Monday, 24 June 2013
Private Members' Business
Protection of National Parks
This is indeed a timely and very welcome resolution put forward by the member for Makin, because we are starting to see precisely what happens to our environment and to our biodiversity when people elect a conservative government. It was enlightening to hear the words of the member for Gippsland. When the Baillieu-Napthine government came to office, what was amongst the first things that it chose to do? It was not about fostering industry. It was not about providing extra assistance to schools or to health. It was all about shoring up support amongst its own supporter base and taking 'decisive action' in relation to the 'critical issue' of alpine grazing—really decisive action! So, if we are talking about whose supporter base is being spoken to with the actions of government, we know very clearly, Member for Gippsland, where the Baillieu government and now the Napthine government lined up on these issues.
But it is not just in Victoria that these sorts of issues persist in coming up; it is in Queensland and New South Wales. In Queensland, for instance, we have seen the Newman government moving to allow cattle grazing in drought times in some five national parks, I believe, and eight state parks. In addition to that, I understand the Queensland government has also commenced a review of all protected areas created after 2002 to consider the potential for logging of those areas. So it is yet another conservative government pushing ahead with its retrograde moves on the environment. In New South Wales we have seen a cattle grazing trial launched in the Millewa National Park at the determination of the O'Farrell government. We have also seen the New South Wales conservatives agreeing to allow recreational shooters into national parks.
As I said, we have seen the Baillieu-Napthine government in Victoria launching a cattle grazing trial in the Alpine National Park, although of course that has now been prevented by ministerial intervention, and rightly so. However, notwithstanding that, the Napthine government has gone back for another bite and is in fact considering letting weekend gold and gemstone hunters prospect in some Victorian national parks. It is interesting to have a look at the report that has been prepared in relation to this by the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council, which had as its chair Mr Phil Honeywood, a former Liberal Party minister. He has made some interesting comments in relation to the prospect of damage that may be occasioned by prospecting in national parks, but I will come to that a little bit later if time allows.
Removing cattle from the Alpine National Park, as has been touched on by the last two speakers, was a move that was originally pursued by a Labor minister for environment in Victoria, John Thwaites. It was a step taken by Labor, and it is something that this side can rightly be proud of, because national parks are places which provide a protected habitat for local wildlife. They are a means by which we can preserve our biodiversity and provide support for what can be fragile ecosystems and threatened native wildlife. National parks should not simply stand for the benefit of commercial operations, graziers or business owners; they are for the benefit of this generation and the next. Particularly at a time when we are talking about the damaging effects of dangerous climate change on our national biodiversity, they are more important than ever.
The seemingly scientific arguments presented by the Victorian government in support of the benefits of alpine grazing as a means of reducing the risk of bushfire have been shown to be rubbish. Scientists did not even have the opportunity to assess the environment within the Alpine National Park that was likely to be affected before the Victorian government rushed in cattle.
In the time remaining to me, I might refer again to the use of national parks for gold and gemstone prospecting. I said that the relevant decision-making body advising in relation to this, chaired by Phil Honeywood, had already talked about the evidence of the damage from prospecting. It noted evidence from Melbourne Water, which raised concerns that prospecting could undermine other efforts to improve the health of the river system. Indeed, Phil Honeywood suggested that prospecting did not 'sit well with the purposes of national and state parks'. Indeed that is correct. Ultimately, what is the point of designated conservation parks if not to protect our biodiversity and our vulnerable or ecologically important species? We are here to serve the national interest, and this side of the House will continue to act to preserve those natural assets.