The cowboy days are over for the recreational shooting of feral animals in NSW. A damning exposé of what the hunting regulator, the Game Council of NSW, has been up to over the past decade- written by a senior public servant who grew up in rural England, familiar with gun safety - makes astonishing reading.
Steve Dunn describes a politically untouchable posse of gun wielding vigilantes, who enthusiastically set themselves the goal of stopping illegal hunting - despite this actually being the job of police. Dunn says the Game Council was acting beyond its statutory role, and with an inherent conflict of interest. Ultimately they posed an unacceptable risk to the government. The Game Council has now been disbanded by the O'Farrell government.
Boring paper pushing, policy making, analytical or investigations skills weren't seen as important to this bunch of Wild West public servants. The top job prerequisite to become a game council officer was to be a hunter, and to promote hunting.
Left to their own devices by successive ministers, the game council roamed forest frontiers from its head office in Orange, apparently unconcerned about issues of public safety, promoting their own novel concept of ''conservation hunting'', and cloaked from government oversight.
The Game Council's website last week boasted of a surge of dead animals last financial year: a ''staggering'' 1.23 million animals killed on private land by its hunters, and 21,000 shot on public land. And that these figures meant a 70 per cent increase in its key performance indicator.
But Dunn says the council was confused about its role under the act. It wasn't supposed to be tallying carcasses, but instead developing plans for hunter safety, public land access, licensing, education, compliance of licensed hunters and research.
The council considered themselves to be outsiders to other government agencies, who reported the renegades to be combative, assertive, and too aligned with the interests of the hunters they were supposed to be regulating.
The review described a pariah that no other government department could love. If agencies are generally organised into clusters, with small agencies needing both a parent and siblings to survive, the game council was an orphan.
''The Game Gouncil has no parent and no siblings, no one wants to adopt it, and no one really wants a close relationship with it - because of politics,'' Dunn wrote.
Established in 2002 under the Labor government, the council had its roots ''deeply embedded in politics'', and arose because of the importance of the Shooters & Fishers Party to the government of the day in the upper house when governments needed to get legislation passed.
The council complained it had an image problem in the wider community. But Dunn's report considers it was a problem of the council's own making.
Carrying private firearms in agency vehicles and hunting on the job are not a good look for public servants. Was it appropriate for the hunting regulator to be handing out promotional stress balls that say ''Stressed? Go conservation hunting''?
In the fallout from the Dunn review, the Game Council's regulatory, enforcement, licensing and policy roles have now been transferred to the department of primary industries. A separate advisory Game Board will be formed to represent hunters and advocate hunting.
As the government prepares to allow licensed volunteer shooters to be involved in supervised National Parks and Wildlife Service culls of feral animals in 12 national parks in October, the cowboys that once reigned are out.
Strict guidelines for the culls, which will only be held when parks are closed to the public, stipulate: no night shooting, no dogs, no bows and arrows - and no shooting from horses.