RECENT changes to NSW's firearm regulations have left some primary producers feeling helpless in the war on feral animals.
In late 2020, a ban was placed on most category D firearms, limiting licence holders to only seven eligible weapons, six of which have not been manufactured in Australia for several decades.
Under the state's gun laws, category D weapons include self-loading centre-fire rifles, self-loading rimfire rifles with a magazine capacity of more than 10 rounds, self-loading shotguns, pump action shotguns and lever action shotguns with a magazine capacity of more than five rounds, as well as any firearm to which a category C licence applies.
Control of vertebrate pest animals is one of the only legitimate reasons licence holders can apply for a category D weapon and under the regulations, primary producers must belong to an authorised eradication campaign.
However, New England grazier Grant Prendergast said while some weapons were available to eligible licence holders, they were not fit for purpose to help control pest animals, which are enjoying perfect breeding conditions.
"The drought was the turning point for us because when it hit (in 2017-18) we were shooting 30 to 40 pigs in this area alone," Mr Prendergast told The Land.
"However, after that, bushfires and heavy rains came through, causing the landscape to change as regrowth really took off.
"For example, in mid-2021, we did an aerial shoot and shot 1754 pigs, 18 deer and some goats as well.
"About six months later, we conducted a smaller-scale shoot and our contractors shot 104 goats plus 43 pigs, and we put the drop in numbers down to not being able to see well enough from the air due to the regrowth because based on the numbers from the shoot before, we know there is plenty more out there.
"Why we need something like a category D firearm is because the pest numbers are just not manageable now."
In his efforts to help change the newly enacted regulations, Mr Prendergast contacted former NSW Police Minister David Elliot's office, which forwarded his concerns on to NSW Police, which told Mr Prendergast in a letter: "the role of the NSW Government and the NSW Police Force is to ensure that responsible firearms possession and use is balanced with public safety. This includes appropriate controls on firearms for which the appearance may be additionally intimidating or threatening".
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"Basically, I've been told these perfectly good firearms, which are available to those with the relevant licences in Queensland and Victoria, are not available to us because of appearance laws," Mr Prendergast said.
"I'm not saying shooting is the be-all and end-all, it is simply just another tool for producers to use in the war on pest animals.
"The impact pest animals have, not just on livestock operations, but on ecosystems and native animals is massive and I think it is crucial that primary producers, such as myself, have access to the right tools for the right job.
"To sum it up, the government is basically saying you can dig a hole, but you can only use a pitchfork and a crowbar instead of a shovel.
"It really is ludicrous and I think it certainly needs to be reviewed."
The state's peak industry body has echoed Mr Prendergast's calls for a review into the regulations, with NSW Farmers chief executive officer Peter Arkle saying the issue needed to be addressed urgently.
"NSW Farmers recognises the important role of category D licence holders in the management and eradication of vertebrate pests," Mr Arkle said.
"These licence holders undertake a significant service, under strict conditions, to the farming and broader rural communities, and it is important that those who are qualified to hold such a licence should have access to modern, fit-for-purpose tools.
"With the current restrictions in place in NSW, there are significant concerns about whether these activities can be safely undertaken, and we would support a review of the legislation to ensure it functions as intended as well as bring it into alignment with other jurisdictions, such as Queensland."
NSW Shooters, Fishers and Farmers leader Robert Borsak said the regulations were "destroying the ability of professional shooters to keep their licences".
"I think the current government is using excuses, because of military interchangeability of gun parts, to stop licence holders from modernising the equipment they are using," Mr Borsak said.
"From what I can see, the government's agenda is to shut down all category D ownership completely.
"The whole thing is messy and to me it boils down to the powers that be not wanting these firearms in the hands of anybody, let alone the people whose livelihoods depend on them."
A spokesperson for NSW Deputy Premier, Bathurst MP and Police Minister Paul Toole said the ongoing issue was high on the government's agenda.
"Firearms are a necessary tool of trade on many farms," the spokesperson said.
"NSW Police would support a review of recent changes to the category D firearms regulations and welcomes further consultation with stakeholders, including NSW Farmers."
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