The Environment Minister has defiantly said she will not wait until the report of an inquiry before aerial shooting is used to cull rapidly exploding brumby numbers.
Environment Minister Penny Sharpe will not wait until an upper house inquiry completes its inquiry to begin culling brumbies in Kosciuszko National Park.
Ms Sharpe and National MP Wes Fang came to blows during budget estimates on Thursday over the controversial measure to reduce the exploding number of feral horses, which threaten the park’s ecosystem and damage the habitat of critically endangered native species.
Asked if Ms Sharpe would “commit to not killing a brumby by aerial culling” until the inquiry delivers its final report, the minister offered a blunt: “No, I won’t”.
“The longer we wait, the more horses are going to need to be killed,” she said.
“I want to minimise that number … The short answer is no.”
The minister also said the upper house committee had received 11,002 submissions, with 83 per cent of those that addressed the aerial shooting in support of the option.
Mr Fang, however, maintained his view.
“I know it should be a very quick inquiry. I don’t understand why you’ve got to kill these horses,” he said.
Questions were also raised over the disposal of dead carcasses. Aerial shooting on feral horses was last used during the Guy Fawkes River National Park cull in 2000 and was quickly banned after horses were found brutally injured.
Ms Sharpe said while most carcasses would be left “in situ”, they will be moved away from waterways and high traffic areas.
On Friday, the government announced it will move to amend the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan to allow aerial shooting to be used as a method to control the population, with NSW legally required to reduce the population to 3000 by mid-2027.
While the revised 2023 count will be released later this year, 2022 figures suggest there were more than 18,800 horses in the park.
Challenge for NSW to meet 2030 emissions target
During Thursday’s inquiry, Ms Sharpe also acknowledged it will be challenging for the state to halve its carbon emissions by 2030.
As it stands, NSW has reduced it emissions by 18 per cent on 2005 levels, with the government moving to legislate an ultimate goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
However, the target is hampered by wind and solar renewable energy zones in the Orana and New England regions being delayed until 2027-2028, which could exacerbate the state’s reliance on coal.
Giving evidence at budget estimates on Thursday, Ms Sharpe said she was “absolutely committed” to the emission reduction targets but “more work” was needed.
“If you look at it, I think we’ve only reduced (emissions) by about 18 per cent from 2005 as we sit here today,” she said.
“In relation to the modelling that we have, this is a big task and we need to make sure that we keep on with it.”
Ms Sharpe acknowledged there was “bipartisan support” around NSW reaching its targets; however, she said a “whole of government approach” was needed.
“We can’t deal with climate change just through me as the minister,” she said.
“That’s one of the focuses that I’ve got – about how we drive across government all of the emissions reductions that we’re responsible for but also through the various sectors that we all interact with.”
Later this year, NSW Labor will also move to legislate the 2040 and 2050 emission targets and establish an independent Net Zero Commission to monitor the state’s progress and hold the government accountable to its commitment.
Also facing budget estimates on Thursday, Finance Minister Courtney Houssos said that while coalmines would be slated for closure in the coming decades, managing the state’s energy transition would be difficult.
“The reality is at the moment, there are 29,000 direct jobs employed in the mining industry … and that at the moment remains a significant part of our state’s economy and our electricity network,” she said.
Conversations with Eraring ongoing
Several questions were also directed about the future of Eraring, Australia’s largest coal-fired power station that supplies about 25 per cent of NSW’s electricity needs.
The plant is privately operated by Origin Energy and is slated to go offline by August 2025. As it stands, the government is now in discussions over whether Eraring’s lifeline will need to be extended to ensure the state’s energy security.
On Thursday, Ms Sharpe repeatedly confirmed talks were ongoing but no agreement had been made.
She said the government would also consider alternate options to counter the state’s “reliability challenge” that could involve renewable energy sources coming online sooner or investing in firming technology.
“The point that I have continually made is (Eraring will remain open) not a day longer and not a cent more than is required,” she said.
“We’re having preliminary discussions with Eraring in terms of what their intentions are. They have as you will be aware foreshadowed that they may close in 2025.”
Ms Sharpe, who acknowledged the situation was “totally undesirable,” said she hoped the government wouldn’t’ need to financially prop up a potential extension.
“Our expectation is that we will have a conversation to ensure reliability and price spikes don’t occur for consumers in NSW, or to businesses, and we will work through the challenge of the transition as quickly as possible,” Ms Sharpe reiterated.
“Then if we have to have an extension, then perhaps we will do that, but the cost of that to taxpayers I would hope would be zero, made very much harder because we’re working in a privatised situation that your government delivered.”
The minister said a potential extension on Eraring’s lifeline would not affect NSW’s emissions reductions target, as the original modelling had factored the plant to remain online until 2032.
“The whole point of the work that we’re doing with establishing the Net Zero Commission is to have independent oversight, (and a) transparent process that we’ll be tracking how our emissions reductions are going over time,” she said.
“That to me is absolutely essential.”