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Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell
26 May, 2005
Parliament House, Canberra
I'd like to thank from the high country, my colleague Sophie Panopoulos, my Ministerial colleague Peter McGauran. Thank you for coming, and our colleagues from the 2nd floor.
Earlier this year the mountain cattlemen applied for an emergency listing for the activity of droving and grazing cattle in the Australian Alps. The department assessed it, the . found very important heritage values. There is no doubt in any Australian's mind that the 170 years of Australians droving cattle up into the alps, letting them graze there and bringing them back down again at the end of summer is an absolutely central part of the Australian story.
It was encapsulated by Banjo Patterson in that most iconic and famous of Australian poetry and at that stage we didn't emergency list it for one key reason, and that was the activity wasn't under threat in the terms of the law. I said at the time, and I wrote to the mountain cattlemen and said "I'm happy to revisit it" should the Bracks Labor Government threaten that activity.
That threat is now real, he has decided, announced, and introduced legislation into the parliament to effectively tear up these licenses that have been in existence for a hundred and seventy years of Australian history.
I am now today announcing that the assessment process for a new emergency listing will commence at 1:30 today, and I am required under the law to make a decision within 10 days, and that is a decision I will make.
We will look at all of the material the mountain cattlemen have given us. We have had a great discussion in the last half hour. Any more information they want to put forward would be welcome. I've also spoken to John Thwaites and I've invited to put before us all of the information that the Victorian Government have put forward.
But can I say: I will look at all of that information I've declared that this in my own mind, an absolutely vital part of Australian heritage. I think we have to understand that the numbers of cattle that are grazing up there, across something like 350,000 hectare stretch of iconic Australian bush, comes down to one animal per 23 Melbourne Cricket Grounds. So the number of cattle up there is tiny compared to the amount of space, we need to understand as Australians that this has been going on for 170 years. And that in most parts of Australia Governments try to balance human activity with environmental protection and we have managed that in the Alpine National Park for 170 years. Any my strong view is that is the balanced and sensible approach. Work with the mountain cattlemen, protect this heritage and also protect the national environment - that important and unique natural environment. That these people care more deeply about, and are the custodians of day in day out, throughout all of those summer months for the last 170 years. So I think we can achieve a balance and this process I'm announcing today is aimed ....
I've said publicly, and I've written to Mr Maxwell since, and I have today written to Mr Thwaites, saying that was the opinion of one person in the Department, it didn't represent the view of the department as subsequent advice has shown, and it doesn't represent the view of the government. So it was one person in the Department writing a letter to a Labor Party caucus committee - that does not represent the view. The formal view of the department is in the document that I released when the emergency listing process concluded earlier this year, and that is that the department found that there were important heritage values.
Question: Didn't it say it was written on behalf of the Minister at the time?
Ian Campbell: Yeah, and that was wrong, it wasn't. I've written to Mr Thwaites, I'll give you all a copy of the letter saying it was not written on behalf of the Minister, it certainly wasn't written on my behalf, and it was ... my view, that I've had all my life on this, is that you can balance the activities of mountain cattle grazing with the important environmental concerns. I don't want to distract too much from this, but on the Great Barrier Reef this Government has put in place protection of over a third of the Great Barrier Reef and we allow tourism, and we allow fishing and we allow all of those other operations to take place within the Great Barrier Reef Park. What Mr Thwaites and Mr Bracks and Labor in Victoria saying is that they are incapable of managing multiple activities within that park. That is a demonstration of their lack of capability. And what they're saying is, I mean with these absurd photographs in the Victorian papers, are saying that these people are the wreckers when, in fact, it's his Government that are the wreckers. Can I just make this other point: we have seen within hours of this announcement by Labor in Victoria that the actual evidence they are relying on to make this decision to tear up these 170-year old licenses are based on doctored photographs. So I will be looking, and I will be asking my department to look very closely at any evidence the Victorian Government puts forward because we've already seen that in representing to the people of Victoria and Australia that this is the sort of, this is what mountain cattlemen do to the country and this is what is could look like, they've actually doctored the photograph. So we want to look very closely at how robust their environmental assessment process was.
Question: Does the Department hold a different view to the one expressed in that letter?
Ian Campbell: The department's view is in the advice in relation to the emergency listing. That, let's be totally clear, that letter represented the view of one person in the department, it has been disowned by the executive of the department and disowned by the Howard Coalition Government.
Question: So on emergency listing, do you take the advice of the department or do you make the decision?
Ian Campbell: I make the decision on advice.
Question: Mr Turner, could give us your reaction to today's decision?
Mr Turner: We welcome this strong support. We have had indications in the past that they would look at another emergency nomination, to have another emergency nomination declared today, we strongly welcome that and we thank the Federal Government for their support. We've been basically done over, we feel in Victoria, we feel there's been s a strong push there for extreme environmental green votes, we feel that's where it's coming from so we feel very confident that we've got the Federal Government behind us now.
Question: How vital is this to your farming practice?
Mr Turner: Well on average, if you're going to reduce, take out the licensees out of the incomes of the families, you're taking away 30 per cent, on average, of their income. You're taking away the history and the heritage, you're taking away the opportunity for the next generation to come on and continue that activity, five, six generations, that could have been the seventh generation.
Question: What are the environmental implications of removing you, as managers of that land, are there downsides to you not being there?
Mr Turner: You hit the nail on the head when you said 'management', you need management. You need management in an environment - not to manage an environment, to leave it to nature, we can't do these days. It has to be managed - pest, plants, weed control, visitors have to be controlled, every operation- grazing has to be controlled.
Ian Campbell: Fire, fire fuel, brumbies, those wild bush horses are still up there.
Mr Turner: That's right, it 's multi-(inaudible). Now if this Alpine environment is so degraded by a few cattle grazing it for 170 years, how come we still call it pristine?
Question: Minister, you said you could make your decision after advice form the department, it sounds like you've already made your decision.
Ian Campbell: No, I've said that there is an absolute centrality to this Alpine grazing as part of Australia's heritage. What I have to now consider is the work that the Victorian government's done on the environmental side. I have to look at the two and I have to make a balance in that decision so I'm not pre-empting the decision but I'm not hiding my strong historical and emotional view - I don't mind having an emotional view on this - I mean I think all Australians would want to see in another hundred years the descendants of these mountain cattlemen still doing it. Let's not stick it in a museum, it's working, it's working, it's worked well for 170 years, why kill it for a few green preferences in a State election.
Question: How far will the Federal Government go to win this battle?
Ian Campbell: I've said to the mountain cattlemen that this government will stand behind them all the way. Today is the first step. We'll make a proper decision on the emergency listing and they will have our full support all the way through until we can ensure this part of Australian heritage is maintained for future generations.
Question: So will this go through to the High Court if it has to?
Ian Campbell: I'm not going to pre-empt what action, I mean it shouldn't need to, Labor and Victoria could come to their senses - that would be the best thing for al people, rather than wasting taxpayers money on lawyers' bills.
Question: But if they don't?
Ian Campbell: Let's see what we do. Today we join with the mountain cattlemen in trying to see this heritage protected, this is the first step today in a process and let's hope one day we can come back and celebrate a victory but we've just started the battle today.
Question: Minister, it sounds like you are prepared to go further protecting the alpine country than you are protecting the whales.
Ian Campbell: ... laughs ... I think that's a silly comparison. I think if you had any idea of what I've done in my life to try to bring in historic conservation for whales you would realise that no other government has done as much as we have. No where in this country, no where in this country and no where on the planet has any government done more to try to protect whales and we bring all of the best skills, all of the best advice, all of the best science to that and I'm happy to put that same energy into protecting this incredible part of Australian heritage.
Question: Mr Turner, how will you feel at the end of 10 days if the Senator turns around and says 'I'm sorry, I can't support this emergency listing'?
Mr Turner: We'd be heart-broken, we'd be feeling shell-shocked and lost. If it becomes reality then there's not a lot we can do about it.
Question: Senator Campbell, my question to you is can you ride a horse?
Ian Campbell: ... yes, I haven't done it for a long time though, mate.
Question: Well, get on one ... okay there's a couple here.
Ian Campbell: Okay.