29 October 2023

Sharpe's brumby aerial cull decision labelled disrespectful and undemocratic

| Edwina Mason
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Woman with horse

NSW Upper House MP Emma Hurst says the Government acted hastily in not waiting for updated brumby population numbers, taken this month, which should have preceded any decision on aerial shooting. Photo: Emma Hurst/Facebook.

NSW Upper House MP Emma Hurst has condemned the NSW Government’s decision to begin aerial shooting of wild horses in Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) while a Senate inquiry was still in place.

The Animal Justice Party MLC said the NSW inquiry into the proposed aerial shooting of brumbies in KNP was established in August 2023 and well underway with 165 submissions received before the closing date of 13 October.

She said the inquiry offered an independent and crystal-clear deep dive into the issue and implications associated with this form of wild horse management in KNP and across the state, and NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe had shown complete disregard for the democratic process.

“For the Environment Minister to make this announcement while the inquiry is still running shows utter disrespect to the entire parliamentary process, as well as to the communities and advocates who are begging for this not to happen and haven’t had a chance to have their say as expert witnesses yet,” Ms Hurst added.

“We need to have this inquiry and we need to hear both sides of the argument, that’s part of an inquiry, that’s the whole process.”

READ ALSO NSW Government sanctions aerial shooting of Kosciuszko’s wild horses

The inquiry’s nine terms of reference include an examination of the methodology used to survey and estimate the brumby population in KNP, justification of aerial shooting for controlling numbers of brumbies in KNP, status of threatened species, impacts of aerial shooting, animal and public welfare concerns, and investigations into the history and impact of previous aerial shooting operations.

Ms Hurst said the Government had acted hastily in not waiting for updated brumby population numbers, taken this month, which should have preceded any decision on aerial shooting.

She said that alone was a red flag.

The counting methodology used in previous KNP wild horse counts was one Ms Sharpe, when in Opposition, had called into question during a 2021 NSW government inquiry into the health and wellbeing of kangaroos and other macropods in NSW.

Wild Horses

The wild horse count methodology used in Kosciuszko National Park by the NSW Government is flawed, according to independent statisticians. Image: File.

Independent biostatistician Claire Galea was also involved in the kangaroo inquiry and says the modelling methods were unreliable and flawed.

She also says it is biologically impossible for horses to reproduce at the rate being suggested by the Minister’s department.

Equine scientist Joanne Canning said official figures highlighted a brumby population increase of 37 per cent in the two years since 2020, but soon discovered that failed to take into account the number of horses removed from the park each year.

“And it meant that the annual increase would have had to be 41 per cent, based on the official counts, and that’s a biological impossibility,” Ms Canning said.

“The scientific maximum is around 20 per cent per annum and that’s in ideal conditions.”

Ms Hurst said the Government had rebuffed an offer by Ms Galea to conduct her own independent aerial count using a team of experts over four days.

“When there are people living up there telling me there are not the numbers of horses that the Minister is saying there are, when independent experts validate that and the Minister ignores all that advice in favour of a counting methodology she also knows is flawed … I just hope she has sought legal advice,” Ms Hurst said.

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

This was a serious issue and for the Environment Minister to bypass the whole process showed contempt, she said.

“A heavy-handed Government that refuses to look at all sides of a concern is not good for anyone,” Ms Hurst said.

“Aerial shooting is ruthless and inhumane. When the last Government-sanctioned aerial shooting of brumbies took place at Guy Fawkes, horses were found days later still alive with bullet wounds. This is the sort of bloodbath we will likely see again.”

She said the NSW Government had failed to uphold any of its election promises for animal protection reform.

“It is clear that animal welfare is not on their priority list, and this announcement to allow inhumane aerial shooting is just another example,” Ms Hurst said.

“Given these circumstances, it is hard to see how the Animal Justice Party can continue to work with or support the NSW Labor Government.”

Lawyer Marilyn Nuske, founder of the Brumby Action Group, said she was saddened and shocked to hear the Minister had sanctioned the aerial shooting of wild horses.

“The Minister is aware of the report by biostatistician Claire Galea, which claims the population counts of brumbies from 2014 to 2019 are flawed and led to incorrect declared population numbers,” Ms Nuske said.

“If the Minister proceeds with the barbaric act of aerial shooting, she may well be placing her Government at risk if the objectives of the act are breached by reducing populations to unsustainable numbers.”

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patricia gardiner9:22 am 30 Oct 23

Mr Barilaro and his govt should have considered public submissions, rather than making the decision to protect feral horses prior to the submission closing date.
If correct procedure was followed this disgraceful ‘save the feral horse’ plan would not have created such environmental vandalism.

It is obvious the purpose of the NSW senate inquiry was to stall any decisive action against horses in the face of the Federal senate inquiry. The NSW inquiry will not provide any new information and in my opinion is an abuse of parliamentary procedure. Ms Hurst states it is inhumane to aerial shoot horses but she has not raised any inquiry over the aerial shooting of pigs, deer and goats that has been ongoing for years. It seems horses are more popular.

We should forget about the numbers and the methods of counting. NSW legislation currently allows feral horses to occupy a third of KNP and currently they are found in more than half so the actual number of horses allowed in exclusion areas is zero. The only reason to count horses in those areas is to determine when the job is done.

The Federal senate inquiry also questioned the validity of the Wild Horse Heritage Act with the suggestion is does not comply with the federal environment Act (EPBC Act). Regardless, it was made clear that NSW has an obligation to control invasive species and horses are listed as a key threatening process. It will be impossible to remove all the horses from KNP but the sooner numbers are brought under control the sooner the park will start to heal. I have heard some advocates state there are fewer than 1000 horses left in the park. If that were true I would consider the horse to be the most destructive feral pest in the park. Far worse than pigs or deer.

There were over 11,000 submissions received as a result of the Ministerial engagement regarding aerial shooting of horses and 9,000 supported it. Only 5% (550) spoke against aerial shooting. Ms Hurst’s committee received 165 submissions. Do you really think we need to wait for the result? The people have spoken.

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