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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 2796


Mr BROADBENT (McMillan) (09:40): I second the motion. On Sunday morning my radio is sometimes still on ABC. Macca was on, and they had a school from the high country reciting a poem. The poem was, 'There was movement at the station for the word had got around that the colt from old Regret had got away.' So the kids say, 'We all went around and rounded him up.' That was their poem. I found myself, fortuitously, filling in for my friend and colleague the member for Gippsland at the high country cattlemen's muster at Merrijig in January. It was a pleasure to be at Merrijig and I must admit I was consumed by the points they put to us that day. I have supported minority positions in this place on many occasions before, even against my own party's position when in government. At Merrijig I found myself surrounded by this minority of Australian people and I thought very carefully about why I would support this disallowance motion. It is not something I am here to support just because Darren Chester is my mate; I am here to support the feelings those people communicated to me that day. They gave me all the information about what the park has been like over its 150 years of heritage.

For those who are listening to this address, I want to explain that I am trying to woo the minister to my point of view and I am trying to do it in a practical way. I hear the message that this is a political position taken by the government and the Greens, through the member for Melbourne, who is sitting in the chamber. I fully acknowledge that I too have done checks on the number of members of this parliament who are here on Greens preferences. Nearly half of the Labor Party members here are in marginal seats on Greens preferences. I have looked at all those figures too, and I understand where they are coming from.

So we bring forward an issue of practicality and relevance to a minority group of people in Australia that is part of our national heritage. We have not got a lot to hang our hat on in this country. It is mostly English heritage that we were taught at school; those were our early lessons. But what consumed me that day at Merrijig was that here was our own living history. Forget about the feral animals, the wild dogs, the blackberries that have gone berserk and the parts of the park that you can no longer get into—and that is across this nation. It is a disgrace the way we have nominated these places as national parks and then governments of all persuasions have not looked after them as they should have—and that is not just in Victoria but elsewhere too. Having said that, I recognise that we have something so precious in our living heritage as the rich history of these mountain cattlemen and their families and the amazing stories that surround them of battling against all odds as part of our nation's growth and history for 140 years. Can you imagine any country in the world turning their backs on the heritage such as we have, which is a gift? Can you imagine the Americans turning their back on this? No. But we as a nation are so consumed by the politics of the day, and we know politicians hate short-term pain that may lead to long-term gain. They hate it. They do not like any sort of political pain whatsoever.

But why can't somebody stand up in this place and say, 'This is a minority of people who have a grand heritage in this country and who we should all speak about with some pride and reverence'? At the same time, we are prepared to say no. Because of the green influence in our capital cities and the green influence of the members of parliament that sit in here, we are prepared to throw these people out of the high country. The message that I received was that parts that were pristine are no longer pristine. Parts that were of great value for our community to go and enjoy are no longer available for our community because they are a mess, inaccessible and covered in blackberries, and what was beautiful is no longer beautiful.

Have I been up there? No. Do I know about it from friends? Yes. Did I drive the wrong way home? Yes, and I would not recommend that trip to anybody, but I thought it was a good idea at the time. I have a view about this that I have thought about very carefully because I am in a marginal seat and I risk green support, even though there are not many in the House as green as we are in rural seats. Our land is particularly important to us. Our farmers and those who work the land are particularly important to us. There is not a day that goes by when we do not talk about them, think about them, work with them and, hopefully, bring their issues to this parliament. I am one who cannot walk away from the living heritage that is outlined in the story of the mountain cattlemen and their families, and especially their women. The stories over that 100 years of the valour of the women who were connected to these families are just amazing, as are the stories of the brilliant people who have come through the generations to make great contributions to this nation.

To those who say, 'You cannot put cattle into a national park,' I say that the Victorian state government went to the Victorian people and bravely said, 'If we are re-elected, we are going to do a trial in the national parks by putting very few cattle back into the high country.' To me, that was grabbing hold of that heritage and saying, 'It is important to us; it is important enough for us to continue it.'

I am taking a different tack in trying to convince the minister to support this motion. The different tack is that it is all about our living heritage. It is all about people we care about and it is about a minority group of people, being the mountain cattlemen, who have no effect on any seat whether they change from one way to another. There is nothing for the minister to lose in attacking the mountain cattlemen. But in attacking the mountain cattlemen he is attacking our living heritage and what is important in this nation—the values that the mountain cattlemen have and the way they protected the land.

There is a criterion we should all have, and that is what is of long-term benefit to the nation. I have heard a lot about what is to the long-term benefit of the nation on a whole lot of issues. I have heard members of parliament, particularly those on the crossbench, say: 'No. I am prepared to go down this track whether it is politically difficult for me or not because I believe in the long-term interests of the Australian people.' That phrase has been used and bandied about so many times recently it has just about become the default. But I still believe in it. I still believe that this parliament should be governing for the Australian people and what is in their best interests today, tomorrow, next week, next year and in 20 years time. To have a vision for who we are and what we are on about we must never forget where we came from. Who are we? What made us up? Why are we like the way we are? Why are we reactionary in so many ways? It is because of our heritage. It is because of who we are.

I am only fourth generation. My great-grandfather was kicked out of England by his family. I know why I have some of the reactions I have today to some of the leadership I deal with.

An opposition member: The English knew what they were doing.

Mr BROADBENT: Yes! I am glad they threw him out. He did not want to join their business; he wanted to be a coach builder and the family did not think that coach building had a future at that stage.

An opposition member: Is this relevant?

Mr BROADBENT: Actually, it is very relevant because it goes back to the point that I was making about our living heritage and how important it is. We go on about our Indigenous community. We go on about the people who came on tall ships. We go on about the waves of generations of people that came here. But we are discounting our living heritage in these mountain cattlemen and saying that they are a minority and do not count. That is my only point to you today, Minister. Whilst you may have your criteria for what you have to perform under the law, there should be a reasonable consideration for the value of our living heritage: what has gone on in the past, what these people mean to us and what they will mean to future generations when their stories are told—because the stories about our history in this small part of Australia will be told over and over again.

We are not asking for a lot. There are thousands and thousands of hectares there. The cattle go up for a short time each year and are then taken out again. It is not a big ask to put the cattle back into the high country. So I say to the minister: if I could have my way, I would have the cattle back in the high country again on behalf of the minority that care about the country. It is not a big ask that the nation preserve our heritage and give back to the mountain cattlemen a small area of our great nation.

I was at a diabetes breakfast this morning, and there was a map of the world there with Australia cast out in red. I looked at the nation this morning from a different perspective, not with regard to diabetes but in terms of how big it is and how big the oceans around it are. We are only asking that the mountain cattlemen be given back some of their land rights. When I was in local government they called it 'prior-use rights'. The guy next door to me in Pakenham, where I live, carts metal and clay out of his place. He had a complaint. He came to me and said, 'Russell, you have to sign this document to say that I actually enjoy prior-use rights.'

Today, I am arguing only that these people have had their prior-use rights taken from them, that this should be redressed and that they should be returned to the high country. It is not a big ask. This is a tiny bit of the nation. I have been to Western Australia. I have seen the feral goats over there, covering the nation. I have seen the camels that are making a terrible mess. I have seen the horses that are making a terrible mess. I have seen things going wrong right across my nation with regard to these issues.

So my plea and my care for the cattlemen are not political—they are not based on a political decision. I make my plea because I believe I am in the right. So I am standing here and pleading with this parliament to agree to this disallowance motion put forward by my friend and colleague the member for Gippsland. He also has put it forward in a genuine spirit of goodwill. I am not here just to ruffle feathers. I am here to ask and plead on behalf of a minority. That minority deserves a go, deserves an opportunity and deserves to see in the years to come that our living heritage is preserved. I ask all those in this place to consider very carefully how they vote on this motion because they are voting on the heart and soul of the nation.