Senate debates

Thursday, 19 March 2015


Victoria: Cattle Grazing in National Parks

7:39 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I rise to speak about the thoughtless and blatantly political actions of the Victorian Labor Party, led by Premier Daniel Andrews, who, along with the Victorian minister for the environment, Lisa Neville, have turned their back on more than 170 years of Victorian history, and indeed my own family history, by seeking a permanent ban on cattle grazing in the high country. Ms Neville this week introduced legislation into the Victorian parliament banning grazing in the Alpine National Park as well as in the River Red Gum national parks. The introduction of the National Parks Amendment (Prohibiting Cattle Grazing) Bill 2015 will amend the National Parks Act 1975 to prohibit cattle grazing for any purpose in these national parks. Minister Neville was quoted as saying:

Our national parks are for people to enjoy, not cows to destroy. The science is clear, cattle doesn't reduce bushfire risk in alpine areas, and they damage the alpine environment.

The Andrews Labor Government has acted so that alpine grazing will never happen again – we have closed the loophole that allowed the Coalition's so called 'scientific trial'.

By introducing this legislation today, we have ensured that Victoria's Alpine National Park and the River Red Gum national parks are free of cattle for future generations.

Labor's plan, which is supported by Bill Shorten and the federal Labor Party, including senators opposite, amounts to nothing more than one more Labor nail in the coffin of a great tradition and cultural practice in Victoria. For more than 10 years, Labor have attempted to kill off the Man from Snowy River, the Mountain Cattlemen's Association of Victoria and some of Victoria's most iconic heritage—social, economic and cultural. Thanks to the action of Premier Andrews and Minister Neville, they are one step closer.

I am committed to fighting Labor on their high-country lunacy and will work alongside the Mountain Cattlemen's Association of Victoria, my Nationals colleagues in the great state of Victoria and local communities in Wangaratta, Merrijig, Mansfield, Omeo, Benambra and right throughout both sides of the mountains. I note the great work undertaken by the former Victorian coalition government, which last year, with support from the federal government, embarked on a three-year trial investigating the role of grazing in mitigating fire risk in the high country. Despite Labor's claim that the science is behind them, they acted quickly to shut down this three-year scientific trial that would actually allow us to ascertain the veracity of this from a scientific perspective. Before any outcomes were known, they have moved to kill off cattle grazing in Victorian national parks, in what can only be viewed as a cheap political point-scoring exercise.

I am not going to stand here and debate the science, because we have closed the trial down before it could actually get the data. I think 170 years of cattle grazing in our high country has showed us the significant value that graziers deliver to our high country. I know the value of their knowledge of their country—of the tracks, of the trees, of the forests themselves. Each family have a very intimate knowledge of their own specific holdings that has been handed down from generation to generation.

We can only assume this backwards move is designed to appease the Greens, as a significant knee-jerk reaction to the state election, where the Labor Party lost inner urban seats to the Greens. They have decided that the best way to manage our national parks is to lock them up. They have decided that human intervention in our high country is a bad thing, when we know that in fact it is the best way to manage our national parks. They have completely ignored the fact that, during the 50,000 years before white settlement, our Indigenous forebears carefully and methodically managed the environment with fire and that, over the past 200 years since white settlement, our cattle graziers have taken over that great work. They ignore the fact that, even though cattle have spent the vast majority of the past 170 years in the high country, and there was controlled burning undertaken by the local Indigenous population, we still have strong biodiversity values, and native plants and animals have continued to thrive. Quite frankly, the world did not end, as many on the Left would claim it would. They also ignore the fact that tens of thousands of deer graze every day in the national park and they trash the bogs and springs in their wallows. Rabbits, wild dogs, foxes and other feral pests are allowed to roam free without oversight and proper management, causing damage far greater than Labor and the Left falsely claim the carefully managed cattle would do. It was our cattlemen who were the best at managing these pests, because they had strong incentive to do so. Locking up our national parks has never been the answer here in Australia. It appals me and many who live and work in regional communities that it has been allowed to occur.

I think it is pertinent to ask what the alternative plan being put forward by Labor actually is to manage the fuel loads, manage the alpine park and manage the feral animals and plants—because there isn't one. I would love for someone on the other side of politics to prove me wrong and tell me that it is not just another step in the strategy of locking it up and throwing away the key. The lock it up and throw away the key world view which has emerged here reminds me of the duck shooting debate. It is the opening of duck shooting this weekend in the great state of Victoria. I know that many of our 46,000 licensed game hunters will be participating over coming months in a great cultural practice and, hopefully, serving up some great game meat at their tables as a result.

Whilst inner-city elites in Richmond et al might happily chow down on a serving of Peking duck and a sing tao at their local Chinese restaurant in the great Chinatown of Melbourne on a Friday night, probably before they head off to the kumbaya symposium, they would actually also love to end duck shooting for good. Who knows, the next step for the Labor government in Victoria may have that one on its radar. But those who understand game hunting and the licensed game hunter know that there are no better environmentalists. Take, for example, in Gippsland and in and around Sale, where duck shooting is a way of life for many. It was in Sale where the Victorian Field and Game Association was established in 1958. It was formed by hunters who were concerned at the loss of wetland habitat for the game birds they loved to observe and to hunt. At its first meeting, the association adopted the following motto, first uttered by King George VI, which still stands today:

The wildlife of today is not ours to dispose of as we please. We have it in trust. We must account for it to those who come after.

These true environmentalists, practical conservationists, set about developing Victorian facilities for game-bird hunting by the promotion of game bird conservation and management principles. They set out to develop a greater public appreciation of the pleasures and values of game-bird hunting and lobby for the establishment of a shooter's licence to fund game conservation. Their initial efforts saw them develop three wetlands of significance, including the Winton Swamp near Benalla, which is now Lake Mokoan, Tower Hill in western Victoria and Jack Smith Lake in Gippsland. They did this because hunters place a value on swampland which, because of its unsuitability for agriculture, was otherwise regarded as being useless. This vision quickly caught on, and the sought-after shooter's licence was quickly established in 1959. Many of the wetland reserves in Victoria owe their existence to the shooter's licence, which now raises over $4 million annually.

Field and Game Association members—and I do declare an interest as a member—understand they have an obligation to continue playing an active role in the management of habitat and wildlife resources. Wildlife is a renewable resource but it is one that can be destroyed without proper management. While many on the Left fail to understand that hunting and conversation are and can be compatible, history shows us that the intense interest of hunters in the welfare of the targeted species ensures its survival. Look overseas, where we see many nations sustainably manage a range of game stock that ensures appropriate conservation of the species, economic benefit to local communities and, indeed, an avenue for individuals, families and communities to practise the important cultural practices of hunting.

While Labor and the Left would love nothing more than to see duck shooting head the way of cattle grazing in the high country and shut it down for good, I am quite certain they believe that it is the right thing to do. The entire National Party team here in Canberra and throughout Victoria is committed to seeing cattle return to the high country. It was great to have the President of the Mountain Cattlemen's Association, Charlie Lovick, and Graeme Stoney up here this week so that they could share their experience of their beautiful landscape and their beautiful country and represent the proud families of the mountain cattlemen and women, who gather each year to celebrate at either one side of the mountain—this year it was Mitta Mitta; next year it will be on the other side of the mountain. I hope, before too long, we will see common sense prevail and the great cultural practice of high country grazing return.