THE O’Farrell government is paying a high price in lost credibility for its political deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party.
Opening up national parks to shooting might have seemed a reasonable exchange for that party’s guaranteed support of legislation in the NSW upper house, but as time passes, the deal looks shabbier and shabbier.
Yesterday the plan was put on temporary hold, with police investigating allegations of illegal hunting and animal cruelty against the NSW Game Council’s acting chief executive, Greg McFarland.
The council, an amateur shooters’ body, will administer the park hunting scheme, which had been set to start next month. The council is the recipient of about $2.5 million a year in taxpayer funds, while the scheme itself is set to cost another $19 million to administer over the next five years.
The alleged incident is said to have happened on a private property, the owner of which complained that a game council vehicle had entered her land, without permission, in pursuit of a goat.
Details of the incident have been contested, but the allegations come on top of a string of other pieces of bad publicity that must be making the government nervous about aspects of its political deal.
Last month the game council chairman, John Mumford, admitted backing a campaign designed to undermine a government pest-control scheme, but argued he did so as a private citizen. That incident raised questions about the status and professionalism of the council, and its proposed role in running the national parks shooting program.
In recent days the government has been forced to disown plans that were being drawn up to permit the use of silencers in the park hunts, and anxiety has run high over the revelation of plans to let children as young as 12 use guns and bows in national parks.
Police were reportedly unhappy at being given the job of mediating disputes between hunters and other park users – an occurrence rated as highly likely under the new regime.
The results of the inquiry into the alleged hunting misdemeanours can’t be pre-judged, but it may be that the government has embraced the incident as an opportunity to slow the rush towards an ill-considered scheme.
It’s hard not to suspect, in fact, that the premier might wish the deal had never been done and that some loophole might be found to release him from an obligation that exposes him and his government to some risks that are as big as they are hard to limit.