To save Kosciuszko National Park, Barilaro wild horse bill cannot be supported

In Parliament | 29.05.18

Labor will not support the ill-thought through Berejiklian-Barilaro wild horse bill because it ignores science and the irreversible damage that unmanaged wild horse populations have done to Kosciuszko National Park. Labor today launched a plan to protect the Park’s fragile environment and the threatened species that live there.

Shadow Environment Minister Penny Sharpe and Country Labor candidate for Monaro, Bryce Wilson today stood with scientists, tourism operators, anglers, environmentalists and land rehabilitation groups to oppose the Berejiklian-Barilaro Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill.

Labor has committed to voting against the bill, and if the bill is passed, Labor has committed to repealing the bill if elected in 2019. It also launched a six-point plan to protect the Park (see below).

Labor is also concerned about failure to protect the Park leading to a loss of jobs and tourism that are vital to the region. Kosciuszko National Park is a tourism jobs powerhouse for the region: It is the most visited national park in NSW outside the Greater Sydney region. Visitation has grown by 52 per cent from 2014 to 2016 with over 2,196,525 visits each year.

Established in 1944 by Labor Premier Bill McKell, Kosciuszko National Park holds special significance to Australia with its unique environment being home to rare threatened species such as the mountain pygmy possum, the southern corroboree frog, and the broad-toothed rat. The Park is home to 21 species of flowering plants in the mountains that are found nowhere else on earth. The peatland soils are unique, as are the alpine and subalpine bog and wetland catchments which help to supply high-quality water to the Murray-Darling Basin. The entire park is listed as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, and Blue Lake is listed as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

The Berejiklian-Barilaro Kosciuszko Wild Horse Bill, which places the wild horses above all other environmental and cultural values within the park, is a recipe for irreversible damage to soil, water, threatened species, and endangered ecological communities within Kosciuszko National Park. The bill undermines the Aboriginal cultural heritage of the Park and risks public safety. The bill ignores the careful recommendations of the 2016 draft Wild Horse Management Plan and does not provide a humane approach to the management of wild horse populations within the Park.

Quotes attributable to Shadow Environment Minister Penny Sharpe

“This bill from the Deputy Premier undermines one of the most unique and celebrated alpine national parks in the world as well as having the potential to damage tourism and jobs in the region.” 

“After eight years of ignoring the growing population and the damage the horses are doing to the Park, it is clear that this bill will make the problem worse, not better.” 

Quotes attributable to Country Labor candidate for Monaro Bryce Wilson

“Kosciusko National Park is our only national alpine park. It has deep cultural significance and globally significant ecosystems.

“We acknowledge the cultural and tourism value of the wild horses, but we must also acknowledge the science that tells us of the damage being caused. Damage that is threatening the unique ecosystem of the park – there is simply too much at stake to risk the benefits the park brings to our region for tourism and employment.”

Quotes attributable to (Hon) Associate Professor, Fenner School, ANU, Dr Graeme Worboys 

This bill represents the greatest conservation threat in 75 years to one of the great national parks of Australia and the world, and a threat to one of the most sensitive, important and economically valuable water catchments of Australia. It would lead to destruction of Kosciuszko National Park as we know it today.”

Quotes attributable to Alpine River Adventures tourism operator Richard Swain

“I have spent years taking visitors to explore areas of Kosciuszko National Park rarely accessed by people. The greatest experience for me is the awe of visitors when they see the unique beauty of this wilderness in the places that remain unspool – but land is being degraded year by year and we need to stop it before it is too late. Failure to tackle the management of wild horses will destroy the Park.”

Labor’s six-point plan to save Kosciuszko National Park and manage the wild horse population

  • Ensure that the plan of management of Kosciuszko National Park is the primary management document to guide the operation of the park;
  • Restore resources to the National Parks and Wildlife Service cut by the Liberal-National Government to protect the park’s pristine environment and threatened species;
  • Minimise the impacts of pest species (both plants and animals) through adequately funded and effective control programmes. This includes wild pigs, dogs, deer and horses;
  • Conduct a scientific assessment and count of the horse population in consultation with key stakeholders;
  • Ensure wild horses are acknowledged for their cultural value by retaining a smaller population in the park where degradation is less critical, and manage the horse population guided by the extensive work that produced the 2016 Draft Wild Horse Management Plan to:
  1. increase resources and research capacity for humane population control measures such as fertility control;
  2. establish a formal and well-resourced rehoming program for wild horses to rapidly increase the number of horses able to be rehomed outside of the park;
  3. ensure that large horse populations do not lead to starvation and the poor animal welfare outcomes of mortality from starvation;
  4. ensure that horse populations in identified sensitive landscapes are actively managed to protect the fragile alpine habitat and threatened plant and animal species; and
  5. maintain the ban on aerial culling to continue humane animal welfare standards.
  • Repair the mountain catchments – establish a highly-trained Kosciuszko works crew dedicated to halting erosion in the mountain catchments and restoring and repairing the current eroding slopes, wetlands and mountain streams. This work will restore the best possible water delivery from the catchments to the Snowy Scheme and for downstream farmers, towns and cities.