The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, has rushed to stem the fallout from revelations that the Office of Environment and Heritage was developing plans to allow hunters to use silencers while shooting feral animals in national parks by immediately ruling it out.
The proposal, contained in a leaked draft risk assessment report, argues that the use of silencers would minimise the disturbance raised by hunting with firearms to other park users such as bushwalkers, picnickers and bird watchers.
However, it would require a significant loosening of the prohibition on the use of silencers in NSW, which is designed to prevent them falling into criminal hands.
The revelation drew strong opposition from the Police Minister, Mike Gallacher, who was not consulted about the plan and said he did not want existing restrictions. The National Parks Association of NSW said it would be a safety risk as park users would not be aware when hunters were nearby.
On Tuesday morning, Mr O'Farrell issued a brief statement ruling out the proposal. "There will be no change to the regulation of silencers to allow for the operation of pest eradication measures in national parks," he said.
The Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, is overseeing preparation of the assessment by the Office of Environment and Heritage before declaring 77 national parks and reserves open for amateur hunting of feral animals from May.
The draft risk assessment, dated this month, raises concerns that the "passive or tranquil recreation" sought by bushwalkers, picnickers and bird watchers in national parks would be shattered by hunters discharging their firearms nearby.
It classifies the risk as "possible but low" and says the solution is to allow hunters to use silencers to muffle the sound.
The Game Council NSW, which issues hunting licences, has been pushing for hunters to be allowed to use silencers and in 2011 commissioned a report on the impediments to the change.
The report said silencers would improve the accuracy of hunters shooting feral animals and protect their hearing. It acknowledged that they could be misused for the purposes of poaching and "murders/assassinations that otherwise would be more noisy without a sound moderator".
But the report's authors argued that the work involved in preparing a firearm so it could carry a silencer would be cost prohibitive and potentially bring criminals to the attention of authorities.
In NSW the use of silencers is tightly restricted to professional pest eradication experts.
Mr Gallacher said on Monday that he had not been consulted. "I don't believe there should be an expansion of the current regime," he said.
The opposition environment spokesman, Luke Foley, said the Game Council had "pulled the wool" over the eyes of the Office of Environment and Heritage. "OEH management are seemingly unaware that … this has been on the wish-list of the Game Council for some time," he said.
The draft risk assessment reveals the government plans to use zoning based on visitor frequency to reduce the risk of park visitors being shot.
Areas with high and medium visitor use, including camping grounds and residences, will be classified Zone A. Hunters will be allowed inside these areas, which will be closed off to other users, only while "fully embedded" in official National Parks and Wildlife shooting programs.
Hunting in Zone B areas, classified as of low visitor use, will be controlled and directed by National Parks staff. Only in Zone C areas - described as having low to zero visitor use - will hunters be allowed unaccompanied.
The Public Service Association of NSW on Tuesday morning called on the government to release maps of all proposed Zone C hunting areas.
“If the state government proceeds with its flawed plan to allow hunting by amateurs, then the Public Service Association of NSW will consider directing its members not to enter any national park with a 'Zone C' area as their safety cannot be guaranteed," said PSA General Secretary, Anne Gardiner.
“The Government's own department responsible for initiating this flawed plan is already warning of the high risk of serious injury or death and the Premier and Minister need to sit up and take notice.”