There are calls for NSW Labor minister Tara Moriarty to be replaced over allegations a controversial cartoon was posted to her social media — an act that was described by an opponent as "juvenile" and "thoughtless".
The post, which has since been deleted, shared a cartoon showing a Greens supporter torn to pieces by a shark. Titled ‘Eat your Greens’, the drawing by News Corp cartoonist Warren Brown and published in Thursday's The Daily Telegraph, depicts a large angry shark next to a severed foot, green budgie smugglers and a placard reading "No shark nets".
While the cartoon was a satirist's comment on shark nets not everyone appears to see the humour in the timing of the NSW Agriculture Minister's post.
A day earlier, parliamentarians from the Greens, Liberals and Animal Justice Party (AJP) stood side by side, slamming the Minns Labor Government's controversial decision to lay shark nets at NSW beaches this September following a review. The Greens and AJP both threatened to pull support if Labor refuses to reconsider because of the harm they do to wildlife.
After the image was reportedly shared on her Instagram stories Ms Moriarty, who oversees the shark net program, was criticised by members of the Greens, Animal Justice Party (AJP) and Liberal Party.
On Thursday afternoon the shark cartoon was nowhere to be seen on Minister Moriarty's account, but a screenshot was quickly posted on a Facebook page operated by marine conservation group Envoy Foundation.
Minister Moriarty’s office declined an invitation from Yahoo News Australia to comment on the cartoon.
There is nothing comical about innocent marine life including dolphins dying in shark nets.Adam Crouch, Liberal Whip
Why shark nets are controversial in NSW
On Wednesday, the AJP, Greens, Liberal Party, Liberal Democrats, Legalise Cannabis Party, and independents Michael Regan and Alex Greenwich criticised Labor’s shark net decision, with one describing the policy as “lazy”.
They maintain there isn’t any scientific evidence the nets keep beaches safer — critics say they are actually dangerous because they could give swimmers a false sense of security. Since nets were introduced in 1937 there has been only one fatal shark attack at a netted beach, but because they are only set at beaches with lifesavers, some conservationists believe it's the lifesavers and not the nets who are saving lives.
A review of the netting season found 90 per cent of their catch was not target species. Instead, they snared and killed protected species including dolphins, seals, endangered turtles and placid grey nurse sharks. Ms Moriarty’s department has conceded the nets are adversely impacting endangered species. The minister's department has flagged they could review the nets again before the 2024/2025 season.
What Minister Moriarty's critics are saying
The cartoon has sparked anger online with one social media user accusing the minister of showing a "total lack of empathy" to communities impacted by shark bites.
Greens oceans spokesperson Cate Faehrmann took to Instagram, saying the cartoon ridicules campaigners working to get shark nets out of NSW waters, and replaced with alternative technologies.
“I would expect maybe a Shooters Party MP or even a One Nation MP to post this type of cartoon on their Instagram feed, but really, a NSW Labor Minister for Agriculture with responsibility for the marine environment? Can we please have another minister in charge of this issue, one who doesn’t think it’s all a joke?” she said.
Under the Coalition, ocean management was moved from the environment portfolio to primary industries, and Ms Faehrmann is urging the Minns Labor government to reverse the change and put Penny Sharpe in charge.
"Conservationists don't have any faith in the minister now and they don't think they're being treated respectfully. This isn’t just a Greens political issue, this is about protecting critically endangered marine species," she told Yahoo.
As Ms Faehrmann noted, it's not just the Greens who are angry. The Liberal Party’s Adam Crouch told Yahoo News Australia he is “appalled that this minister thinks this is comical”.
“There is nothing comical about innocent marine life including dolphins dying in shark nets,” he added.
Dead dolphins have recently been found dead in waters close to Mr Crouch's Central Coast electorate as well as Sydney's Bronte Beach.
Speaking with Yahoo News Australia, AJP MP Emma Hurst labelled the post “juvenile” and accused Minister Moriarty of failing to consider the science.
“She knew how many people in the community were upset by her decision to put nets back in the water, knowing that hundreds of marine animals, including threatened species, will be killed as a result — and this is her response?
“To make light of the situation shows she clearly fails to understand the impact of her decision.
"The Minister should issue an apology immediately to the animal protection groups that have been campaigning against this cruelty for years. She has no doubt lost the trust of many of these groups with this thoughtless post."
Over 135,000 people have signed a petition by Envoy Foundation to have shark nets removed. The non-profit called on Minister Moriarty to “educate herself on shark nets” instead of mocking people who have already done so.
The cartoon was attributed to Daily Telegraph cartoonist Warren Brown. He has been contacted for comment.
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