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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5267

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for the Arts, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water and Population and Communities) (20:57): I thank the member for Makin for the question. The issue of degradation of national parks is something for which I hold a passionate personal view. Many national parks when they are first proclaimed will have levels of multiple use. It is not uncommon for stock and even for some logging to be going on in national parks at the time that they are first proclaimed. The rule—which until recently has been observed by both sides of politics—has always been that there would not be backward steps in national parks: that is, grazing once removed would not be restored; logging once concluded would not be resumed. What we have seen from a number of state governments in the last couple of years in particular is a willingness to change that and to view backward environmental steps within national parks to be something that they are willing to countenance.

Most Australians expect that the term 'national parks' is a hint to national involvement. By law, at the moment, it is not. With the Victorian situation my power to intervene was not because it was a national park but because it was heritage listed. The grazing affected the heritage values and that provided the opportunity for me to have the legal power to follow through on what was a view that I also held deeply personally.

The situation in Queensland is not a mirror of that. A number of the national parks have been proclaimed only quite recently. Some of the areas which have been contracted as national reserves systems have not been proclaimed in formal ways at all. But because they are formal grazing properties—and there is nothing wrong with a national park being a formal grazing property; there has been a history of cattle in places like Kakadu that are now viewed as some of our most magnificent parts of Australia—it has meant that the biodiversity values which otherwise might give me specific legal powers are in many ways not currently present in a number of those sites.

The department is still looking through it. There are some places where endangered species are present, and the Queensland government in the first instance had not provided a detailed plan as to exact timing, place, stock levels, so we did not have that sort of information. As far as I know there is more sharing of that information going on now. If it is the case that federal approval is required then I will make those decisions according to the legal powers that I have.

I have a strong level of sympathy for the graziers and pastoralists of Queensland who have reduced their stocking rates, who have prepared for difficult times and who have taken an economic hit as such when they say, 'How come my neighbour gets free adjustment on public land?' It would be very urban view for people to think that there is only one view among cattle owners in Queensland on this issue.

As I say, regardless of personal views on national parks, you have to exercise your powers according to law and according to the legal powers that you have. What we have in Queensland is not a mirror for the powers that existed in Victoria with the alpine grazing issue.