Despite biased media and dodgy science, wild horses gain support from politicians across Australia, especially MP John Barilaro
Born and bred in Australia, MP John Barilaro is from the same region as the brumby. He knows all about The Man From Snowy River first hand from his upbringing as a immigrant whose family arrived in the country nearly 15 years before the film was made. He now represents the constituency of Monaro who still live the tradition of oneness with the land, which includes caring for all who depend on it, including the brumbies.
Although once a local issue for Barilaro since he came on in 2011 when it came to horse riders wanting ‘access’ to National Parks to continue enjoying the many heritage trails and whom had worked to create and maintain the trails and help trap the brumbies in the parks, the issue has since exploded. Now a much broader debate is taking place he says around humane treatment and accuracy of government department and environmental reports on the alleged ‘damage’ the horses are causing. He’s not alone as other MPs have joined the fight to support their constituencies who live in the rural communities they represent (including MPs Paul Weller and Gregg Barr in Victoria) , although we were able to catch up with Barilaro in a phone interview and hear what he had to say about the brumbies and his constituency in the high country of NSW.
WHJ: Why an interest in brumbies?
JB: Brumbies are a part of the landscape here. They have a fantastic heritage of having served the Australian Light Horseman in wars. There aren’t many animals who have that kind of connection with human beings more than a horse. And, there’s a lot of myth involved in the ‘damage’ wild horses are reported to be doing, it’s one-sided, and you can’t rely on the numbers of horses in the wild claimed by bureaucrats and there’s no way in world you could call yourself an environmentalist and say aerial culling is the appropriate way to respond.
WHJ: Aren’t you a part of the very bureaucratic system that is responsible for these biased reports? You’re referring to your colleagues are you not?
JB: Yes, we rely on agencies to give us more information to make a decision however I believe the information from these agencies is quite biased about the horses damaging the flora, fauna and waterways. I’d like to see ‘ALL’ of the information and evidence which they’re not providing.” The brumbies have been a part of the landscape for over 100 years and now play a role in the environment. There are areas across the world where wild horses have been reintroduced to reserves to rejuvenate and rebalance the biodiversity – such as Scotland, Italy, Spain.
WHJ: So where are they getting this information to begin with. It seems all over the place and not accurate?
JB: Scientists are part of the problem. If the issue is numbers in the parks, then let’s get the numbers right and not guestimates which range from four to fifteen-thousand. If you don’t have the true numbers then how you manage them? The problem is also due to the influence of certain people in government and environmental groups in Metropolitan Sydney who have no real connection to what is going on and are making decisions on what is happening in a rural community. As custodian of the region I am aligned with the majority of the people here in Monaro and we want a genuine debate on the issue. I believe the minister Rob Stokes is open minded and wants that too. I’m also comfortable speaking for my constituency who have lived on this land for generations and have a heritage here with the brumbies and are overwhelmingly against the culls. It would be worthwhile to use tax dollars to find a better way to deal with this than take the easy way out and call for aerial culling instead of alternatives like fertility control. Why in Australia do we always try to reinvent the wheel instead of learning from others?
WHJ: What about the RSPCA calling the aerial culls kind?
JB: I have respect for a lot of what the RSPCA does but I don’t care if it’s one or 100 horses, there is no way that the RSPCA can claim that shooting horses from a helicopter is quick and painless- they can’t give that kind of guarantee and no one could possibly say it is humane. I’ve seen the footage of these culls with horses left on the ground dying. We’re going backwards by decades with this approach and if it means we allocate additional resources to trapping and rehoming to other places then let’s get all the alternatives on the table.
WHJ: Are you familiar with wildlife ecologist Craig Downer’s work ? He has just published an article in the American Journal of Life Sciences on the reintroduction of the horse and burro and their positive contributions to ecosystems through Reserve Design which is a natural containment area that results in self-regulation for controlling populations.
JB: No I haven’t but Craig is the alternative voice on behalf of the scientific community that we need to hear from on better dealing with the issue of the brumbies. If the government was truly listening to those like him then they’d be overwhelmingly against the culls. I’m hoping the new minister will be open to hearing from and meeting with Craig too.
WHJ: These management ‘plans’ for the brumbies however are not laws. To what degree can the brumbies really be protected- that make it a crime to harass or kill them- without laws in place that can’t be changed at the whim of elected officials as is currently the case?
JB: Brumbies have earned their place as part of the iconic bush heritage in my region, they are a quintessential Australian symbol and they must be protected. I will continue to passionately fight any move towards culling of these national icons. Ultimately, I believe that we should legislate against aerial culling.
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