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Trust is shot for cynical NSW Premier


Hunting rifle propped on a logPeople are disillusioned by allegations of corrupt behaviour in the right wing of NSW Labor. While not all such allegations result in criminal prosecutions, their frequency damages Labor's credibility as a party dedicated to public service. Widespread cynicism makes it difficult for the party leadership to sound sincere during election campaigns. It also undermines public confidence in the ideals of democratic government and social cohesion.

Political trust is fragile and can be destroyed in many ways. Plundering state finances for private gain is an obvious one, but general mendacity works just as well.

The O'Farrell Government is repeating the mistakes of its Coalition predecessor by demonstrating ideologically driven attitudes to public assets. Critics have pointed to its actions regarding the public service, education and coal seam gas mining. But one decision stands out as being arrogant and disrespectful of the community.

In its desperation to pass legislation in an entirely unrelated area, the Government courted the votes of Shooters and Fishers Party members of the upper house by promising to allow recreational shooting in National Parks.

Minority groups have every right to press governments for policy changes. Governments need to balance such pressures against countervailing demands by other groups, general community welfare and their own ethics. But even the most cynical observers must have been appalled by the paradoxical nature of this decision. The ideals implicit in reserving areas as national parks are incompatible with recreational shooting.

What is perhaps most appalling is not so much that a government might make such a blatantly political decision, but that its spokespersons attempt to justify in terms of feral pest control. It would have been far better had spokespersons advised the people of NSW to get over it, rather than thumbing their noses at valid concerns and legitimate criticisms by citing half-truths about research and dubious guarantees of supervision.

The Government supposedly had research to hand into feral animal populations. Its reluctance to release this research before taking its decision suggests either that there was no research that would bear scientific scrutiny; that the research did not suggest that 'recreational' shooting was the answer; or that the research did not support the Government's decision about where this action is most needed.

The Government has couched its assurances in passive voice. Shooters will be supervised by ... someone. Critics fear that the government has ceded its responsibility to shooters themselves. Chances are that killing of native fauna through misidentification will go unreported, and estimates of feral animals killed will be exaggerated.

In attacking their critics, representatives of shooters have made some very irresponsible statements. If anyone is killed, and this is not unlikely given the experience in other countries, then Premier O'Farrell's position will be untenable. As it is, the Government will have the blood of threatened species on its hands.

The shooters are supposed to respect limitations on their activities; to shoot only feral animals, within specified parks and at designated times. Given the record of shooters during open duck seasons, it seems unlikely that they will adhere to these rules. Shooting, to many who engage in it, is an expression of freedom. To operate within rules limits the excitement of the hunt.

Unfortunately, there is ample evidence from around the world that men with guns present a huge threat to security, wellbeing and justice. Indulging men with guns will diminish public safety.

In recent decades, Australians have begun to engage more sincerely with this unique continent. By learning how Indigenous peoples exercised custody of the land, we've learnt respect for other species and fragile ecosystems. To walk lightly on the earth is the most urgent ethical principle needed today. The O'Farrell Government's environmental credibility has been forever undermined by its decision to let hunters loose in national parks.

Furthermore, where shooters have been, animals will come to fear humans and avoid them. The opportunity for passive interaction with and observation of fauna will disappear.

Indeed, it might well be that this decision so deters public interest in parks that the Government will claim justification for cutting funding to parks and even declassifying some areas. Such an outcome would suit the rabid pro-development lobby which holds great power in Sydney. This politics of the self-fulfilling prophesy is yet another tried and tested tactic of the cynical.

While a government might claim that a crushing election win gives it a general mandate stretching into areas not specified during the campaign, a general mandate cannot justify extreme actions. Taking regrettable decisions based on rigid ideology is not recommended, and nor is trying to defend the indefensible.

Instead of persisting in propping up their lame arguments about national parks, the O'Farrell Government would cause less harm to public trust by breaking a cynical bargain made with a few shooters who lack both public support and public respect. 

Tony Smith headshotTony Smith holds a PhD in political science. He has taught at several universities including the University of Sydney. 

Topic tags: Tony Smith, O'Farrell Government, Shooters and Fishers Party



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Existing comments

Thank you Tony, for bringing this issue to Eureka Street. Allowing hunters into NSW National Parks is an appalling act of irresponsibility by the NSW Premier. I agree with all the points you have raised. I would add one more - it is encouraging a gun culture which we definitely do not need.This development, once enacted will be very hard to wind back and we will have to live with the consequences. I have been encouraging everyone I meet who is against hunting in National Parks to ring the Premier's and Minister's office as well as those of members. Please walk the talk. The National Parks Association website has useful information.

Anne Lanyon | 28 February 2013  

Good one, Tony. And the motivation for allowing the shooters into national parks is to get the votes of the shooters for other destructive legislation. Not just the greatest treason, the right thing for the wrong reason, but the wrong thing for the wrong reason.

Michael D. Breen | 28 February 2013  

O'Farrell is, of course, a waste of space in terms of expecting any hope for good government, but he is not alone in this around the states is he? When state premiers cuddle up to religious bigots and minoroties to paint themselves as God fearing and decent people, as O'Farrell has gone out of his way to do, we end up with silly and dangerous outcomes. Appeasing the mighty Nile flows into appeasing the NSW version of the NRA, with all its undertones of red-neckery and gun-toting lynch-mobbery. Just last week I read of their demands to use silencers on their guns in National Parks! What, so they can shoot the picnicing family group or the safety vested park ranger without being heard and seen? Of course, while people are getting upset with O'Farrell for this unconscionable act of political depravity, there is virtually silence when Gillard does similar deals with the Angels of Doom from the Australian Christian Lobby. Gillard's private deals with the ACL display a wanton and careless disregard not only for her own party policy, while demonstrating her private living arrangements make her a total hypocrite but also for any notions of secularity Australia might want to hold on to in an age where religion is imposing its dangerous values on so many millions of people in the world.

janice wallace | 28 February 2013  

We live in Australia Mr Farrell, not the NRA controlled United States of America.

Terry Flanagan | 28 February 2013  

I've heard it said that reliance on one-liners and hackneyed cliches is a reasonably reliable signpost towards gutlessness. Shame after all the promises!

john frawley | 28 February 2013  

Well said, Tony. I agree wholeheartedly. The allowing of shooting in national parks is one of the most appalling and socially destructive policies ever made in this state. I will fight it (peacefully but unremittingly) until it is repealed.

WicketWatcher | 28 February 2013  

Well said Tony, and Janice. The Israeli/Palestinian mess is another example of the consequences of major parties kow-towing to extreme fringe groups, in that case the Israeli religious right.

Ginger Meggs | 01 March 2013  

Tony very hypocritical of you. You make allegations & defame Shooters with unfounded & unsupported facts, but critise the O'Farrell Goverment of doing the same thing. How about leaving inner Sydney once in a awhile & visiting Reginonal Australia & see we feel about it.

Flanno | 04 March 2013  

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