National parks shooting backflip

Premier Barry O’Farrell has denied the government’s policy to allow licensed shooters in national parks has put the seat of Blue Mountains in danger for the Liberal Party.

The government last week announced licensed shooters would be allowed in 79 of the state’s national parks, nature reserves and conservation areas in a deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party to gain support for a Bill to privatise the State’s electricity assets.

While Blue Mountains National Park is not on the list, the decision has been criticised by the Opposition, conservationists and the NSW Public Service Association.

When asked if the decision put state MP Roza Sage’s job at risk in such an environmentally sensitive seat, Mr O’Farrell disagreed.

“No. This is a sensible conservation policy, that restricted, supervised programs of feral eradication including shooting of ferals which has been happening for decades, continues under the supervision of the National Parks and Wildlife Service,” he told the Gazette at a function in Penrith on Friday.

“World Heritage and wilderness areas are not part of any proposal to extend the hunting of ferals in our national parks.

“No park near a metropolitan centre or in a metropolitan centre will be affected.

“What is happening in 79 of 799 parks and reserves is additional efforts to reduce the number of feral animals that not only destroy habitat, not only destroy native animals, but also affect adjoining farms.”

Mrs Sage said pest animal eradication was already taking place and the new rules would allow trained shooters accredited with a restricted R-licence and who were also members of an approved hunting organisation into a larger area.

Licences were not available to “anyone found guilty within the last 10 years of cruelty or harm to animals, personal violence, damage to property, unlawful entry into land or is not a fit and proper person to hold the licence” and licence holders had to adhere to a code of conduct, she said.

“I personally have seen the damage that feral animals can do when growing up on a farm,” she said in a statement. “Our prize breeding animal was mauled and killed by a wild pig.

“The Minister for the Environment will determine when, where and how volunteer pest control is conducted in the national parks estate . . . [and] what can be culled. There are fines of up to $3300 per offence and up to $220,000 for killing a threatened species.”

The government has come under fire from local Labor members, who said said Mr O’Farrell had broken a pre-election promise not to turn national parks into hunting reserves

“Prior to the 2011 election Barry O’Farrell promised to protect our national parks from hunters, but now he is turning our protected conservation areas into hunting reserves,” Blue Mountains Labor spokesperson Trish Doyle said in a statement. “He categorically stated that the generators, poles and wires would not be privatised.

“He has grossly misled the public.”

NSW Upper House deputy Labor leader Adam Searle said Premier Barry O’Farrell was “fencing with words” over the issue.

“Although the government says it will not be done [in the Blue Mountains] does not make it right to be done anywhere,” he told the Gazette. “The government has not revealed how this will be enforced or policed and how it will be done without risks to safety.

“Certainly we could be next.

“What we don’t know is what else is part of the arrangement with the Shooters and Fishers Party. Given how important electricity was to the government, I don’t think the shooters would have extracted just this one commitment.”

Blue Mountains Conservation Society members have been urged to express “strong opposition” to the policy by contacting both the premier and Mrs Sage, and a protest was held outside a community cabinet meeting in Bathurst on Monday.

The NSW Public Service Association, representing park rangers, has asked its members to withhold information and expert advice from Environment Minister Robyn Parker, labelling recreational shooting of pest animals in National Parks an “unproven, untested, expensive and unsafe activity”.