The NSW Game Council has been axed by the state’s premier, Barry O’Farrell, and all hunting on public land stopped immediately, leaving 20,000 licensed hunters in limbo.
The shock announcement yesterday was the government’s response to the Dunn Report into the Game Council’s governance, but it came at the same time as the government confirmed hunting in national parks would begin in October.
Hunters will be allowed to return to other public land under a restructured system in which the Game Council’s existing responsibilities would be split between two separate departments.
Primary Industries Minister Kristina Hodgkinson said the Dunn Report was damning of the council, and she confirmed the NSW government will adopt its key recommendations.
Game Council staff were told today that they would be transferred to the Department of Primary Industries, whose functions would be licensing, regulation, education, policy and enforcement of the hunting system.
The 18 councillors that make up the Game Council will be replaced by an eight-member Game Board “that will undertake stakeholder engagement and representation, advocate hunting, advise on research priorities and commissioning research, and provide independent advice to government,” according to Ms Hodgkinson.
The aim was to end what the Dunn Report found was an “‘inherent conflict associated with [Game Council’s] functions to both represent the interests of hunters, and to regulate their activities”.
In total, the report includes 55 recommendations, but author Steve Dunn said many of these would become little more than a “check list” under the major reforms the government will adopt.
The report also condemned the close relationship between the Game Council and the Shooters and Fishers Party, and the restructuring of the hunting system will potential take the politics out of it.
S&F MLC Robert Brown was not only a former chairman of the council, he was primarily responsible for having the statutory body set up in the first place.
Mr Brown said the S&F were not ready to comment on the government’s scrapping of the Game Council.
“We have to have a good look at it – it may even be an improvement on what we’ve got,” he said.
The S&F was aware that changes were likely in response to the Dunn Report but O’Farrell Government had not consulted with them before making its decision.
It’s not yet known what regulations and permissions would apply to hunters on public land under the Game Board and DPI, but Ms Hodgkinson confirmed that game bird management, which was undergoing change under the Game Council, will continue for now under the Office of Environment and Heritage before transferring to the DPI next year.
She confirmed that the plan was to allow recreational hunters to continue to take part in feral animal control in some form.
“The reforms announced today by the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government provide the opportunity for our primary producers, conservationists and volunteers to work in a coordinated manner across all land tenures to manage this costly and environmentally destructive problem,” she said.
“We are taking a similar ‘tenure-blind’ approach to the way bushfires are managed – better coordination of government agencies and the use of all available resources, including volunteers and professional pest management service providers.”