Parliament National Parks Amendment (Prohibiting Cattle Grazing) Bill 2015 High Country Grazing

National Parks Amendment (Prohibiting Cattle Grazing) Bill 2015

15 April 2015


15 April 2015

RYAN (Euroa) — I wish I could say it was a pleasure to speak on the National Parks Amendment (Prohibiting Cattle Grazing) Bill 2015, but unfortunately it is not. Like my Nationals colleagues, I strongly oppose this bill. Labor's opposition to cattle grazing is ideological; it is payback, pure and simple. Again we see the Labor Party putting politics ahead of policy, just as in its secret plan to dump the 5 per cent prescribed burning target. Labor has painted the cattlemen as reckless vandals who are farming a pristine national park. The cattlemen are not vandals and nor is the park a pristine environment. Legislation is not even required for the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water to remove the cattle from the park, so why would she even bother to bring in this bill? The minister has made the government's position clear: the sole purpose of this bill is to demonise the men and women who for generations have cared for the high country.

The member for Essendon referred to the cattlemen as 'marginal economic rent seekers' and described this issue as 'an annoyance'. What an insensitive and arrogant thing to say. This bill is driven by Labor's fear of losing its prized inner city seats to the Greens. Labor has proven yet again that it does not understand regional Victoria. How many examples of that do we need? There was the north–south pipeline and now we again have the issue of cattle grazing. This is an argument from people who have never ever set foot in the park and who have little understanding of regional communities and their way of life.

We go to great lengths to protect our Indigenous culture and the places and objects in this state that are of importance to us as a community. Why then do we not value the place that the cattlemen hold in Victoria's history? Their traditions are also part of the rich fabric of our state. I have had the great privilege of spending a few days with Charlie and Glenda Lovick, Bruce and Debbie McCormack and Graeme and Wendy Stoney. I took the time to go to the high country and have a look at what they do and see how they understand that country. Not one member of the Labor Party, including the minister, has bothered to contact them to ask their opinion on this topic. The Labor Party is introducing legislation that fundamentally changes generations of heritage and culture — their heritage and culture — and yet there has been no consultation by the Labor Party with the people whose lives this legislation affects. No-one has visited them to take a firsthand look.

The member for Murray Plains and I rode through the traditional run of the Stoneys and the Lovicks, which was last grazed in the summer of 2004–05. Those people have a firsthand knowledge of the environment. They have generations of understanding of the climate, the flora and the fauna. On our way to Mount Lovick we stopped on the spur of Bluff Range. The grass there is now some 3 feet tall and the deadwood on the snow gums was touching the grass. It does not take a genius to realise that if a fire came through that area it would sweep up into the canopy of the snow gums, like it did in the 2006–07 alpine fires, and destroy that beautiful environment. In Charlie's words, 'This grass will grow, reach maturity and die down. Next year it will do the same until it gets such a thick matting it can no longer grow. That changes the complete environment. It burns really hot, and it burns really deep'.

Labor and the Greens would have us believe that the alpine and river red gum national parks are an untouched natural environment. I question why those parties do not have the same opposition to other uses within those mountainous areas. Take Mount Buller, for example, which has 850 hectares of ski resort, including 180 hectares of ski trails, right next to the Alpine National Park. The centre of that village was a highland grazing camp site before the mid-1960s. From Bluff Range, where the Lovicks traditionally grazed their cattle, you can clearly see where the vast swathes of snow gums have been cleared from Mount Buller to make way for ski runs, but we do not hear the Labor Party opposing skiing in the alpine areas. City people enjoy skiing and therefore we would not want to oppose it. Labor also conveniently ignores the impact of hard-hooved animals, including deer and brumbies in those national parks.

The last time Labor was in government it cut public funding for land management. Now, given its newfound concern for the state of our national parks, I look forward to seeing Labor's commitment to the national parks reflected in a significant increase in funding for weed and pest management in the budget this year. The decisions behind this legislation are not based on science. The two documents the government is using to substantiate its argument are outdated or have not been subject to peer review. It is an extraordinary step for a government, any government, even this government, to legislate against receiving additional advice. The most eminent fire ecologist, David Packham, quoted by other members earlier in the debate today, has condemned the minister for this decision. I seek leave to table a document from David Packham in response to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water.

Leave refused.

Ms RYAN — Excellent, then I will use what time I have remaining to read the document into the record because it is important that it is included in this debate. The response from David Packham states:

This sets a dangerous precedent and speaking as a scientist, the principle of moving legislation to cut off options for any form of future scientific research causes me great concern.

The minister is claiming that there exists 'extensive scientific research' and that 'the science is clear'. On the subject of grazing and fuel reduction, adequate scientific work just does not exist in any credible form. It is a falsehood to pretend that it does so …

I have grave concerns about the veracity of the small amount of completed scientific work that is available on the subject of grazing and fire threat …

Minister Neville, in attempting to deal with the politically difficult issue of alpine ecology and its relationship to one grazing activity has no doubt listened to advice that is politically based, rather than taking notice of the experiential and theoretical evidence, the whole evidence and nothing but the evidence. To stampede long-lasting legislation without a full knowledge of the facts is to cause lasting damage to the alpine environment and no doubt ultimately her own political standing.

Some of the reasons for continuing the grazing trial as a very high priority and over many decades are:

1.     There is no clear parameter available to describe environmental health and thus 'damage' cannot be evaluated. This lack of quantitative measurement reduces the little research done so far to … the status of stamp collecting.

 

2.     Environments have life spans of hundreds of years and short term; usually undergraduate or post graduate studies are not able to provide answers to even fundamental questions of fire ecology …

 

 …

 

4.     Most seriously there is no dose-response curve that could lead to considered and wise decisions to secure the long-term health and safety of the alpine country and all who reside in it.

 

 

The alps now are truly at the crossroads and the decisions now being made in haste on enforced ignorance will be repented at leisure.

Labor is destroying generations of tradition and increasing the fire risk in the alpine regions, and that will be on its head.

To visit Hansard, click here: http://hansard.parliament.vic.gov.au/isysquery/0f72827b-9d9c-47e7-831c-8c2829f26645/4/doc/

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