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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2792

Animal Welfare

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:38): My question is about a catastrophic animal welfare issue and it is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. I ask Senator Ludwig: as agriculture minister and as a Queenslander, what submissions did he make to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, for permission to allow grazing on national parks for the up to 300,000 head of cattle that are at risk of a horrible death from starvation as a result of the live cattle ban, bushfires and drought? Does the minister agree with the Queensland RSPCA, which said that the Queensland government's decision to allow access to national parks was 'a common-sense solution to a potentially catastrophic animal welfare event'?

Senator LUDWIG ( Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery ) ( 14:40 ): There have been, to put it in context, calls for national parks in Queensland to be used for grazing for drought affected cattle. An article to that effect, which seems to be where Senator Macdonald has got his information from, claims that the environment minister, Tony Burke, has dealt with this.

Australian and Queensland national park estates were established for good reasons. This form of land tenure offers real protection to threatened ecosystems and species. But any decision to open them up for grazing, even where this was the former principal land use, needs to be carefully considered by all parties. While the management of national parks in Queensland lies within the responsibility of the state government, many parks have been established to protect matters of national environmental significance. Under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, actions that have actual environmental significance—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, I rise on a point of order on the grounds of relevance. I asked the minister what submissions he made, firstly. Secondly, does he agree with what the Queensland RSPCA said? Did you make submissions, Minister? What were they? Do you agree with what the Queensland RSPCA said?

The PRESIDENT: The minister is answering the question. The minister still has 54 seconds remaining.

Senator LUDWIG: It is very important to ensure that we get this right, because the tenor of the question is about grazing in national parks. Of course I have had discussions with Minister Burke about this issue. But, broadly, the issue involves matters under the EPBC Act. The administration of the EPBC Act is a matter for my colleague Mr Burke. We have not received any proposal from Queensland about this at all.

Senator Ian Macdonald: That is a lie!

The PRESIDENT: Order! You need to withdraw that. You cannot accuse—

Senator Ian Macdonald: I have a letter here from the Queensland government. That is an outright lie.

The PRESIDENT: Order! That is a different issue. You cannot use that language in the chamber. You need to withdraw the language. If you wish to pursue the issue—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, I withdraw the language, but it is a clear untruth. Here is the letter.

The PRESIDENT: That is something that you can pursue later.

Senator LUDWIG: Predominantly it is a matter for Minister Burke to consider. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on this matter. But I can assure you that I am aware of the issues that are facing producers in that region. When I was in that region— (Time expired)

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:43): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Just wait a minute, Senator Macdonald. You are entitled to be heard in silence. I will ask you to start again.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Is the minister aware that the relevant properties on the National Reserve System proposed to be grazed are former beef cattle properties bought jointly by the state and Commonwealth and are not pristine bush but are in proximity to the recently declared drought areas and are in fact suitable for agistment? Why does the Gillard government care more about grass than the fate of live animals?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:43): I reject the tenor of the question. If the Queensland government and Senator Macdonald cared about graziers in the Richmond area and those northern areas, they would have already signed up to Farm Finance, which we announced in the budget. I have asked them to, but I have not heard a peep out of Senator Macdonald on this issue. I have not heard a peep, not about providing assistance to graziers. All he wants to talk about are issues that do not actually concern the department. This is about the EPBC Act. What he wants to do is to go off on a frolic of his own across into grasslands, but let me say that if you want to provide real help to farmers and if you want to support farming communities, why don't you make representations to the Campbell Newman government about supporting farm finance and ensuring that we do get real outcomes for farmers in those regions? We can provide them with up to $650,000 loans; we can provide them with debt mediation legislation— (Time expired)

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:45): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I ask the minister why did he deliberately mislead the Senate in saying that no submission had been made by the Queensland government to the federal government, when I have a copy of the letter here that I can table? Secondly, Minister, what do you propose to do about the 300,000 head of cattle that are about to die a horrible death because of your live cattle ban and the natural events of bushfires and drought? What are you going to do about those cattle to give them feed?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, you will need to withdraw the imputation contained in the question.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr President, did you mean the bit where I said 'why did he deliberately mislead the Senate'?


Senator IAN MACDONALD: Okay. Can I rephrase it?

The PRESIDENT: Yes, you can, but you need to withdraw that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I withdraw that and I will replace it with: why did you just tell the Senate that the Queensland government had not made a submission when you should have known, as I have here a copy of the submission by the Queensland government to the Gillard government about this issue? I will repeat the second part of my question: what are you going to do about those 300,000 live cattle—

Government senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Order! Senator Macdonald, you have withdrawn. When there is silence we will proceed.

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:46): I stand by what I said. I said I have not received the letter and my advice is that Minister Burke has not received it, either. If they have sent it to Senator Macdonald to deliver it to us, that is probably why it will never arrive. It will get stuck in his office.

Let me say that the Gillard government has provided significant support for regional Australia. In addition to that, to deal with some of the head winds, we put together a farm finance package. So, if Senator Macdonald does want to provide assistance and does want to put his shoulder to the wheel to help some of those producers do some of that work—quite frankly I doubt that is his real intent in any event—he can encourage Minister McVeigh and the Campbell Newman government to sign up to farm finance. That will— (Time expired)