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It's time shooters grew up

By Tony Smith - posted Friday, 15 June 2012

It is unfortunate that public respect for Australian political leaders is so low. It is however, understandable when party leaders display opportunism rather than principle. The federal Coalition Opposition criticises the Labor Government for accepting the votes of two MPs who are being investigated for alleged crimes. At the same time, the Coalition Government of New South Wales accepts the votes of two upper house members in cynical circumstances. Premier O'Farrell's desperation to have electricity privatisation legislation passed has led him to make bizarre concessions to the state's hunters.

In common with most Australian systems federal and state, New South Wales has a bicameral legislature. In the Legislative Assembly or lower house where majority government is formed, single member electorates ensure that major parties dominate. In the upper house proportional representation allows minor parties to constitute a significant crossbench. Except for non-controversial bills which may attract Opposition support, Governments know that they require the support of some crossbench Members of the Legislative Council. The O'Farrell Government has 69 of the 93 lower house seats but only 19 of the 42 upper house seats, where the crossbenches have 5 Greens, 2 Fred Nile Christian Democrats and 2 Shooters and Fishers Party members.

At the 2011 election, Labor, which had governed over four terms from 1995, was routed. The voters gave Premier O'Farrell a strong mandate to change the way that government is conducted, as well as mandates in some specific policy areas. Upper house members are entitled to form their own views of the Government's mandate. They should act responsibly to ensure that legislation is reviewed and amended where improvement is possible but exploiting the precarious balance of power to push a narrow agenda is another matter.


Ideally, a responsible parliamentarian supports good legislation and rejects the bad. Party discipline interferes with this principle as members commonly accept the party whip. A bill might improve if amended, but it does not improve because some separate inducement is offered to legislators so that they will accept it. In the case of electricity reform, it appears that the Government secured the support of Shooters and Fishers MLCs by making concessions in a different policy area. Apparently, the premier could not by argument convince crossbench MLCs that he has a mandate for his electricity privatisation plans.

This kind of bargaining is all too common. In New South Wales, the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigated whether Premier Greiner offered Terry Metherell former Liberal MP turned Independent a government appointment as an inducement to vacate his seat. While Greiner says that he was completely exonerated on appeal against an adverse finding, his party did not reinstate him. Greiner admits that he was naive and more. Perhaps Premier O'Farrell is getting poor advice. Although he won a landslide election last year, it was really a 'Drover's Dog' affair. Bill Hayden made the term popular as the 1983 federal election approached and he was replaced by Bob Hawke as Labor Leader. Hayden said that he was disappointed because even a drover's dog could have led Labor to victory. Ambitious people in O'Farrell's Government are no doubt mindful that it took no great effort to oust Labor from the New South Wales Treasury benches in 2011.

The decision to allow hunting in National Parks is a bizarre one. Hunting is incompatible with the conservation values underpinning National parks. New South Wales will become the object of international ridicule and tourism is sure to suffer. Hunting will endanger visitors as well as rangers and other staff.

Shooters like to project an image of responsible firearms ownership. Those who confine their sport to ranges and galleries with inanimate targets might have some credibility, although there are valid arguments for even further restricting the availability of firearms in the community. No adult can seriously claim an inalienable right to seek sport, recreation and pleasure in the killing of animals. It is not a mature and stable personality trait to require killing for one's identity formation. Shooters' MLCs need to mature politically. Of course were they capable of that then they would abandon this juvenile preoccupation with killing things.

The experience of duck shooting in Victoria suggests that hunters blaze away irresponsibly. Endangered species are likely to be shot and many birds are left to die inhumanely. It is unlikely that recreational hunters will eradicate feral animals from National Parks and so benefit the environment and wildlife. Hunters have a vested interest in the survival of feral populations. There are also insoluble problems of misidentification of species and accidental shooting of protected fauna.

In most decisions by government it is possible to find some saving grace. By placing yourself in the shoes of the other you can acknowledge the difficulties they face. The decision by the O'Farrell Coalition Government to allow hunting in National Parks is an exception. It is a disaster in every sense of the word. By insisting on a possible mandate in one area, the Premier risks his strong general mandate to restore integrity in government. The cost is too high.

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About the Author

Dr Tony Smith is a writer living in country New South Wales. He holds a PhD in political science and has had articles and reviews published in various newspapers, periodicals and journals. He contributed a poem 'Evil equations' to an anthology of anti-war poems delivered to the Prime Minister on the eve of war.

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