Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill 2018

5th June 2018

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (19:55): It would be wonderful to be able to stand with members of the Government on the side that will win this debate on the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill 2018 and to have a warm fuzzy feeling as a result of reaching a compromise between ecological protection and the protection of heritage horses, but I cannot. I will not be lectured about my role in this place as others have been. The member for Sydney implied that perhaps he should not be speaking on this bill. His interest in this issue is as valid as that of any other member.

I was confronted with a decision about how far I would go in respect of this legislation. I do not ascribe any sinister motives to the introduction of this bill, nor do I suggest that the Deputy Premier is too close to someone by the name of Peter Cochran. Let us stop doing that. Sometimes a government can make a mistake for other reasons, and that is what I think has happened in this case. Members may well have good intentions and they may be trying to find a balance, but sometimes no such balance exists. These horses have been in the Snowy Mountains for a couple of hundred years and to naturalise them or to give them citizenship or special status is silly. As a matter of fact, it is bizarre precedent and we should be very careful about doing it.

Am I a mountain man? Have I ridden horses around the Snow Mountains? I know that the Temporary Speaker, the member for Albury, will have done so. However, my family does come from the area. My paternal grandparents and extended family come from the Tumbarumba region and I have spent some time there. I have also spoken to my family about this bill. My background is in environmental conservation in more temperate zones. I have never been confronted with an exotic creature or feral animal being ascribed a particular characteristic that afforded it special recognition. That is a nonsense and a dangerous path to follow. It is a sentimental argument that does not stand up to scientific scrutiny.

People have done fabulous research work in this area for many years and it is clear that we will never rid that environment of brumbies. They are a successful invasive, exotic animal. Every feral species that is strong in an environment is there only to the detriment of native animals. That is a fact of life. They are not symbiotic; feral animals will not benefit native animals—unless, of course, native animals can feed on their carcasses. This issue has been ignited in large part by the horrendous events that occurred in Guy Fawkes River National Park. When it was revealed 10 years ago what had happened there we were horrified.

However, we are ascribing some higher level of stupidity and incompetence on the part of the National Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS] if we think it has not learnt and improved its methodology as a result. I know that many people in the service were traumatised by the vision of what happened and how some animals died. Of course, the horses in Guy Fawkes River National Park were not in good condition. The NPWS did not decide that because it had nothing much to do it would kill some brumbies. The serious drought in the area led the service to make that decision because many of the animals would have died a tortured death anyway.

Kosciuszko National Park is an amazing and unique park. It is home to our highest mountain. Mount Kosciuszko is about 7,400 feet, which is not high in world terms but it is all we have. It is a genuine subalpine and alpine environment and the horses are damaging it. I do not think anyone would argue about that; everyone agrees that that is happening. The question is how we manage the situation. In normal conservation terms, one would remove 100 per cent of the animals, if possible. Of course, it is simply impossible. Members have provided lists of feral animals, and I can throw in a few more—for example, donkeys, camels, goats, deer, cats, dogs, rabbits and, of course, the ubiquitous fox. We will never be able to get rid of them. I cannot imagine that we would contemplate keeping some of them. If we can get rid of them completely, we should. That is what conservation is about. In fact, that is an extremely unnerving suggestion.

I note that Opposition members have talked about repealing the legislation. I would not be surprised if an enlightened Coalition government did the same. This defies all logic and science. I have seen not one jot of credible support for this plan from anyone with scientific or environmental qualifications. There may well be some qualified support, but I would put that "qualified" in a different category. There are certain people for whom this is a political reality and they must find the best possible solution. However, I strongly believe this is not a good precedent. It would be fantastic if we could find a compromise. I am sure we would all like to find an easy way out of a difficult situation. Most of us would not enjoy the prospect of killing horses, which are sentient creatures. I am sure we will hear about that from the Animal Justice Party representative in the other place. That is a quandary facing many of us.

I feel that this approach is wrong headed. It flies in the face of conservation practice that we have followed in the past—or would have followed if we had had the resources to do so—and sets a very dangerous precedent. Good luck to the Government. It has the numbers and its bill will pass this House. I hope members on this side are wrong and that everything will be wonderful: The horses will be rounded up and moved out of the very sensitive areas, we will find people to break them in and kiddies, mums and dads will be riding around on brumbies, enjoying the heritage of this "wild colonial horse". But I think that is a forlorn hope. As I have said, it is highly likely that a future Labor or a Coalition government will review this issue, because this is not well-considered legislation.

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