Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Grazing proposal in Victorian Alpine National Park

E&OE Transcript
Press conference
31 January 2012

TONY BURKE: Happy New Year, I haven’t seen you all this year.

The Victorian Government, last year, without seeking federal approval allowed cattle to be put into the alpine national park. It was later determined that they did need to seek federal approval and this year, in December they put in a late application to be able to try to get cattle back in to the national park and seeking federal approval.

I received advice from my department last week, which I have acted on today as to the appropriate way of dealing with the application from the Victorian Government.

My views on the issue are well known and I’ve made that clear publicly, through your selves, through the media and also through parliament where I said that I have a strong personal view that a national park should not be used as a farm but in any application you’ve got to deal with that as it interacts directly with law.

So I received the advice of my department today, sorry I received it last week, I worked through it today and I have accepted the advice that my department in full.

That is, that the application from the Victorian Government is clearly unacceptable under federal law. The reasons go to the national heritage values of the alpine national park.

The national heritage values, there is a body of scientific information which the department has relied on where they have determined in their recommendations to me that it is clearly outside of those heritage values to go ahead with the sort of trial that the Victorian Government is talking about.

Now the Victorian Government’s reasons have never been accepted by the body of scientific literature. It’s never been accepted that this is the most effective way of dealing with bushfire mitigation.

But it is also true that we do have challenges in the alpine national park on dealing with bushfire, on dealing with weeds, on dealing with invasive species. On those issues, I say to the Victorian Government, if they want to keep going through application after application every summer they can do that. Or if they want to view this as a cross roads, they can do that.

I’ll be writing today to the Victorian Government, the New South Wales Government, the ACT Government to say it is time now that we sit down at the table as Ministers and work out a joint approach to management of weeds, management of pests, management of bushfire mitigation throughout that entire alpine area.

A national park should not be used as a farm. It is there for nature and it is there for people to enjoy nature. It’s not there to be used as a form of free feed for a handful of local users and it shouldn’t be used in that way.

So I encourage them to sit down at the table, let’s come up with some joint proposals on ways of doing that. Obviously, if the Victorian Government wants to continue to play the game that they’ve been on so far they’re welcome to do that but I don’t think it’s in the interests of the alpine national park to go down that path.

QUESTION: If primary producers (inaudible)

TONY BURKE: The consequences are the same as for anyone who breaches federal environmental law and it would be referred to the compliance division of the department and appropriate action would be taken. But from what I understand the producers themselves are law abiding people and I would be very surprised if they went down that path.

QUESTION: Are the cows (inaudible)?

TONY BURKE: They came off before the snow came down last winter and to the best of my knowledge they certainly haven’t gone back in. But there are other problems in the alpine national park with invasive species, cattle isn’t the only one. But cattle was the one being reintroduced by direct Government decision. So that’s what this goes to. But as I said, I want to be able to sit down and say we have problems there with deer, we have problems with the brumbies, we have problems with a range of weeds and let’s find a way of working together and sensibly dealing with those issues rather than having some side way of trying to provide free feed for a handful of producers.

QUESTION: Are you concerned by a legal challenge by the Victorian Government?

TONY BURKE: No, not in the slightest.

QUESTION: That’s not something the department has anticipated?

TONY BURKE: Well the department has provided advice directly in line with the Act and I’ve accepted their advice in full. The only games that are being played at any point was when the Victorian Government a year ago snuck the cattle in without trying to seek federal approval. This time around they’ve abided by the law, the law has had a look at it and it’s been determined that you can’t do what they want to do under the Act. The Victorian Government should recognise now that it is not consistent with the alpine national park, the proposal that they have in front of us, they can either play this as an annual game or they can sit down at the table and the offer is there to have a serious look at what we can do together with NSW and with the ACT on dealing with weeds, on dealing with invasive animals and also on dealing with bushfires.

QUESTION: On a related question, the Victorian Government is introducing exemptions to the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act that could allow the Environment Department to approve logging in areas that contain endangered species, they are also changing the Victorian Timber Code to allow twenty year logging contracts instead of five. Does this undermine the Act and is this similar to their approach on alpine grazing?

TONY BURKE: Certainly, there has been a consistent approach from the Victorian Government about having a view of national parks as a resource to be exploited rather than national parks as being there to serve the community generally. That is reflected. But what you have described there doesn’t necessarily directly conflict with federal law until they make a decision. You’ve referred to the process that Victoria can go under, they can pick the process that they want to go under, whether it is a ministerial decision or something that will be determined by the head of their department. What will matter is what the decisions end up being and if those decisions conflict either with national heritage values, world heritage values or with protected species that are protected under federal law, then at that point there will be an issue with the law. But the procedures that they follow themselves are a matter for the Victorian Government. The decisions they then make at the end of that will determine whether it ends up having to come to me.

QUESTION: Given today’s announcement, are you warning them against any decision that could end up undermining?

TONY BURKE: I don’t know that they need a warning. They tried to ignore federal law a year ago and they got caught out. They appear to have learnt their lesson by at least referring it to us this time. The referral has come back and yes it does conflict with the law. We can have an approach that says, what is the best way to manage a national park. We now have Biodiversity Fund, we have different ways the Federal government is involved in trying to help, let’s sit down, all four jurisdictions have an interest in this area and try to find a sensible way of dealing with the alpine national park. It is a national park, it is not a farm.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

TONY BURKE: It will be unsurprising for you that I accept none of the premises of that question. I saw the article today, it’s wrong. I’m not sure what more i can add to it. Occasionally you get an article that is just plain wrong, today’s was.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

TONY BURKE: I haven’t seen Simon’s comments but any stories that I’ve seen batting around claiming that there is going to be a change of Prime Minister are just wrong.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

TONY BURKE: The concept, your whole premise of wanting to say that there is a level of change being sought is wrong, just plain wrong. You can frame seven or eight different ways of wanting to ask, it won’t change the fact that the story today is wrong. There will not be a change, what is being spoken about today is wrong.

QUESTION: Does Ms Gillard have the unanimous support of the NSW Right?

TONY BURKE: The story today claimed that there was a shift going on in the NSW Right, that story was just plain wrong.

QUESTION: So she does have your support?

TONY BURKE: The story that there is a shift going on is wrong. Now I’ve answered it, you can try to get this going from seven or eight different angles, it won’t change the fact that it is wrong. We’ve got significant policy issues, we’ve got significant issues happening in Australia and if you want to continue to run based on an article that is wrong speculation for the rest of the day you can. If you want to ignore the fact that we’ve got lower interest rates than we had under John Howard you can ignore that, if you want to ignore the fact that we’ve got 700,000 extra jobs you can ignore that, if you want to ignore the fact that we’re dealing with a two speed economy at the same time that Tony Abbott is wanting to provide a tax break for Clive Palmer but increase tax for every small business you can ignore that. They’re your strategic calls as to what you think the nation needs to hear. The claim that there is a change going on is wrong.

QUESTION: It’s not very helpful then when Simon Crean, a cabinet minister, gets out and has a spray at another cabinet minister and says he’s not a team player.

TONY BURKE: You’re talking about comments that I haven’t seen, I’m not going to be drawn further. I’ve given the same answer to four or five different angles, if you want to keep going down that path...

QUESTION: Would you characterise Kevin Rudd as a team player?

TONY BURKE: Every member of cabinet works together.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

TONY BURKE: The story is wrong. It’s not a criticism of the journo, occasionally you get stories run that create a whole lot of speculation, create a flurry of activity that are wrong. This is one of them.

QUESTION: Does the Prime Minister continue to enjoy your support?

TONY BURKE: Absolutely, 100%. Thank you.

ENDS