National Parks Amendment (Prohibiting Cattle Grazing) Bill 2015

15 April 2015

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I rise to continue the debate on the National Parks Amendment (Prohibiting Cattle Grazing) Bill 2015. Before we broke for question time I was talking about the fact that having great national parks in the high country and along the Murray River is a credit to all those previous generations who looked after them. There seems to be a view on the other side of the house that if you introduce legislation and change the sign on the gate, you will magically protect something and it will be looked after, but it is about how you look after that land that is important, not what the legislation or the sign on the gate says. There is a misguided view that if we put up a national parks sign, it will fix everything. That is absolutely not the case.

If we look at the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water’s second‑reading speech for this bill, we see it talks about the damage cattle do to the high country. I remember that infamous incident in 2004 with the photo of a particular waterhole which had been photoshopped to make it look like it had been damaged by cattle. It was actually a man‑made dam at the bottom of a four‑wheel‑drive track. It was not a soak or a moss bed but a man‑made dam that was photoshopped to look like it had been damaged by cattle. Members of the other side of the house have no credibility, and there is no depth to which they will not stoop to suit their argument. The legislation talks about the cattle damage but does not say anything about the thousands of deer and the damage they do by wallowing in water points in our parks.

Before Easter I had the privilege to go on a high country ride for a couple of days. All these things were pointed out to me as we went through, including damage that the deer cause. They get in and wallow in water points, whereas cattle do not. Cattle stand at the water point and drink. There is also nothing in the legislation that talks about the thousands of brumbies in our national parks, let alone the feral pigs and goats.

What is not understood by the other side of the house is how few cattle there are. We are not talking about thousands of deer or brumbies; we are talking about a few hundred head of cattle that go up there and do what is called disperse grazing. They go to the points under the snow gums where the grass grows particularly high and they keep it short. This works well from a fire prevention point of view. One of the other things I noticed on my two‑day ride through the high country was the number of scotch thistles and other types of thistles. Most of them grew on the tracks where four‑wheel‑drive vehicles had been driven. Those vehicles spread weeds far more than the grazing cattle. You notice this particularly when you come down to the lower altitudes where all the blackberries grow. There is nothing being done to control blackberries or any other type of weed.

The second‑reading speech talks about the scientific studies that were undertaken over that time. I had the pleasure of being a member of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee during its inquiry into the 2002, 2003 and 2006 bushfires. We heard submissions and worked on the report. Bearing in mind that this was a Labor majority controlled committee, one of the recommendations in the report was to look into the opportunities for strategic grazing to control fuel load to reduce the intensity of bushfires. Snow gums in particular are a low vegetation, meaning the first branches are not very high off the ground. Native grasses have a very high flashpoint, and once the grass grows high and there is a fire, the heat in the fire transfers into the snow gum leaves and suddenly the fire is crowning the snow gums, causing irreparable damage to them. The cattle can carry out an important role in containing that fuel load by keeping the height of the grass down so there is less risk of crowning in a fire.

The second‑reading speech also talks about the fact that the legislation will not take away the role of the mountain cattlemen and cattlewomen. It says:

The mountain cattlemen and women will continue to play a role in managing the high country, using their invaluable skills and knowledge for the benefit of all Victorians.

I put it to you, Acting Speaker: how do we actually have mountain cattlemen and women if there are no cattle? It is a major challenge.

They do continue with their rides, but if there are no cattle, it is not part of that heritage. I think the member for Gembrook talked about the heritage value of the mountain cattlemen. We are talking about a few hundred cattle that have a significant impact from a heritage point of view and also have a positive impact by keeping the grass down, particularly in the snow gum areas in the high country.

One of the things I found intriguing when I read the legislation, particularly clause 3, was the definition of ‘cattle’. I am surprised the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning did not go to the old Department of Environment and Primary Industries resources to look at the species of cattle that are in Victoria, because the bill only bans one species of cattle. This is poorly drafted legislation. It is an absolute disgrace and an insult to think that a minister would sign off on this legislation having left out one species of cattle.

If you go to the old Department of Environment and Primary Industries website, you find that there are bos taurus cattle, as mentioned in the legislation, but there are also bos indicus cattle in Victoria, which are the Brahmans, the Santa Gertrudis, the Droughtmasters and the Brafords — cattle where the Asian breeds have been crossed with Victorian breeds. Obviously they can go into the high country. Obviously that particular species of cattle does not do any damage in the high country; it is only the European breeds that do damage!

I am absolutely amazed that a minister, particularly a new minister presenting her first piece of legislation for this government, would bring legislation to this place when she does not even know what she is talking about. Her department has not given her good advice, but ultimately it is the decision of the minister to sign off on what goes to cabinet and what comes into this place. To have only one species of cattle listed in the definitions in this bill is absolutely ridiculous and an insult to everyone in country Victoria.

We have a Premier who purported before the election to govern for all Victoria. Members of his party were going to have a good understanding of country Victoria. This just shows that they have absolutely no understanding of country Victoria. They have absolutely no understanding of what breeds of cattle are in Victoria. They did not even have the decency to read what is on their own website. I went to the website this morning and punched in the words ‘cattle breeds’, and it is all set out there on the old DEPI website. I know government members do not like DEPI. They got rid of it, and they shifted people around so that there was no corporate memory left of these things, but I am amazed that a minister could bring legislation to this place with such a glaring mistake in it. We are banning bos taurus cattle but we are allowing bos indicus cattle into the high country because they obviously do not do any damage like the European cattle do! It is absolutely absurd. I just want to say that I support the member for Gembrook and that the coalition will be opposing this legislation.

 

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