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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1861

Mr CHESTER (GippslandParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (11:18): I would like to take this opportunity to update the House on two natural resource management issues which are of great significance to the people of Gippsland, and also to people in the neighbouring seat of McMillan. Both of these issues are primarily a state government responsibility, but there are some federal implications. I am referring to the matters of alpine grazing and aerial baiting plans for wild dogs. Both of these issues are subject to EPBC Act considerations. And I do stress, in making my comments today, it is not my intention to pre-empt any decision the Minister for the Environment may make; I am confident he will discharge his duties in a responsible manner and he does not need my advice. But I would also like to stress the importance of these two issues to the people of Gippsland.

By way of background, I have spoken in the past about the issue of alpine grazing and the former Labor government's treatment of mountain cattlemen—which I think was, quite frankly, appalling—but today I would like to update the House on the current proposals being put forward by the Victorian government. It submitted an application to the minister on 25 November for a scientific study to occur on the reintroduction of cattle to a small section of the Alpine National Park—that is, the Wonnangatta Valley, which has been continuously grazed since the 1860s. The research trial is an investigation into the use of strategic grazing of domestic livestock to manage fuel loads. Before members opposite object it must be noted that, here in the Canberra region, the Labor government uses strategic grazing of cattle to reduce the impact of fires in the ACT. The trial in Victoria is intended to compare the effectiveness and the impacts, both positive and negative, of livestock grazing and of the current planned burning practices of bushfire fuel management.

The Victorian government has a clear mandate for this trial; it took the proposal for the trial to the people of Victoria at the last election, and the trial has strong support in the community. I do not wish to suggest for a second that it has unanimous support; it is a controversial issue which has received both positive and negative feedback. But the government won a clear mandate and has support for this trial, particularly amongst communities which are adversely affected by the impact of bushfires. I refer specifically to the communities around the seats of Indi, McMillan and Gippsland.

The proposal for the high country grazing to return has won strong support from the Victorian Farmers Federation. I refer to the Omeo branch president, mountain cattleman Simon Turner, who in a statement said:

The former Labor Government's refusal to revive alpine grazing has damaged the alps. Not only has it left the area bushfire prone, it has risked wiping out a 200-year-old tradition.

Since alpine grazing came to an end, fuel loads have reached dangerous levels and valleys have been choked with weeds.

Let's hope there is still a future for both the heritage of our cattlemen and the sustainable management of the land.

Simon Turner makes a very good point about the sustainable management of the land. His point reflects directly on the impact that severe bushfires have had not just on property and human life but also on the biodiversity of the Australian Alps. There is a direct link between alpine grazing and wild dog management, which also has significant impacts on the biodiversity of the natural environment.

The Victorian government will submit an application to the minister on the aerial baiting of wild dogs sometime this month. The Victorian government released its new wild dog action plan in the past week. The plan involves the use of trapping, baiting and shooting and a flexible resource model using full-time staff, contractors and casuals to best reflect the nature of the problem. The key thing concerning the Victorian government is aerial baiting. The previous government did not support an application for aerial baiting in Victoria even though aerial baiting of wild dogs is occurring just across the border in New South Wales. We had the ridiculous situation where the environment department called on the Victorian government to undertake a multimillion dollar study to justify aerial baiting in Victoria even though permission had been given for aerial baiting in New South Wales.

I believe that the Victorian government has acted responsibly in the matter of wild dogs. They have used the full range of options at their disposal to try to control the wild dog menace, which is significant—it has obvious economic impacts on our agricultural production and on native fauna. It also has social impacts: the deterioration of the mental health of farmers who have to deal with the problem on a daily or nightly basis is very significant. I support the Victorian government in its endeavours to introduce aerial baiting in the future in Victoria as one of a suite of measures to help control the wild dog menace in Victoria.