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Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2443


Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (16:38): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table the explanatory memorandum and have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Greens have long opposed calls for the reintroduction of cattle into Victoria's Alpine National Park. The last attempt was in January 2011. In that trial, the Victorian Government allowed 400 cattle into the park across several sites. In that case, the Federal government intervened to put an end to the program.

We are now having the same debate again. The reintroduction of cattle to the park has been done once more under the guise of a trial into the fire reduction effects, but this time with Federal Government approval. This is disingenuous at best. There is no scientific uncertainty around the issue. There is no evidence to support this move as a fire abatement program. The scientific consensus is clear, that the damage the cattle are doing to a fragile ecosystem puts the lie to any discussion of the trial being for the benefit of the national park.

The real debate is about the extent to which we should protect our natural environment. The Greens give Australia's wonderful natural environment the benefit of the doubt. We ascribe a very high value to biodiversity, the preservation of wilderness, and preserving areas of natural beauty for all to enjoy. This is not an attitude shared by the current Victorian or Federal governments. Rather, they see Australia's environment as a resource to be exploited. Rather than ask, "Why should we risk damage to this unique part of Victoria?" they ask, "Why should this resource be locked away? How can we extract economic value from it?" To them, "biodiversity" is just a word, a piece of jargon used by environmentalists in their attempts to impede progress. It can all be lumped under the banner of "green tape" and dismissed.

This trial, and the damage it will cause to Alpine National Park, is an example of this philosophy. It is symbolic of this Government's attitude to the environment as a whole.

This Bill is required to prevent that damage and do what the Minister himself should have done—protect the national park. Unfortunately legal protection for national parks cannot be taken for granted. The EBPC Act is the best tool we have at present to bring about this protection.

I encourage Senators to turn their minds to what exactly the EPBC Act does. It does not protect the whole of the natural environment. It singles out matters of national environmental significance. That is, it identifies those parts of our common natural inheritance which are so precious, or so fragile, that the Federal Government must protect them. It chooses the best of the best. The species and ecological communities protected by this Bill are some of those very matters.

From among the best of the best, the EPBC says "only where there is a significant impact" on one of these matters will the Federal Government step in. This is an example of just such a significant impact.

Our national environmental laws are woefully weak, but here is an example of where they can and should swing into action.

This Bill amends the EPBC Act and deems a referral regarding alpine grazing to have been made by the Victorian government and rejected by the Minister. It is a last resort—a legislative backstop—but it is necessary if the Minister will not act of his own accord.

We still have time to limit the damage caused by this act of contempt for Victoria's environment.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Senator DI NATALE: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.