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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8546


Senator WILLIAMS (3:01 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Climate Change and Water (Senator Wong) to a question without notice asked by Senator Williams today relating to bushfires.

I was fortunate enough, a few years ago, to have a lecture from one John Walmsley—a man who has done such a great job in managing the environment. Mr Walmsley told me how, despite the general perception that hundreds of years ago the nation burnt as the Aborigines lit country in the hope of rain and to get green feed going to attract kangaroos et cetera for their food, that was not the case. In fact, the case was that Australia had millions and millions of some smaller species of kangaroos that grazed the country. Once we introduced the fox and the cat to this nation that was the end of those species. What I am saying is that Australia was grazed prior to white settlement. The severe fires were not a matter of fact; it was management of the environment by nature, obviously brought about over thousands of years.

But now we have a situation where the Greens, with their dominance over the Labor Party, especially in the New South Wales parliament, insist on so many national parks being formed. And what are they? They are simply fire balls. It was so disappointing to drive through the Pilliga three years ago, from Narrabri to Coonabarabran and to see the burnt out mess that was a result of the fire there. Huge fires were brought about by huge fuel levels on the ground because there was no grazing, of course, and no hazard reduction burning. And when you have a hot fire it gets up into the crown of the tree and destroys the tree. Thousands upon thousands of acres were burnt, and all that was left was dead, black sticks.

I find it amazing how the Koala Foundation is now kicking up a fuss because our koala population is reducing. Of course it is reducing. They are being burnt in national parks. How many koalas were killed in the Pilliga? Hundreds or thousands would have died in this bushfire. And there is the problem: unless you graze this country and keep the fuel levels down you will destroy the environment, the trees and the animals that live in those places.

It was interesting: I had a farmer call me just recently. He used to graze the state forest alongside his property. He ran 150 cows in it for months and reduced the fuel levels by reducing the grass. But now it has been turned into a national park and no longer is grazing allowed. We know what is going to happen. It is only a matter of time, as the grasses build up after rain and thunderstorms and then we have a dry spell with lightning strikes—along comes the fire. It is in pretty rough country, too, which is not easily accessible, especially on the ground. So we face the enormous cost of helicopters and aeroplanes trying to put the fire out. If we grazed that country and kept the fuel levels down we would not have the severe fires. We would not have the destruction of the environment. But this is the issue: by declaring more national parks the Greens and the Labor Party are saying, ‘We’re doing a great thing for the environment.’ No, they are destroying the environment. That is exactly what they are doing.

We will see it this summer. We will see it on Toorale Station, out near Bourke, where Minister Wong bought the property—90,000 hectares, I believe—without even looking at it. It is locked up now in a national park. It is only a matter of time before that burns from one end to the other and destroys the environment—destroys the trees and kills the animals. And they call it conservation! I find it a disgraceful way to manage the environment.

The point I make is this: when you have a severe bushfire, 200 tonnes of carbon-dioxide per hectare is released into the atmosphere. So, in the 450,000 hectares that unfortunately burnt in that tragic fire on black Saturday in Victoria this year, 90 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide were released, yet here we find a policy where they want to reduce carbon-dioxide levels. It is so ironic; it is so hypocritical. I urge the government to start to learn how to manage land and properties. The best way to do that is to graze with dry stock and steers—not cows, calves and bulls, so that you have all the trouble of cows calving et cetera—and manage the fuel levels on the ground. Then and only then will we stop destroying our environment—destroying our trees and our animals that are supposed to be there, preserved for future generations.