(Contribution to debate, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I welcome the move to abolish the Game Council; however, there is widespread disappointment in the Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill 2013. Recreational hunting on public land is a major concern for many of my constituents. People who live in the inner city care about the natural environment of all of New South Wales. They visit national parks and are concerned about declining biodiversity in New South Wales, which has impacts for the whole State and globally. They are also concerned about the pain and suffering of animals in our care.
Under the bill, licensing, hunter education, and compliance and enforcement functions will be transferred from the Game Council to the Department of Primary Industries. This is in response to serious findings of inherent conflicts of interest between the Game Council's roles as the hunters' regulator and the hunters' representative, and of its lack of proper governance, strategic planning, compliance and risk-management frameworks.
It was always bad policy to fund and set up a body of recreational hunters to control and regulate hunting on public land. But the bill establishes a new board to provide advice to the Minister on game and feral animal control and hunting on public land, which many are concerned will enable hunters to continue to dictate how and when hunting can occur on public land in this State—essentially doing the same thing as the Game Council but under a different umbrella. The Game and Pest Management Advisory Board will have eight ministerial appointees with regional representation and expertise, and skills and knowledge in pest management, wildlife, veterinary science, hunting, education and community engagement. Game hunters' interests will be represented on the board but it is not clear whether animal welfare advocates, environmental organisations and scientists who specialise in feral animal populations will have a position.
It is a well-known fact that ad hoc killing of feral animals has no impact on overall populations. In fact, it can do harm if gun shots disperse animals into other areas, where they create new problems and are harder to control. Their removal can also make way for other feral animals of the same or different species. Game hunting on public land never involved the development of a strategic program in consultation with environmentalists, scientists and wildlife experts, in which hunting would target only specific animals at specific times in specific places. Supporters of recreational hunting who say it is about conservation and reducing the population of introduced species need to question why not one single environmental conservation organisation supports the Game and Feral Animal Control Act and why each considers it more damaging to the natural environment. It is time governments stopped pretending that recreational hunting helps in any way. It has no effect on introduced animal populations, and without that effect it is merely a government-subsidised blood sport.
Recreational hunting has drained funds from coordinated and strategic pest management and eradication programs. As well, it has drained funds from research and expansion of humane strategies such as fertility control and trap, desex and release. I welcome the Government's commitments made in July to restrict hunting in national parks to a three-year trial in 12 national parks, within which all pest control programs, including hunting, will be under the control, management and terms of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. But the Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill 2013 should legislate these changes to give the community an assurance that promises will not be withdrawn without the scrutiny of Parliament, should the Government seek to make another deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party. There is no reason not to legislate this trial. The bill should also have made hunting in State forests subject to the same restrictions, with experts having control and management under a trial that is scientifically assessed. Instead, the bill will restore recreational hunting in State forests, where it will recommence on an ad hoc, unsupervised basis.
The Government should conduct a comprehensive review of the Game and Feral Animal Control Act to assess whether it has been effective. Citing numbers of animals killed is not a measure of success. We need scientific data on population changes over time that is measured against controlled areas and is peer reviewed. The Act should not include native birds and should not treat animals that are serious pests, such as deer, as game. Deer are often illegally released into the wild by hunters in order to ensure populations are maintained for game hunting. The Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill 2013 is a lost opportunity. It is my hope that we will see changes to hunting in national parks retained after the three-year trial and expanded into State forests.