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Monday, 21 March 2011
Page: 2377

Ms OWENS (11:08 AM) —National parks have been one of Australia’s great assets, and one that I have enjoyed greatly, and I would like to say to the previous speaker, the member for Gippsland, that they were created and have existed and been protected in Australia long before the idea of the Greens party was a light in the eyes of Bob Brown’s parents. National parks have been around in Australia for many, many decades and we still have an obligation to protect them.

But this is not about state rights, this is about law. If the Victorian government wanted to reintroduce cattle into the Alpine National Park, they were required to refer the matter to the department for environment for assessment under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The opposition often spouts about rights and obligations. Well, the Victorian government had an obligation under the law when it came to this matter. The proposal to introduce cattle should have been assessed as to whether it would significantly impact matters of national environmental significance. That is a requirement under the law: one of the obligations of a state government is to adhere to the law. Businesses have to do it and governments are not exempt no matter what their private views. The Victorian government did not do this. They allowed 400 head of cattle into the national park in January, and there are many people around the country, including people in my electorate, who are very concerned about this.

The private members bill introduced by the member for Melbourne, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (Abolition of Alpine Grazing) Bill 2011, suggests that we assume that the Victorian government did refer the matter to the government and that the minister has considered it already and rejected it. I would like to say that I would prefer that the Victorian government was made to refer it and that the minister actually did consider it. I find that the precedent of dealing with each of these matters on a one-off basis can go both ways. We could equally have a bill next week that moved that the matter had been referred and the minister had rejected it. When the Victorian government in 2004, the Labor government of the day, announced that it was planning to remove cattle from the national parks, the national coalition government of the day floated the idea of moving a special act to declare it heritage preservation because of the history of the Man from Snowy River. It is a slippery slope once you start moving down a situation where governments of both persuasions start to deal with larger matters of environmental or heritage protection on a one-off basis.

But I do understand the need for speed. I have spent some time in those national parks, and the idea that cattle would be anywhere near a sphagnum moss swamp in particular is alarming not only because of the protection of the vegetation itself, but also because the role that sphagnum moss has in water purification. It absorbs the snow melt and releases it slowly over about 12 months. In fact when the cattle were removed from the Kosciusko National Park back in the sixties, it was because cattle were damaging the purity of the water in the Snowy Mountains. So there are many matters to consider when it comes to cattle in national parks and it is absolutely appropriate that all of them are considered in full.

For the information of the members opposite, I want to refer to the Kosciusko National Park fire management strategy 2008-2013. If they do not know, the Alpine National Park and the Kosciusko National Park meet at the Victorian border. The parks might be governed by two governments but it is the same ecology and what applies to the Kosciusko also applies to the Alpine, except that the cattle were removed from Kosciusko in 1960. I just want to read a little section of this report:

The arrival of graziers and early settlers from about the 1820s saw significant change in the frequency of fire.

It did, it caused a significant change in the frequency of fire.

The overall recorded frequency of fires increased substantially in the late nineteenth century and twentieth century until the 1960s and has decreased since. Evidence as early as the 1890s indicates that the increased frequency of introduce fires during the grazing period resulted in substantial negative ecological impacts—

et cetera. In the unplanned fire history you can also see a dramatic increase in the number of fires in that region during the period that cattle were there. All of the research indicates that that is not necessarily due to the presence of the cattle; but was due to the presence of people and introduced fires. It is an extraordinary part of the world. (Time expired)