EDITORIAL

<em>Illustration: michaelmucci.com</em>

Illustration: michaelmucci.com

THE taxpayer-funded Game Council NSW will help oversee the O'Farrell government's expansion of amateur hunting into national parks from March. The council has few staff.

In a video on YouTube the council and the government push the ''many advantages of having a hunting licence'' for $75 a year, saying ''it gives you peace of mind while hunting''.

Another council-government YouTube video is ''How to book your first hunt online''. Next to that is a link to another, titled ''Pissed Off Hog's Head Explodes with a Bullet to it's [sic] Brain!''

Click on that, as 1.73 million people have. Short of revealing detail, the caption says in part that it is an educational video with ''some beautiful footage of bay dogs being charged in a creek by a mean wild hog … until …'' The rest need not be stated.

Most gun owners and amateur hunters are law-abiding, reasonable citizens who enjoy what they regard as a legitimate sport helping to ensure environmental sustainability.

But as the YouTube video shows, the culture moves easily from the laudable to the questionable; from the excitable to the disgusting; from the scientific to the dangerous.

As a result governments and their statutory authorities should tread very warily when supporting a culture of shooting for pleasure.

Yet the Games Council website has this: ''Calling all Australian hunters, it's time for your voice to be heard. No matter where you are or what you hunt, we want to hear from you! … Hunting in this country is popular and Australian hunters have become a significant political voice as well as a growing retail market.''

That significant yet minority political voice is in effect two members of the Shooters & Fishers Party who now have the numbers, with the Christian Democrats, to force the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, into ill-advised decisions. They led NSW into the dangerous territory of considering the promotion of gun culture in public high schools and now the spread of amateur hunting into national parks.

The Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, sneaked the news of the March starting time for the plan into a pre-Christmas news release last Friday. The new laws came into effect on Thursday, less than a week later.

At present, applicants for an R-licence to hunt in the 400 declared state forest and Crown land areas of NSW must not have a serious criminal record in the past 10 years but need only sit only an open-book test. That is barely enough.

Now a draft risk assessment from Parker's department signals dangers in extending amateur shooting of feral animals to 79 national parks outside the metropolitan area. National Parks and Wildlife Service staff plan action to alert the public to the risks.

High among them is the chance that visitors to national parks will be shot. While state and Crown lands attract about 1.2 million visitors each year, the proposed national parks attract between 6 million and 7 million.

The department's risk assessment correctly rejects the use of the Game Council online booking system for shooting in national parks and proposes stronger controls such as new paperwork for each visit and exclusion zones around heavily used areas.

Shooting would be allowed in the most visited A-zone parks only if initiated and directed by national park staff. The less risky B zone would require briefings, extra training and more hunting experience, and zone C would have fewer controls.

Park-by-park assessment is proposed, along with bright clothing to alert shooters and the public to imminent danger. These proposals are better than nothing but well short of risk free.

What's more, for all the arguments prosecuted to support the use of amateur hunters to cull feral animals, there is scant evidence it is effective.

The department has signalled the risk that more shooting could create a surplus of rotting carcasses in heavily hunted areas, which would increase feral populations, not reduce them.

The dangers in extending amateur shooting to national parks are also many times that of the existing risks for gun use on state and Crown land. The size of bureaucracy needed to police this extended hunting is huge and expensive relative to the benefits of any amateur culling of feral animals.

Getting the Game Council to work effectively with the national parks service will be problematic. And, for all the claims that legal hunting is better than illegal hunting, alcohol-fuelled miscreants can hardly ever be controlled.

Most of all, the spread of legal amateur hunting to national parks requires even greater government validation of the practice, with all the risks inherent in the dark side of its culture.