The Shooters and Fishers Party has enjoyed a surge in memberships since NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell enraged hunters by shutting down the Game Council, and the Liberal party is said be worried about a voter backlash.
Some sources suggest the federal Liberal party is livid about O’Farrell sparking a political war with the S&F, particularly as western Sydney, an area with a significant portion of hunters and shooters, may have a significant influence on the outcome of the federal election.
The last thing the Liberal-National coalition needs is voters turning away while Labor, under the new leadership of Kevin Rudd, enjoys a rise in support.
The S&F is currently gathering its resources and preparing its response to the O’Farrell Government, with one source close to the party saying they were incensed that O’Farrell had so blatantly backflipped on his support for hunting reforms after gaining the support of the S&F over the privatisation of power stations.
The S&F see it as another blow to shooters after the controversial Ammunition Control Bill was passed last year.
The government has stated its intention to replace the Game Council with two separate entities, one as part of the Department of Primary Industries to oversee licensing and regulation, the other an advisory Game Board.
However, there is no guarantee that hunters will be permitted to return to state forests and other gazetted public land to hunt in the same way they did under the Game Council.
The government has flagged a new risk assessment of the practice, and the influential anti-hunting lobby is now actively trying to have recreational hunting stopped on all public land.
Hunters are concerned the O’Farrell Government may bow to their pressure, setting up a scenario where the risk assessment finds recreational hunting is unacceptable; many also believe the trial of volunteer hunters working with NPWS staff in national parks is set up to fail.
The S&F would not reveal the number of new memberships received in the past week but said it was “a big spike”.
Meanwhile, angry hunters have proposed rallies outside parliament, established an online petition asking O’Farrell to stop his “attack on law abiding hunters”, and a Facebook group called Save the Game Council has already attracted over 1400 members.
“If the Game Council is dead this will be turned into a pro-active group to fight for the rights of hunting in NSW, whether it’s in state forest or national parks,” the founder of Save the Game Council, Michael Zoricic, said.