Illustration: Cathy Wilcox
THE Premier has called a halt to the introduction of hunting in national parks, ordering a review into the organisation overseeing it, after initial investigations found evidence suggesting an employee was engaged in illegal activity.
Barry O'Farrell told Parliament on Thursday he had ordered the review of governance at the Game Council NSW after an investigation into alleged illegal hunting by two of its senior employees on a property in outback NSW.
The introduction of hunting in national parks now has been delayed until at least June. Opponents called for the plan to be scrapped.
Premier Barry O'Farrell ... ordered review. Photo: Lee Besford
In January Fairfax Media revealed that police were investigating Andy Mallen and Greg McFarland over claims they crossed a national park and onto private property in a council vehicle and killed a goat. There have been further revelations about the safety measures intended for the hunting program.
The pair was suspended by the Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson.
Mr Mallen, a game manager with the council, was later cleared of wrongdoing and reinstated after supplying proof to police that he was in Sydney at the time of the alleged incident.
But Mr McFarland, who was the council's communications manager and acting chief executive, was the subject of continuing investigations.
Mr O'Farrell told Parliament the report by the Internal Audit Bureau said there was evidence of ''alleged illegal activities'' by one Game Council employee, whom he did not name, and a Game Council volunteer. A copy of the report was given to police on Monday.
Mr O'Farrell said the report also identified ''possible breaches of Game Council policies and procedures, information which raises questions about governance procedures within the Game Council''.
A senior public servant, Steve Dunn, has been engaged to review governance of the council and report by May 31.
''Given the Game Council's role in the supplementary pest control program in national parks … this program will not commence until the review by Mr Dunn has been completed and a government response announced,'' Mr O'Farrell said.
The opposition spokesman on the environment, Luke Foley, welcomed the announcement but called on Mr O'Farrell to scrap the program. ''Don't suspend it - end it,'' Mr Foley said.
A Greens MP, David Shoebridge, said the government should also suspend amateur hunting of feral animals in state forests. ''Despite millions of dollars being spent on the Game Council, in the decade of amateur hunting in state forests not one feral population has been successfully controlled,'' he said.
Justin McKee, the campaign co-ordinator for the National Parks Association of NSW, said the suspension of the program was not good enough. ''We need to see a definitive end to recreational hunting in NSW before more taxpayer money is spent or a life is lost,'' he said.
A spokeswoman for the Game Council said it would co-operate fully with the review.
''The council looks forward to an outcome that further enhances its services and ability to meet its statutory obligations while ensuring ongoing public confidence in the regulatory process,'' she said.
Last year Mr O'Farrell announced 79 national parks and reserves would be opened to amateur hunting of feral animals, including pigs, dogs, foxes and deer, under a deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party to pass the government's electricity legislation.
The controversial program was due to begin on Friday but a risk assessment process being overseen by the Office of Environment and Heritage delayed its start date until May.
A leaked early draft of the assessment revealed there was a high risk of hunters and park visitors being injured or killed.
On Monday an updated draft was leaked, revealing that the Office of Environment and Heritage was considering allowing hunters to use silencers on firearms to reduce the disturbance to park visitors.
Mr O'Farrell quickly ruled out the proposal, which would have required a loosening of prohibitions designed to prevent the silencers falling into criminal hands.