Tourism on the northern rivers will suffer dramatically and visitors to the region’s national parks could be shot dead by recreational hunters, MPs representing the Tweed-Byron area warned state parliament yesterday.
The warning came as controversial legislation allowing recreational hunters access to 79 of the state’s national parks passed the Upper House yesterday.
Greens MLC and Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham says the region relied heavily on tourism driven by world heritage national parks but its reputation would be trashed as a result of the new game and feral-animal control law now in place.
The new law, the result of what the opposition and Greens called a ‘dirty deal’ between the government and Shooters and Fishers Party, was amended to exclude council land from shooters’ access and prohibit the use of semi-automatic weapons by amateur hunters.
Three of the national parks now open to hunting in the northern rivers are the World Heritage-listed Nightcap, Richmond Range and Yabbra national parks.
Cr Barham, who is moving at the next council meeting to express concern to the government about the new law, said recreational shooting in national parks just doesn’t suit the area’s image and is a risk to public safety.
‘We’re renowned for our amazing natural environment and we encourage people from all over the world to come to our national parks and enjoy that experience of being in nature and appreciating our biodiversity.’
But she said tourists were now likely to be met with a sign saying ‘Park Closed for Shooting’.
‘This is not a good message for us and our reputation for being a natural wonderland,’ she said.
Labor’s MLC spokesman for the Tweed, Walt Secord, told parliament the law was bad, the government would regret it and communities across north coast were livid about it.
Mr Secord, a Canadian by birth and the first Native American to sit in the NSW parliament, said he grew up in a community where hunting was and continues to be ‘very much the norm’, but he doubted the environment minister could manage the new policy.
He said he agreed with the sentiments of fellow MLC, Lennox Head-based Liberal Catherine Cusack, who ‘broke ranks’ on the issue recently by calling for exemptions for the three northern rivers parks plus the world-heritage Dorrigo National Park.
But he said electorate-by-electorate exemptions were not the solution and ‘if it’s bad policy for the north coast, then it is equally bad across the state’.
Mr Secord said the area covered by the 79 parks open for hunting comprised almost 40 per cent of all the state’s parks and reserves or around ‘the size of Belgium’.
‘This was the price that Barry O’Farrell paid to the Shooters and Fishers Party to privatise the state’s electricity sector and to get his workers compensation changes,’ he said.
Cr Barham said the risks were too high to public safety as seen by the recent fatal shooting by a hunter in a New Zealand park of a camper brushing her teeth at night.
Lismore and Coffs Harbour city councils recently voted to oppose recreational hunting in their local government areas.
Gun laws call
Meanwhile, in the senate yesterday, Labor and the coalition parties voted against a Greens motion condemning the NSW government’s move and calling on the federal attorney-general to strengthen national gun laws.
Greens senators Penny Wright and Lee Rhiannon argued that strengthening uniform gun laws would help increase public safety.
Senator Wright said, ‘we need to take steps to restrict gun crime and limit the number of guns available on the legal market’.
Senator Rhiannon said ‘gun culture is gaining a hold in NSW’ as seen by the spate of recent shootings and the 24 per cent spike in the number of registered handguns.
‘Premier O’Farrell’s deal with the Shooters Party to let recreational shooters into national parks opens the door to more permissive and illegal firearm use in NSW,’ she said.
‘Feral-animal control must be evidence based and in the hands of professionals. Anything else increases the risk of injury or death to people using NSW’s special national parks.’