April 15, 2015  |  Second reading

National Parks Amendment (Prohibiting Cattle Grazing) Bill 2015

Mr HOWARD (Buninyong) — Acting Speaker, I am pleased to see you in the chair tonight and to be able to address you in regard to this debate. I am also very pleased that as a regional member of Parliament that I have the opportunity to speak in this debate.

As a former cattle breeder, I understand the issues associated with cattle, or at least a number of them. I know that, especially when you have damp conditions in your soils, cattle can very quickly churn up the soil and make it very boggy. It is very easy when you have seen cattle in damp conditions to have a sense of what damage they can do in areas of farmland, let alone what they could do in areas of national park and areas of special significance.

I am also pleased to speak as an enthusiastic bushwalker who has done a lot of bushwalking over the years and appreciated some of our pristine environments across Victoria and Tasmania in particular. As an environmental science teacher I have been pleased to have gained an appreciation over the years of the special character of our environment in Victoria and to be able to impart and share that with children whom I have taught as students, as well as my own children and other members of my family. This is a matter that I am particularly passionate about. It is vitally important that we protect the special features of our Australian environment, which are so different from other countries.

We have the beautiful eucalypt sclerophyll forests in many parts of our state, and as we know in the area we are talking about — our alpine national parks — they have a beautiful character with snow gums and a range of other alpine vegetation. It is important that we ensure it is protected. Having taken the decision back in the days of the former Labor government, when it recognised that it was time to move the cattle out of our national parks, particularly out of this very sensitive area of the Alpine National Park, compensation was paid to the farmers.

Yes, a tradition was lost in some ways. Although we had the evocative story and images of The Man from Snowy River, we recognised that it was inappropriate to have cattle in areas where we have very sensitive environments and where we know we have boggy terrain and beautiful alpine species such as the alpine marsh marigold and a range of other very special herbs which can be appreciated particularly during flowering time. These things really make it such a pleasure to be able to spend time in our national parks. It is entirely appropriate that we stick to our decision. Although speakers from the opposition have tried to suggest our wanting to keep cattle out of the national park is political opportunism on our part, I point out that the reverse is the case.

We saw that coalition members, upon coming to government, wanted to satisfy some of their populist voters and Nationals voters and so allowed cattle into the national park. They claimed it was a trial, as we know, because it was so important to be able to keep the undergrowth under control to aid bushfire management in the national park. The then coalition government said it was a scientific trial. As a former science teacher I know that the basics of a scientific trial is to have a control area and a trial area and subject it to scientific assessment. Was that ever done? No. We know that was simply talk. It was pretty much like the Japanese saying their whale fishing is for scientific purposes when we know it is not. The coalition’s claim is much in that class of using a line about scientific research when it clearly is not, when it is undertaken simply to satisfy the ideals of some Nationals and Liberal supporters and to benefit some farmers who are getting some cheap grazing rights in our high country — and the grazing is not serving any scientific purpose whatsoever.

It is vitally important that we listen to the scientists and look at the issues so that our national parks can be supported. In this particular case we need to ensure that we understand the Alpine National Park territory, evaluate the effects of cattle there and so on. We have heard from members on the opposition side of the house that cattle are not the only problem. They are sort of half recognising that cattle are a problem, but they are pointing out that cattle are not the only problem. They say, ‘What about the brumbies, the deer and the other feral animals in the park?’. There are clearly a number of ferals in the park, and it would be nice to deal with all ferals across the state, but we cannot do that. We know we cannot do that.

There are many challenges in dealing with ferals, whether they be in the form of deer, brumbies, pigs, or whatever. Clearly we need to take steps to try to reduce the number of feral animals in our national parks, or wherever they are. We know that since white settlement in Victoria many introduced species that have been brought here have posed significant threats to our native flora and fauna. In my own electorate foxes continue to be a problem, as do feral cats. We would like to see all of those animals dealt with and taken out of our environment to ensure that our native flora and fauna that have been threatened can get a chance to regenerate again.

The issue of feral animals, such as the brumbies, deer and wild pigs, is a separate issue. We on this side of the house do not deny that we want to work to see them gradually removed from our special environments as much as possible. But in this case we know that we can control cattle; we know that we can either let them in or say, ‘No, we will stick to what we know is right’ and not add more damage to our national parks. It is vitally important that we hold to this point, that we do not give way to unscientific ideas put forward by others and that we do not give way to traditions that we know are not in the interests of those beautiful areas in the north-east of this state.

When I consider the issues associated with the Alpine National Park, I think of the peat beds that have been built up over a long period that are vital to the ecology of the park. There are a broad range of herbs there that can easily be damaged by being trodden down. Anybody who has wandered through areas where cattle have been wandering knows that those delicate herbs and special subspecies in the Alpine National Park can be so easily damaged by cattle. We know that issues associated with wildfire and bushfire management will not be addressed by allowing cattle into some parts of our national parks. We know that is a total fallacy. We know what is right — we know that cattle will continue to damage these pristine, special areas of our environment.

Some members on the other side of the house have pointed out that these areas are not always in pristine condition. They have been damaged over the years, but that does not allow us to say, ‘Because they have been damaged in the past, we should not do what we can to redress the damage and try to get these environments back to the way they were before white man came to this country’. We need to do all we can to try to revive the special character of this country, which was there when the first white settlers came. It is vitally important that we do that.

Simple steps like saying no to cattle in our high country are very easy to take. I accept that more needs to be done. It is unfortunate that the previous government cut so many staff from the former Department of Environment and Primary Industries that we lost management potential for our national park. I want to see that restored, and I want to see us managing national parks well. We know that those on the other side of the house do not.