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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 903

Mr BANDT (2:31 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. As the minister is aware, cattle have been reintroduced into Victoria’s heritage listed Alpine National Park by the state government under the guise of a scientific trial. The cattle are already causing significant damage to nationally listed endangered species and ecological communities, and 125 scientists from the field have called for putting an end to the trial given its complete lack of scientific justification. Given how long the cattle have now been there, and given that the Victorian government is avoiding its responsibilities under federal environmental law, can the minister confirm to the House that he will stop the action within one month of today?

Mr BURKE (Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) —I thank the member for Melbourne for raising the issue, which is of concern not only to people in Victoria but also to anyone who values our national park system across Australia. There are three different points of relevance to my portfolio. The first two are statutory obligations under the EPBC Act. The Victorian government did not notify my department prior to the introduction of cattle to the Alpine National Park. We are seeking information from the Victorian department as to the reasons they decided not to make that notification. Whether they should have or not is something I cannot judge until I receive the departmental advice. If it is found that they should have referred it, that in and of itself does not mean that they have broken federal environmental law in having the cattle there. There will then be a stage of further advice where I will have to consider whether or not federal environmental law has been broken. On each of those two issues I have to deal with the contents of the act and the contents of the act alone, and I cannot judge any of that until I receive my departmental advice.

A separate aspect, though, is the role that I have as federal environment minister, simply as an advocate for the environment in Australia, in deciding whether or not federal law has been breached. I say in the strongest possible terms to the Victorian government that, whether they have breached federal law or not, we are talking about a national park, not a farm. We are talking about a national park that is there for the preservation of native species.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr BURKE —It may come as a shock to some of the National Party members interjecting across there that cattle are not native Australian animals. I know that is a shock for the National Party. When I had the agriculture portfolio, I would happily defend the rights of farmers when they were culling kangaroos on their properties because a farm is not a home for a kangaroo, and it was quite appropriate for farmers to be culling the kangaroos on their properties. But, in the same way, a national park is not a place to find a home for cattle.

Mr Chester interjecting

Mr BURKE —The Victorian government should see sense on this. It is a very simple, straightforward issue as to whether our national park estate is going to be preserved for the environment. I accept that on the other side of the chamber there are very different views on the treatment of the environment to those that we have on this side of the chamber. But at the very least they should accept that national parks, if nothing else, are special.

Mr Chester interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Gippsland is warned.

Mr BURKE —If they do not even want to say that national parks are really special, they should at least be seen as being special enough that they are not appropriate sites for grazing. One of the interjections that came across earlier referred to the heritage concepts of grazing in the Alpine National Park. Make no mistake: we are not talking about a situation where you had drovers on horseback taking the cattle up the slopes. The cattle were dropped off in a truck—the cattle were sent there and unloaded from the back of a truck. What is going on there is a treatment of a national park which every Australian other than a handful of people on that side of the chamber knows is the wrong way to treat a national park. If we can learn nothing else from this episode, whether or not we end up in a situation of the Victorian government having breached federal environmental law, every Australian knows at least this: when you get a change of government away from Labor in this country you get a worse environmental outcome.