell government is now obliged to do all it can to ensure this concession is not widened. Indeed, if the alleged benefits fail to materialise, it should look to wind it back altogether.