The Shooters and Fishers Party have the balance of power in the NSW upper house and appear to be exploiting it to threaten state parks and reserves.
The first indication of their newly gained influence was the announcement of a NSW Legislative Council inquiry into the management of public land in NSW. The previous Labor government converted a large chunk of state forests and public land into national parks and conservation areas, locking it away from recreational hunting and logging. The inquiry will question the conversion of crown land, state forests and agricultural land into national parks and other state conservation areas, and examine models for managing public land.
The Shooters and Fishers party, along with three MPs from the O’Farrell government, moved for the creation of the inquiry, and while two Labor and a Greens MP are also members, the Shooters and Fishers MP Chairs the committee and holds the balance of power.
This is worrying because the Chair and his party already have strongly held beliefs which are articulated in their policy positions on the issues in hand.
For example, in their position statement on natural resources, the Shooters and Fishers Party states that they “work to expand the agriculture, forestry and mining industries in NSW” and they believe that “sustainable forestry harvesting should be reintroduced to all state forests, National Parks and state reserves”.
They appear to pit themselves against the current managers of state parks by openly rejecting the “politically motivated intervention and interference of the NPWS [National Parks and Wildlife Service] and other unrelated government departments”.
Moreover, the Chair has lobbied to stop the creation of national parks and seeks approval for recreational hunting in national parks.
Thus, as the CEO of the National Parks Association of NSW indicates, the structure of the committee “does not instill confidence that this unwarranted review will be unbiased and its findings fair and reasoned”.
Due to this obvious conflict, the NSW government moved to alleviate concern and strongly denied that hunting would be allowed in NSW national parks. They also state that there would be no move to roll back any recent addition to NSW’s reserve system or change the conservation objectives underpinning their management. However, they did not alleviate concerns that logging could be increased in state parks and mentioned only that hunting would not be allowed in NSW “national parks” rather than in all conservation areas such as state conservation areas and regional parks.
The second indication of the Shooters and Fishers Party influence is the use of the phrase “sustainable use” in the inquiry’s terms of reference. This is a nebulous concept which could reasonably refer, amongst other meanings, to financial sustainability. A better phrase would surely be “ecologically sustainable management” which is used by the NPWS and even Forests NSW.
The term “sustainable use” is more in line with the Shooters and Fishers principles which promote “sustainable utilisation” and “sustainable forestry harvesting” in state forests, national parks and state reserves. They argue, citing the work of a single author, that human use is consistent with ecological goals because grazing, thinning, firewood collection and burning is more ecologically beneficial than “locking up” areas.
Indeed, human intervention can be important for ecosystem dynamics, especially when there is a long history of specific human interactions with specific environments. However, the ecologically sustainable management of parks incorporates these interactions and will surely achieve ecological benefits more readily than allowing humans to hunt, graze and thin in an ad hoc way.
The final indication of the Shooters and Fishers Party ascendancy is the O’Farrell government’s recent reversal of its publicly stated position on hunting in NSW national parks. The government announced that it would allow recreational shooting of feral animals in some 79 national parks and reserves. This again has ecological benefits but the NPWS already has feral animal control programs and park managers oppose recreational hunting because it interferes with their own programs, creates problems for park rangers, decreases the number of other park users such as hikers and campers, and is opposed also on animal welfare grounds.
Alarmingly, the Government readily acknowledges that this was a concession to the Shooters and Fishers Party in return for their support of the NSW Government’s privatisation of NSW power assets. This means that the opening up of one common (National Parks) to minority interests is a vehicle for privatising another (state energy infrastructure).