In a significant move, NSW Labor have announced that they 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 has launched a plan to protect the Park’s fragile environment and the threatened species that live there.

The NSW government, which is proposing to legislate to enshrine the presence of wild horses in the park and rule out future culls, is expected to bring legislation into parliament as early as next week. The numbers are very close, with The Greens stating that they will oppose it. This firm statement from the ALP means the Coalition government has – at best – a very small majority of votes to see the legislation passed.

The ALP statement says that:

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.

NSW conservation groups have welcomed Labor’s pledge.

The NSW Nature Conservation Council, NSW National Parks Association, Invasive Species Network and Colong Foundation for Wilderness have also welcomed Labor’s promise to increase funding for feral animal control and restore funding for the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

NCC CEO Kate Smolski said: “The ALP position restores sanity to this debate. The Coalition has taken that debate off the rails with it’s irresponsible plan to protect large herds of feral animals in our national parks.

“Thousands of horses in the Snowy Mountains are endangering the survival of 31 uniquely Australian species. We call on all parties to support effective, humane measures to control feral horses in our national parks. The Labor position will help achieve that.”

NPA CEO Alix Goodwin said: “We applaud the ALP for putting science and conservation before base politics. Large herds of feral horses are threatening iconic Australia species like the Corroboree Frog, so they have no place in our national parks.

“The Berejiklian government’s foolish policy to protect thousands of hard-hooved animals will wreck the high country, drive many Australian species to the brink, and pollute the clean mountains streams that are critical for downstream users.”

ALP plan

Labour’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.