(Discussion on Petition, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I also welcome everyone to the public gallery to see the people's Parliament and democracy in action. This petition was signed by nearly 12,000 New South Wales residents, calling on the Government to overturn legislation regarding recreational hunting in national parks. It represents one of the strongest community campaigns in recent years.
The petition was created by the National Parks Association of New South Wales and its aims are supported by the major environment groups and animal protection groups. I would like to highlight the work of Kevin Evans and Justin McKee—who are in the gallery—and also thank the staff of the Minister for the Environment for the work they have done.
There is widespread condemnation of recreational hunting in national parks. National parks are set aside for the long-term protection of our diminishing biodiversity. Parks offer peace and quiet, fresh air, visual beauty and the opportunity to learn about native flora and fauna. People of all ages, including families and visitors from across the country and the globe, come to enjoy the unique national parks that New South Wales has to offer. They are seen as safe places and it is mindboggling that the Government has entertained the idea of allowing recreational hunters to bring guns, bows and arrows, and black powder weapons into these natural escape havens to kill animals on their own terms.
There is no question that this activity places park visitors and staff at risk of harm. Internal Government reports rate the threat of death or injury as high, and confrontation incidents as high to medium. Sufficient supervision of thousands of hunters roaming about large tracts of land, as was initially proposed, will never be possible. The aim of hunters is not the protection of our biodiversity or the peaceful enjoyment of national parks; it is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the sport of hunting. Recreational hunters enjoy killing animals for sport. There are known cases of recreational hunters releasing introduced species into the wild in order to maintain game population for future hunting.
There is no evidence that recreational hunting is an effective way to manage introduced species. Recreational hunting is an ad hoc method of pest control. It does not involve the extensive consideration of proper, scientific, introduced species management plans. Eradication of populations across a widespread area is not possible through uncontrolled, unplanned, random killing. Internal Government reports reveal that amateurs hunting in national parks would put native animals at risk of being maimed or accidentally killed. There are already many known cases of this happening in State forests. I welcome the Government's recent changes to limit the program to a three-year trial in 12 national parks within which all pest control programs, including hunting, will be controlled, managed and under terms set by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Recreational hunters should not protest. They will be able to apply to join National Parks and Wildlife Service professionals on dedicated hunting operations.
We now need a review of the Game Control Act to reflect the newly imposed restrictions so that they remain in the future and also apply to State forests. Concern exists about the way target animals are treated in pest control programs. Introduced species do not feel less pain because they have been labelled pests. Hunters do not always kill with a single shot. Some animals escape and suffer a slow and painful death, and others are shot repeatedly. Hunting is cruel. I am also concerned about other forms of pest control, including the use of Pindone and 1080, which cause immense suffering to animals. The funds the Government will invest in hunting programs in our national parks should be used to develop a compassionate solution to introduced species. Investment should be directed to developing humane pest management programs, such as fertility control and trap, de-sex and return. These strategies work. They are humane and should be implemented. We need to base pest management decisions on peer-reviewed, measurable science. There is no point engaging programs that have no effect on feral animal populations over time.
Members who support recreational hunting often cite the numbers of feral pigs, foxes, deer and goats destroyed by hunters but such figures are meaningless. If there is no difference in overall population over time, the program is mere cruelty and cannot be justified. The changes to the Game Control Act must ensure that amateur hunters and anyone under 18 cannot be granted permission to hunt on public lands in this State. With the Game Council now dissolved, funds previously dedicated to its involvement with controlling introduced species should be transferred to the National Parks and Wildlife Service to manage national parks and wilderness areas and for the wider protection of native flora and fauna. Funds allocated to the NSW Police Force to crack down on illegal hunting activity should remain for that purpose and be included in future budgets. Prior to the last election the Government promised not to support recreational hunting in national parks and this cruel, ineffective and unpopular policy should never be proposed again. I congratulate everyone involved in this campaign on their strong and concerted efforts that have led to the Government changing and improving its approach to feral animal control.