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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5268


Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for the Arts, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water and Population and Communities) (21:03): Obviously I cannot accept the framing of the question as do I believe this rather than that in the way that the member for Flinders has sought to frame his question. I suspect this is not a surprise to him. We need to remember that for the cattle experiencing a lack of feed and the stock experiencing a lack of feed in that part of Queensland, national parks are an issue, even if you accept everything the Queensland government says, for very much a minority of stock. We should not pretend for a minute that this issue somehow solves the problem being faced by graziers and pastoralists at a time of drought.

I would also remind the honourable member that during the Federation drought—the longest and deepest drought on memory and on record, depending on your part of the country—and even in all the years of the Howard government, I do not remember anybody actually arguing that national parks were the way to deal with drought. As one of the farmers, graziers or pastoralists,—in different parts of the country they like to use different terms—who was quite angry about other owners of stock being able to get free agistment on public land, commented to me, 'Well, there might be grass there, but there's no water.' We need to be careful that we are not allowing a game to be played, by people who live in cities, that pretends there is a quick answer when the truth is that, even if you do not hold my environmental view about national parks, even if you accept the framework that has been put forward by the Queensland government, it would sell people horrifically short on an answer to the problems that are being faced.

How do I then deal with all of these issues? You deal with them according to the law. It is as simple as that. In relation to the alpine grazing issue in Victoria, if there had not been a national heritage listing for the alpine national parks, I suspect I would have been unable to send the cattle out of the national park. Personally that would have been frustrating, but you make you decisions according to law. While I am asked to answer as though there is a broader executive power, you receive the advice, and decisions under the EPBC Act are highly litigated. Time after time you find yourself in court from one side or the other. I often get asked at interviews, 'How do you feel about someone threatening to take you to court?' Well, part of this job is that people take you to court most days. But you make your decisions according to law and certainly, to date, the courts have backed up the decisions that I have made.

Where does that leave us with the Queensland situation? All I can confirm is that the powers which were available in Victoria are not available in Queensland. At the moment Queensland are going ahead, as far as I understand, with what they had announced. I have a view that it is not the right way to treat a national park. That is my view. I do not believe we take backward steps in national parks. I also find it hard to believe that once the cattle are in the Queensland government will ever provide the money that is required for management of those areas. Wetlands will get trampled and there will be a whole lot of challenges to the environment.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 21:08 to 21:25

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Resources, Energy and Tourism

Proposed expenditure, $1,041,472,000