Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
21 October 2011
TONY BURKE: Thanks very much for coming today. Today in the Government Gazette we've put forward the regulation which gives the Victorian Government the opportunity to end alpine grazing in the Alpine National Park once and for all.
We're talking about a heritage listed national park. We're talking about an area that's been set aside by governments on both sides of politics for environmental protection. And we're talking about a ridiculous political deal to try to get free feed for a few farmers in a marginal seat.
It was bad policy from the beginning. It's been something that the Victorian Government had pursued and claimed that it was scientific. There's never been a decent scientific basis for what they've tried to go ahead with. I reckon they ought to view this as an opportunity. It's an opportunity to junk bad policy, stick it on a shelf and leave it as a reminder of what not to do.
QUESTION: The Victorian Government says your move is a stunt.
TONY BURKE: Well, it's actually going to have the outcome of keeping a national park; being there for the purposes of a national park. As the federal environment minister I'm not just some technical regulator. I also have a job to advocate on behalf of the environment and to deliver outcomes on behalf of the environment.
One of the starting points for all the different places that Australians look at and think are amazing parts of our continent. One of the starting points is that people expect that national parks will be treated a little bit more sensitively than what the Victorian Government's been up to over the last few months.
QUESTION: Did the Victorian Government have a mandate to conduct this trial?
TONY BURKE: They talked to a marginal seat - an election promise - that they would be pretty keen to find a way out of because what they have put forward is in the name of science, without scientific basis. They wanted to claim that you'd be able to do this on the basis of bush fire mitigation.
I just ask them, as a starting point, as a responsible Government, to pick up the Royal Commission into the Victorian bush fires; to pick up the report, read it and find a recommendation that's got anything about cattle being used to fight fires; because they won't find a single reference to it.
QUESTION: Was there scientific monitoring of this grazing?
TONY BURKE: The scientist who was meant to be in charge of the trial didn't even know that the cattle had gone in. The cattle were taken in on a truck over summer last year. There was no baseline study done by the scientists to have a look at what the place was like before the cattle arrived; so how on earth they were meant to monitor what the impact had been as a result of the cattle is beyond me.
This has just been a turnstile of incompetence every step of the way. The Victorian Government just ought to look at this as a chance for them to dump a policy that they never should have embarked on.
QUESTION: So will this be a permanent ban? Or is the regulation sufficient to stop grazing ever in the Alpine National Park?
TONY BURKE: It means if they want to graze - if anyone wants to graze domestic stock within the Alpine National Park, then they have to put it forward for a federal environmental assessment. There is no way of them dodging that.
QUESTION: Is this then not [inaudible] of your Government directly overriding the state's role?
TONY BURKE: I don't know why they want to call it a national park if they don't think it's of national significance. It's called a national park; we're the National Government; there's a national significance here, and you often get activities in a national park which aren't viewed as ideal, and they get phased out over time. You often get weeds and feral animals in national parks. And governments do what they can to reduce them.
This is the first time I know of where a government has deliberately taken a backwards step inside a national park. It's the opposite direction of what had simply been agreed on both sides of politics about keeping national parks as special places for people to enjoy; as special places to look after our environment.
QUESTION: Is the Labor Party getting closer to moving to a new position on gay marriage, there's been reports that the Prime Minister may change her position. What do you think?
TONY BURKE: Look, I've seen those reports, but this is an issue that will be dealt with at our national conference. I'm not going to be adding to it beyond that. Thank you.