The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, has condemned the latest plans for the Andrews Labor government to sneak hunters into Barmah Forest under the cover of darkness, armed with high-powered rifles, to hunt down and kill its brumbies.
Mr Walsh says he is “incredibly alarmed” by the safety risks this type of covert campaign creates.
He says the Barmah Forest is a popular camping destination, and hunters using the Parks Victoria recommended Winchester 300 Magnum rifle, let alone anything heavier, have an effective range well beyond a kilometre, but unimpeded the bullet can go for another 3km to 5km.
“If a shooter misses, they have no idea where that bullet is going to end up – hopefully in a tree – but whenever you are using a loaded weapon there is always a risk,” Mr Walsh says.
“That the Victorian Government is prepared to take that chance is an indictment of its lack of recognising things a regional or rural person would understand immediately,” he says.
“And to take those risks to shoot horses the government claims are environmentally damaging the forest would be farcical if it weren’t so reckless.”
Mr Walsh says apart from its environmental claims, the government claims the brumby has no historical or cultural significance in the Australian story, a position he describes as “ludicrous”.
He says if the brumby is not part of our national narrative, why has it been so heavily promoted by the Federal government as the face of our $10 banknote, for example.
“Not only does the $10 note include images of Banjo Paterson, but it is also surrounded by brumbies and lines from his classic, The Man From Snowy River, referring to ‘the colt from old Regret had got away, and joined the wild bush horses’,” Mr Walsh added.
“When Australia stood on the world stage of the opening of the 2000 Olympics, it began with the theme from the Man From Snowy River movie and involved 120 stockhorses representing, organisers said, ‘Australia’s rich equestrian background’.
“And if we have no great equine history, how does the Victorian government explain the Light Horse and the charge at Beersheba in World War I – the descendants of those horses, the legendary Walers, still run free around vast areas across South Australia, Queensland and NSW.”
Mr Walsh says the Parks Victoria tender document calling for shooters to cull horses in Victoria’s Alpine National Park as well as Barmah, also demands they use silencers and operate covertly, due to what it calls the “significant risk posed by feral horse activists”.
He says the document also claims “activists have gone to extreme measures to try to stop the control of feral horses, including death threats to Parks Victoria staff, protests and threats to sabotage control operations”.
“Whoever gets the contract to kill these horses will apparently work with a small group of Parks Victoria staff who have operational knowledge of the program on a ‘need to know basis’,” Mr Walsh added.
“Parks Victoria also insists on the ‘highest levels of information security’ and says ‘all operations will be conducted covertly’,” he says.
“Parks Victoria has also committed to keep the name of the winning contractor secret and demands they sign confidentiality agreements. Isn’t that so consistent with the Andrews Labor government, doing everything in secrecy?
“I am also unaware of any death threats ever being made, and so are any of the protestors I have spoken with – this whole program seems like an incredible case of overkill, literally.”