17 October 2023

Brumby recommendations divide opinions in final Senate inquiry report

| Edwina Mason
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Wild horses running across the Snowy Mountains plains

The federal Senate inquiry report says legislative inconsistencies between the federal and NSW governments were a significant complicating factor in the management of feral horses in the Australian Alps. Photo: File.

A joint Senate inquiry examining the impacts and management of feral horses, also known as wild horses or brumbies, in the Australian Alps has released its findings with 14 recommendations.

But the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee inquiry was unable to strike a unanimous verdict, with dissenting Coalition senators submitting their own set of nine recommendations based on their concerns about the veracity and neutrality of the eight-month probe.

The seven-person committee consisted of two Labor and three Coalition senators, as well as Greens chair Sarah Hanson-Young and ACT Independent David Pocock, who instigated the inquiry in April 2023.

While the Labor-endorsed final report has encouraged greater collaboration between Australia’s alpine region states and territory – NSW, Victoria and the ACT – a majority of the recommendations empower the Federal Government with greater overarching environmental controls.

This includes proposals for a national wild horse impact and population assessment by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW); listing habitat degradation, competition and disease transmission by wild horses as a Key Threatening Process – a major threat to the Australian environment – and the introduction of a national framework, termed the Threat Abatement Plan, to reduce the threat of horses in the Australian Alps.

The recommendations include the Commonwealth spearheading national management plans for the protection of heritage-listed areas such as the Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves.

This would include increased monitoring and recovery plans for Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)-listed species, such as the Stocky Galaxias and Southern Corroboree Frog, and includes amendments to the act to factor in international obligations including the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

READ ALSO Call for NPWS to stop brumby cull in face of ‘flawed’ population count

The report also recommends the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) measure, monitor and record the quality of basin water resources in and flowing from the Australian Alps, and undertake an immediate assessment of the condition of the Hume Reservoir catchment, with particular reference to the impact of wild horses.

There are calls for increased federal funding for wild horse management in NSW and Victoria, investment in the Invasive Species Council-powered Feral Scan to develop a platform for the monitoring and logging of horses, and amendments to the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan to allow the use of aerial shooting in NSW.

Other recommendations include Indigenous representation on the Australian Alps Liaison Committee and state government safety and protection measures for parks and law-enforcement staff.

A mob of wild horses on a hill

Dissenting senators said the desire for pro-brumby advocates to work with state and territory governments to develop an agreeable action plan relating to the control of brumby numbers in the Australian Alps was not reciprocated by the government departments and anti-brumby groups. Photo: File.

But Nationals Senator Ross Cadell and the Liberals’ Holly Hughes have challenged the inquiry’s reliance on population count methodologies and data, which they say is implausible, unreliable and inadequate, or out of date, and potentially overplayed the current impact of the wild horses on the environment.

They also claim that during the two days of public inquiry, substantially less time and respect were afforded to pro-brumby advocates than other witnesses, with some unnecessarily questioned extensively on their credibility and qualifications.

“Unfortunately, we also therefore do not regard it as an epiphany or even as a surprise that the content of the Majority Report has fallen strongly on the side of those witnesses advocating for significant brumby culling,” they said.

Their recommendations include compliance with more complex statistical modelling techniques; evaluation of alternative methods of horse population control, including investment in developing humane non-lethal control, including funds for the NSW Government to support control methods other than aerial shooting; three-yearly impact evaluation studies, use of federally funded drone technology for ongoing monitoring, and legal advice on Commonwealth involvement in state and territory matters.

They also said the MDBA was already empowered to undertake research detailed in the Senate report and those recommendations were an example of the Commonwealth extending itself into areas that already had designated authority.

ACT Independent Senator David Pocock offered four further recommendations: the urgent repeal of the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act 2018; all jurisdictions adopt a zero-tolerance approach to feral horse management; immediate and ongoing funding to the ACT Government for continuing feral horse monitoring and management; and an amendment of the EPBC Act to add “the failure to act”, as a definition of ”action”, where the result of that failure is likely or known to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance.

READ ALSO New NSW inquiry to probe aerial wild horse shooting proposal, count methodology

The Invasive Species Council has welcomed the report, which comes ahead of a decision to be made in the coming weeks by NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe on whether to allow aerial control of feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park.

Invasive Species Council advocacy manager Jack Gough said urgent action was now required before native animals became extinct and alpine streams were trashed beyond repair.

“No-one likes to see animals killed, but the sad reality is that we have a choice to make between urgently reducing the numbers of feral horses or accepting the destruction of sensitive alpine ecosystems and habitats, and the decline and extinction of native animals,” he said.

Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said she was still considering the Senate committee’s findings.

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Jane Chappell10:59 am 18 May 24

Once there has been an independent scientific peer reviewed quantifiable impact study completed then decisions on numbers and acceptable methods of humane euthanasia could be employed. As it stands the only independent peer reviewed assessment of brumby numbers has been done by Rocky Harvey…the estimates from Cairns employed by gov shows a clear bias towards extermination…and one has to question his methods as those who reviewed his methodology did. That there could be 90% difference in numbers begs the question…who has an agenda in this saga…clearly ISC NPWS Greens and Penny Sharpe. Evidence from other countries and those abutting KNP clearly disagree with the evidence NSW gov has used to justify an abhorrent violent traumatic cull of a sentient being. Our gov owes it to the public to provide a more humane method of euthanasia if the impact study even suggests culling which in light of evidence from other countries and population estimates is unlikely.

Philip in Narooma4:18 pm 22 Oct 23

I have been a regular visitor to KNP, especially the Long plain, Currango region, both as a fisherman and a walker since the late ‘60s. As a Veterinarian I was always interested in watching the brumbies and their effects on the rivers and streams. In my opinion they haven’t substantially increased in numbers since the mid ‘90s as the carrying capacity of that region isn’t good enough. This is a crucial issue in any discussion about any livestock (including brumbies) – what is the carrying capacity of the ‘paddocks’ they are in. Especially as the ‘long plain’ is unimproved and the horses have no supplementary feeding.

So after 140 plus years of horse presence they must have attained an equilibrium. In good feed years the numbers increase, bad years the numbers decrease. To claim a massive sustained increase since, say 2000, is not correct. The energy levels in the available feed is just not there.

Many of the cull proponents claim their statistics are correct. ‘because the government scientists have no ulterior motive’. Some DPI (Fishery) scientists used false data sets and poor methodology between 2003 and 2007 to get the Grey Nurse shark declared ‘critically endangered’. The false premise was exposed in 2007.

I am very used to statistical methodology and have looked at the both arguments and counts. In the very high counts there are some fairly ‘interesting’ methodologies used. The high numbers are unlikely to be correct. Personal observation and what is called ‘ground-truthing’ are very hard to show a rapid or large increase in numbers in 25 years.

I would like to speak also to the feral horses on the Bogong High Plains which Ms Nuske states elsewhere are descendants of Australian War Horses. The facts are Osborne Young had up to 2000 horses on the Bogong High Plains and many were sold as remounts to the Indian Army. Young retired and sold his lease to the McNamarra’s before WW1. He took his horses off the high plains but some were not able to be caught. The McNamarra’s do not appear to have been very successful (from historic accounts) at breeding and selling horses and introduced coloured (black and white) lines which were not considered suitable for the military.
In the years that followed feral horses were mustered for the Omeo rodeo and that is where the term ‘Buck runner’ came from. What happened to all the horses after the rodeo? Some quick dollars in the pocket from the knackery maybe? Ken Connelly (who was in the Man from Snowy River movie as a stunt rider) admitted on camera he seeded new stock into the Bogongs and I have a first hand account of a mare with a cow bell in feral mob.
Is this the cultural heritage you are seeking to preserve? It is all a human construct without foundation. The Australian Brumby Alliance brought action against Parks Vic in the Federal court and failed to prove any historic significance to these horses.

The Bogong High Plains will recover in time from over grazing and the continued threat of horses once they are gone. It is a beautiful place. Parks Vic are working to control deer and other pest species but the constant resistance to any horse control will continue to be a threat. I would encourage everyone to visit the area, particularly Ms Nuske who seems to not know much about the area.

Although not an Alpine area, did you know the Barmah forest on the Murray is recognized under the Ramsar treaty and is Federally protected yet it is home to hundreds of feral horses that continue to cause damage. Marilyn Nuske wants you to believe these horses have cultural significance because they are descendants of Australian war horses but in the 1950’s a survey of horses in Barmah was conducted and 20 were found. All had the brand of the local trotting stable, H. Adams. Protecting horses in Barmah would be a tribute to the trotting industry. All I can say is do some fact checking before you take for granted anything Ms Nuske says. It appears she is simply obsessed with horses and blames everything else for the damage. I have read a comment from her that feral horses have rounded soft hooves. Seriously? Have a look at the images of those dead horses in KNP. Some pretty sharp hooves there. I have no doubt Ms Nuske wants to believe what she says but the evidence does not back it up and she would not admit to it anyway.

patricia gardiner1:25 pm 18 Oct 23

ONE feral horse is too many.

Marilyn Nuske9:23 am 18 Oct 23

The stocky Galaxias are in fact under threat from introduced trout that consume the small native fish to the point the small fish is now facing extinction.
The trout were introduced to offer fishing, enjoyed by some of those who lobby against brumbies. (Watch the fly casting scene in ABC production “Feral”)
Time for the Truth. Stop blaming brumbies, they belong.

Like always you conveniently forget to mention the catastrophic effects of horses in the decreasing habitat for this fish. The Stocky also has a native fish predator but it is recognized the Stocky is restricted due to trout. Unfortunately the area it inhabits is also facing degradation by horses and recently many were shot in this exact area. Horses are known to be a principal cause of riparian bank erosion and stream sedimentation. I am not saying horses are then only problem but horses are a significant problem and should be dealt with. https://www.dcceew.gov.au/environment/biodiversity/threatened/action-plan/priority-fish/stocky-galaxais

How can an introduced and invasive species that is domestically abundant be considered as belonging to the natural environment that has evolved over tens of thousands of years? Thousands of horses are sent to the knackery every year because they cannot run fast enough. Horses were hunted in Australia by our pioneer farmers because they were considered pests. Perhaps that is the cultural heritage you should embrace instead of the construct you and your followers of a B grade movie have chosen. And for the record, the poem you so often quote (yes, the one responsible for the movie) is all about feral horses stealing prized stock and the trouble these horses were. Get over the romantic notions and start putting some consideration into the protection of natural species from extinction.

I am pleased to see a more balanced article on this issue

There can be no ‘balance’ between feral animals & our native ecosystems. Ground & arieal shooting of all feral animals is needed.

It’s odd when someone is against something they start questioning the science. A tactic to distract from the facts.

Stop The Obviously Cruel Brumby Cull3:54 pm 17 Oct 23

Clearly you are not aware of the complete IMBALANCE of the reporting of the Brumby issue these past years given overly well funded groups like the Invasive Species Council (who are completely fine with animal cruelty) have so much money to spread their lies and propaganda, while those of us that know the truth do what we can to get the Balance that is NOT there yet in the media.

Marilyn Nuske5:15 pm 17 Oct 23

The only peer reviewed impact study directly about brumbies has been treated with scorn because it didn’t say what the Invasive Species Council wanted.
The “ Feral Scan” recommended by the Cth can be traced to ISC.

Marilyn Nuske5:18 pm 17 Oct 23

There was an impact study produced showing 1% impact by brumbies in the Bogong high plains. I don’t know what science you are reading, but you need to read new science, not stick to the old rhetoric and fake reports

The report you speak of was commissioned and paid for by the Australian Brumby Alliance. The science you speak of was flawed and the report provided the answer the money requested. I have seen the damage on Bogong High Plains first hand but I doubt you have. You rely on selected images provided by people who align with your agenda. Go for a walk to Youngs Hut. The damage at the headwaters of the Bundara River was caused by horses. Horses do not belong in our National Parks.

Marilyn Nuske3:18 pm 17 Oct 23

It is refreshing to read the beginnings of truth about the Senate Inquiry and the presence of brumbies in the Australian Alpine Park.
I gave evidence at the Hearing.
I was appalled when the 45 min allocated time for 4 witnesses was abruptly cut short, yet a multitude of witnesses gave evidence against brumbies.
Clearly the Commonwealth are gunning for greater power over States.
Evidence from a biostatistician that alleged brumby numbers are flawed, with an explanation why, has been disregarded, not even in Hansard.
Peer reviewed pro brumby Scientific evidence has been treated scornfully
Some questions were unrelated to the purpose of the Inquiry, with confidential material being used. This was not a Court of Law and had it been, objections would have been raised, and I did after, but not even the courtesy of a reply to a formal objection has been received.
I shall be taking my concerns further.
Brumby opposers, Invasive Species Council control the ABC and most media, as well as Environment Ministers, so it is good to see some balanced reporting

Stop The Obviously Cruel Brumby Cull3:54 pm 17 Oct 23

Yes the Senate Process was a complete Sham.

I know you are very passionate about this issue but having read all the information which includes that on your facebook page I can say you are absolutely deluded. I visit the areas destroyed by horses and I also see the damaged caused by other feral animals. When was the last time you did that? Horses are causing so much more damage than all of these combined but it is your obsessed love for horse that is blinding you. I love all my horses and have had horses for longer than you. Horses are a domestic animal and have no place in our National Parks. You make up stories about these horses having some heritage value but in fact they are descendants of the escaped and unwanted. The true cultural history, that history you will not admit, is these feral horses were slaughtered in the thousands by the pioneer settlers because they were considered a pest. Even Banjo Patterson admitted this. Feral horses were rejected by our military and for good reason. Banjo tells us why and he should know given he was in charge of the horse remounts during WW1. Stop lying to the Australian public to gain sympathy. The only number that should matter is zero. That is the number of horses we should have in our national parks. Any other number is just as irrelevant as the National Party.

Marilyn Nuske7:43 am 18 Oct 23

You don’t speak for most Peter. The persecution of brumbies by those who blame them for our arrival in Australia, is the woke delusion my friend.
Brumbies belong in this country as much as you and I. Recent science of Dr David Berman has proven by way of an impact study, any so called “impact” is in fact minimal. Numbers claimed are false, as proven by a biostatistical report of Claire Galea. The brumby persecution is causing community division, yet most indigenous including those who served as Lighthorsemen, support the presence of brumbies.
May I suggest you read current peer reviewed science, not rhetoric.

You claim all science that does not support your view to be false but quote one flawed paper paid for by the Australian Brumby Alliance and conducted by a self confessed feral horse supporter. I don’t speak for any who support your view but you will be surprised how many feel the same as I do. There is a groundswell of support for decisive action against the feral invasive species you want to protect. Numbers are only relevant to you and those who think this way. In Victoria the actual number of feral horses allowed by legislation in National Parks is zero. In KNP no more than 3000 are allowed in 32% of the park but lets just see what happens when the legislation protecting feral horses is removed. One small mob can cause damage to stream banks but you would never have seen this up close.

You say horses have greater rights than any other introduced species including man. Can you take up permanent residence in a National Park? No, but you believe horses can. Why not put cattle and sheep back up there as well. The horses are descendants of those escaped or long abandon for economic reasons not war horses. Would you let your cat run free in a National Park? No difference.

You reference a persecution of horses but I don’t understand who you are referring to. Would that be indigenous people? Feral horses do stand as a symbol to some people (and from my observation the could include you) but are you suggesting removing horses from National Parks is in someway removing the influence of white settlement? Could it not be simply that people see our National Parks as needing protection. Small places where unique things live. Horses are not unique. Killing horses didn’t seem to bother our European settlers when the feral horses destroyed fences, competed for grazing or stole stock. How things have changed. You support a manufactured cultural view that does not align with history. Should we start whaling again?

Your arguments are hollow and not based in any fact. I would never expect you to change but maybe someone else will because I have challenged you. Put some actual facts forward. What you call facts are easily debunked. I read what has been said about Sandy, the only war horse to return to Australia, being born on the Bogongs. Lies. He came from Tallangatta on the Murray and did not see a day of action. You have stated 130,000 brumbies went to war. More lies. These were horses purposely bred all over Australia, not feral horses.

Stop The Obviously Cruel Brumby Cull2:45 pm 17 Oct 23

Senators Cadell and Hughes are absolutely spot in terms of the pre-determined process that was that Inquiry of Plibersek’s. And they would know. The ALP’s Plibersek and Pocock want all Brumbies dead, and they don’t care how that happens, cruelty is clearly part of their blackhearted goals and agenda. Ask for a single image of a dead or injured Native animal caused by a Brumby and you will get nothing. Ask for proof of the 18,000+ Brumbies in the KNP and they will duck for cover knowing the Cairns Survey is fundamentally flawed, then when they are obliged to ‘recount’ they say they will use the same proven flawed methodology. Yet still the NSW MP Penny Sharpe slaughters on the back of numerous lies as she ignores the FACT that the casual grazing of Brumbies in the KNP potentially SAVES tens of thousands of Native Flora and Fauna from out of control Bushfires. Did they learn nothing a couple of years ago ?

This is just more rubbish rhetoric. Horses do not control bushfires nor do they protect native animals from fires. One minute the feral horse advocates are crying because they say horses have been burnt in fires and the next they say horses prevent fires. The grazing reduces blazing myth has been busted but the slow and painful death (read extinction) of many animals is clear. The senate inquiry showed conclusively that horses cause damage that lead to extinction of species and they should be controlled like all the other feral and invasive species. Shooting the other feral pests from helicopters is apparently not cruel but it is cruel to shoot horses.

People need to look at the damage instead of protesting on the back of children’s books, a couple of poems and a B grade movie. You are advocating the protection of a domestically abundant animal and one that is sent to the knackery every week because it is not fast enough. Put your effort into saving race horses instead, like I have.

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