Shooters were caught drunk and on drugs
Taking aim: The NSW government is going to allow amateur hunters into 79 national parks. Photo: Craig Sillitoe
Licensed shooters have been caught with prohibited firearms, using drugs and alcohol, and trespassing on restricted land, official reports reveal, as the NSW government prepares to expand amateur hunting of feral animals into national parks.
Documents released under freedom of information laws describe almost a dozen examples of serious transgressions last year that were considered by the Game Council NSW, which is responsible for issuing hunting licences.
In one case a licensed hunter was caught drunk behind the wheel of his vehicle in a state forest last July, while his passenger shot a semi-automatic rifle out of the window at night, using a laser sight and a prohibited silencer.
Hunters would only be allowed in the least visited areas: John Mumford.
Other incidents include illegal hunting in national parks, use of cannabis while hunting illegally with dogs in a state forest and an unlicensed 17-year-old being allowed to shoot deer while supervised by his licensed father.
The incidents, outlined in Game Council business papers released to the NSW Greens, will raise further questions about the introduction of amateur hunting into 79 national parks and reserves.
Last week the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, announced a review of the governance of the Game Council, which will delay the start of the program until at least June.
The review was launched after it was revealed in January that two senior Game Council employees were under investigation for allegedly driving across a national park into private land in outback NSW, where they illegally shot a goat. One employee was later cleared and reinstated.
Mr O'Farrell told Parliament that an investigation found evidence of illegal activity by a Game Council employee and a council volunteer. The report has been passed to the police.
Labor, the Greens, the Public Service Association and the National Parks Association are all opposed to allowing amateur hunters into national parks.
On Friday the chairman of the Game Council, John Mumford, defended the program, arguing it had been run successfully for the past six years in state forests. He said hunters would be allowed only in the least visited areas.
''I have absolutely no doubt that the same program can be run successfully in the national park with no adverse impacts on the experience of other people who wish to use the park,'' he said.
In relation to illegal hunting, Mr Mumford said there was ''a big difference between somebody who goes through the process of being legal, going through hunter education programs, joining clubs and going the extra yard to do things right, and somebody who is a criminal''.
The confidential Game Council documents show that the licensed hunter caught last July was stopped at 9.35pm and breath-tested. He was later charged with mid-range drink driving.
A search of the vehicle found a spotlight and a semi-automatic .22 calibre rifle. The Game Council report says the rifle was ''fitted with a laser sight and silencer''.
The Game Council recommended the cancellation of his hunting licence and that he be disqualified from holding or obtaining a hunting licence for 10 years.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said the documents reveal ''a culture of booze, drugs and reckless use of firearms which show just how dangerous the growing gun and hunting culture is''.
He called for the review of the Game Council to be expanded to include ''the reckless hunting culture that it has been oversighting for more than a decade''.
A spokeswoman for the Game Council NSW said more than 26,000 written permissions to hunt on declared public land were issued in 2012 and there was a compliance rate of 99.9 per cent. ''The behaviour of the vast majority of hunters has been correct and to the law; there is no reason for this good behaviour not to continue.''
Jump in licences
The number of licences issued each year for shooting on declared public land in NSW has surged since state forests were opened to recreational hunting of feral animals in 2006.
Figures compiled from freedom of information requests and annual reports of the Game Council NSW by the group Gun Control Australia show the number of restricted hunting licences issued annually has jumped from 2770 in 2006 to 14,325 last year. A restricted licence allows hunting on either private or public land, while a general licence is for private land only.
The number of written permissions to enter declared state forests for hunting has risen from 92 in 2005-06 to 26,093 last year.
Gun Control Australia spokeswoman Samantha Lee said it was ''a case of build it and they will come, or in this case, open it up and they will hunt. Not just in the hundreds but in the thousands.''