(Bills - Second Reading Debate, 5 June 2018, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill 2018 will give the wild horses living in the Kosciuszko National Park cultural and heritage value. A heritage management plan will be created for the horses, which will override other management plans for the national park where there is inconsistency. Culling of the horses will stop, and protecting them will be a priority regardless of any conflict with the biodiversity of the unique alpine and subalpine regions.
At face value, this bill pits environmentalist against animal welfare defender. The horses are doing serious irreversible damage in the Snowy Mountains, particularly around water sources, and are putting 27 threatened species at risk from habitat loss. At the same time, culling the horses can involve cruelty, particularly from aerial shooting and roping.
The Threatened Species Scientific Committee identified serious damage in the Kosciuszko National Park from the wild horse populations. It recommended a new management approach and called for a reduction in their numbers. The 2016 draft management plan sought to strike a balance between protecting the region's biodiversity and retaining horses in the national park. Part of the plan involved reducing numbers, and part of the plan involved identifying areas that could accommodate horses and areas that must remain off limits.
The Government has said that under this bill it will now manage wild horses solely by relocating them to areas that can accommodate them. There is little information on how this will work or how wild horses will be prevented from growing in numbers and spreading to areas they will damage. The Government says that it must override the draft management plan to prevent cruelty from culling. But the Government does not have to adopt the draft management plan and can use whatever control method it considers fair.
Meanwhile the Government subsidises horseracing, which causes significant suffering from harsh training regimes and track injuries. Furthermore, cruelty to animals considered pests or feral is not limited to horses in the Snowy Mountains—horrible culling methods on introduced species are common. Rabbits, for example, are poisoned with 1080 and Pindone and infected with calicivirus; these result in slow and painful death. Surely the focus should be on reducing cruelty in population management of feral animals rather than singling out a certain animal in certain location that we think worthy of escaping cruelty.
Not enough has been done to advance humane population control. The Government refused to support my Animal Welfare (Population Control Programs) Bill 2014 for trap-neuter-return [TNR] programs which would have allowed community volunteers to desex animals in a colony so that they stop breeding. TNR has proven to stabilise and reduce cat numbers in colonies and there is growing evidence of success in other situations. My bill presented new opportunities to understand the science behind TNR and apply it beyond street cats to other situations. There could have been opportunities for wild horses in the Snowy Mountains.
In his second reading speech, the Minister said that fertility control measures for wild horses are still evolving but they have been used across the American rangeland with promising results. More investment is needed in fertility control but I am concerned that giving the wild horses heritage and cultural values will result in fewer resources and trials because reducing wild horse populations will be contrary to the heritage protections required under this bill. Other humane population control methods could also suffer. If wild horse populations grow significantly, we will have a serious problem to deal with in the future that risks creating support for cruel mass culling. More humane methods, which take longer to show success, will not have been advanced and will unlikely be adopted.
I am concerned that the bill will prevent holistic and scientific management of the Kosciuszko National Park for biodiversity protection because protecting the horses will have to be prioritised.
All plans of management for this ecologically unique and fragile protected national park will have to recognise the horses as culturally significant. Environment groups see the bill as a significant downgrade to protection of an area that is already at risk. The national park is under immense pressure from climate change and there are multiple proposed new threats, including walking and cycling trails, ski resorts, and the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro extension project. Logging could even return to the adjacent Murray Valley National Park. The Wild Horse Community Advisory Panel's role and the way it will interact with the Threatened Species Scientific Committee or the Independent Technical Reference Group are unclear. However, it is clear that the panel will be involved in decisions about horse management. And yet, it will not include an environmental representative as an expert despite the potential environmental destruction that can be caused if horses are not managed properly.
Animals should always be treated as beings that can suffer and feel pain and that need to be able to act out their behaviours. This should be the case regardless of whether they are used for agriculture, for racing, bred for sale as a pet, or are an introduced species or cultural icon. If the only way to protect animals from cruelty is to give them special heritage status then we cannot call our society humane. The focus in dealing with wild horses must be to expand a range of humane population control measures. This bill will do nothing in the field of humane population management, but it could let wild horse populations expand unchecked. Threatened animal species are at risk and the current problem is only going to be harder to deal with in the future. This bill is not the way to protect animals. Indeed, it could make them worse off and I cannot support it.
To read the speeches of other Members on the subject, click HERE
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