House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Private Members' Business

Protection of National Parks

8:28 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Roads and Regional Transport) Share this | Hansard source

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this important motion, because it allows me the chance to discuss a range of natural resource management issues that are important to my community; in fact, more broadly, throughout regional Australia.

I am always fascinated when we have city based Labor members and city based Greens members lecturing regional Australians about environmental issues. It must be the view from those leafy suburbs that apparently brings brilliant insight into the management of distant national parks and recreational reserves.

This motion amounts to an attempt to take over national parks management by the federal government from the states. This is one that the environment minister tried himself in about 2011, I think, and he failed miserably, just as he has failed in relation to EPBC reform and his planned takeover of the states' national parks was a stunt in 2011. He has dusted off an old idea in the lead-up to this new election in 2013 . It is a stunt again today.

Back then, Mr Burke was challenged to come up with clear and comprehensive evidence to justify a federal takeover of the states' national parks. He failed to do so then. He has failed to do so today. It has only reinforced my view that this is purely a political stunt from a desperate minister.

We are talking about the same minister who, when he was the minister for agriculture, actually stripped money out of Landcare. He actually stripped money out of the practical environmentalists in our community. I think it was in 2010. He simply cannot be taken seriously when it comes to issues of practical environmental management. He is big on hyperbole and grand gestures but, when it comes to actually rolling your sleeves up, getting your hands dirty and doing that practical environmental work, this minister has been missing in action.

'Lock it up and leave it' is not an environmental policy; it is a recipe for disaster. But it is the preferred policy of the Greens and, increasingly, it has become the preferred policy of the inner-city Laborites who never have to work or live in the environment or make a living off the land they pretend to protect. The classic example of this is prescribed burning, which has long been opposed by the inner-city Greens—but, when it comes to prescribed burning, those same individuals have been strangely silent on the issue since the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria. I strongly believe in multi-use, with people accessing our parks—actually getting out there and enjoying the facilities that are on offer and enjoying everything that there is to be enjoyed in the national park environment—because they have more respect for it as a result.

In the time I have available to me, there are three issues that I want to discuss that are directly linked to this motion. They are this government's failure to get serious about the control of pest plants and animals in our nation. I also want to discuss the Commonwealth's interference on the issue of alpine grazing, which the member for Makin quite helpfully raised on my behalf. Another issue I also want to discuss is the Commonwealth's abject failure to meet its international commitments with it comes to Ramsar listed wetlands, such as the Gippsland lakes in my electorate.

I want to begin with the reference in the motion to biodiversity and environmental risks. One of the biggest risks to the native species in our nation is the impact of feral species. I am not going to talk about weeds so much tonight; I will talk about the feral animals in our nation. We are talking about cats, pigs, goats, camels and foxes. But in my electorate probably the biggest threat to biodiversity is the impact of feral dogs. They are of enormous economic concern and also take a very heavy environmental and social toll in my community.

The state government, to its credit, is doing its part. The current coalition state government has come to the party and has increased funding for trapping and shooting. It has introduced a bounty to encourage hunters to go out, but it also wanted to aerial baiting. You would think that aerial baiting would be well received. After all, it has been successful in New South Wales. The research has been done and the impact on the spotted quoll was found to be minimal. But this federal government, the minister, actually blocked aerial baiting in Victoria. Even though it has been successful in Victoria and even though the research has been done, he actually got his department to call for more research.

So the Victorian state government had a choice: they could do research on the quolls in Victoria—even though we know they are the same as the quolls in New South Wales—or they could spend the money killing wild dogs. Funnily enough, the Victorian state government made the choice to put more money into their baiting program and their shooting and trapping program and decided not to go ahead with the aerial baiting of wild dogs, as long as this minister is in his position. So it confuses and concerns me when members opposite come here and talk about biodiversity and environmental risks, when their own minister refuses to support a proven technique for killing wild dogs, for controlling them in a way that is actually beneficial to native species—let alone the enormous benefits that flow through to the primary agricultural sector in my community. If this minister wants to interfere in the management of these environmental reserves, as referred to in the motion, at least he could interfere and do something positive for the people in my electorate who are concerned about feral species.

Another issue that was raised by the member for Makin which concerns me was his reference to alpine grazing. This is an issue that was specifically referred to in a motion and was the subject of a disallowance motion in March 2012. So my thoughts on that issue are well known. They are on the Hansard and they have been put on the public record many times since. The Victorian state government won a clear mandate at the 2010 state election. The coalition government campaigned for the return of alpine grazing as a bushfire mitigation measure. The coalition won the election. So what did they do? They introduced a trial of grazing in the alpine country to try to reduce the impact of bushfires. So what did the Labor Party do at the federal level? Well, the minister just had to intervene. In a scurrilous attempt to enforce a federal takeover—which is what it amounts to—in relation to the EPBC Act upon the Victorians. That was the subject of the disallowance motion which was defeated by one vote—when some of the Independents teamed with the Greens and the Labor Party to defeat the motion.

The member for Makin talked about cattle and about the enormous damage that they had supposedly done to the Alpine National Park, but he did not make any reference to any other hard-hooved species in the Alpine National Park. In fact, the Saturday Age of this very weekend had a story about brumbies—10,000 brumbies in the Alpine National Park. But there is never a mention from those opposite about that feral species. There is never a mention—'There's The Man from Snowy River. We'd better look after the brumbies. We won't talk about the real environmental issues; we will use the mountain cattlemen to try to score some very tawdry political points.' They never talk about the real risks to the environment of the alpine region.

All of this gives me pause for thought. Why do Labor MPs feel so compelled to support the Greens? It is a reasonable question. When you look opposite and you look at their primary vote, you understand that there are about 40 Labor members of parliament who actually need the preferences of the Greens to win their seats.

Mr Katter interjecting

The member for Kennedy will have his turn. They need Greens preferences to try to get across the line; hence they have been prepared to decimate the mountain cattlemen's 150 years of tradition—all in a desperate bid for Green votes.

If the member for Makin was sincere in his belief that the cattle in the Alpine National Park and alpine country Victoria had done so much damage, how is it possible that they were able to go to the Alpine National Park—go to that high country—for more than 150 years and that region was so badly damaged and yet we made it into a national park? They had been going there for 150 years and yet we made it into a national park. It cannot have been that bad. And they do not talk about skiing and putting ski lodges in there, as that would really offend the inner-city Lefties and the Greens.

So I say to those opposite: I will give you some free advice. When it comes to the Greens, let me promise you: they are never satisfied. Just because you do one deal, do not believe they will not be back tomorrow knocking on your door for another deal. They will shaft you at the first chance they can get. They are a party of protest. They need to fight for something to exist. They are not a party of government. In order to exist, they have to campaign against something. When you do deals with the Greens, you are doing deals with the devil. I just urge those opposite to stop telling regional Victorians how to live their lives and stop doing deals with the Australian Greens.

Finally, in the short amount of time I have left—and I agree with the member for Makin that there are many other issues we would like to discuss tonight—I would like to mention this government's miserable record when it comes to natural resource management as it relates to the Gippsland Lakes and their catchment area. The state government has just announced $10 million over three years to support practical environmental works in the catchment. Even though these are Ramsar-listed wetlands and the federal government recognised in 2007 that it had some obligations and gave $3 million to the Gippsland Lakes catchment, there has not been a cent since. This government has not given a cent since to water quality, to nutrient reduction or to control pest species that would impact on these Ramsar-listed wetlands. It is vital that the Commonwealth recognise its responsibilities in relation to the Gippsland Lakes and their catchment areas for the economic, social, environmental and cultural benefit they bring to the broader Gippsland region. I thank the House. (Time expired)


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