darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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February 9, 2012

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (16:29): Labor might pretend to be in government, but we all know that it is the Greens that are in charge. I see a wry smile already appearing on the face of the member for Eden-Monaro, because I think in his heart of hearts he knows it to be true. It is the inner-city Greens ideology that has driven the minister for the environment to ban the Victorian government’s trial of cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park. I remember seeing in this place last year the minister for the environment ridicule the potential for cattle grazing to reduce the severity of bushfires in the Victorian high country. He has repeatedly admitted his bias against the cattlemen, and he is so blinded by his prejudice against their cause and by his devotion to the Greens that he has never given them the chance to meet with him and present their case. The only attempt at consultation the minister of the environment undertook was a publicity stunt last year, when he flew to Mt Hotham for a photo opportunity. He drove around the bush for a couple of hours, found a deer wallow, said it was evidence of damage by cattle and returned home to the genteel suburbs of Sydney.

I digress for a moment because I want to note that that is one of the biggest problems with the current government. There is not one cabinet minister who actually lives in regional Australia. For this Labor government at the very highest level, regional Australia is a place that you visit sometimes—maybe for a holiday but more likely just for a photo opportunity. What hope do people at the Mountain Cattlemens Association of Victoria have when none of the cabinet ministers have an appreciation of regional life and they see their policy decisions through the prism of suburban experience—not from living amongst the farmers, the fishermen, the forestry workers and workers in other professions which are traditional in regional areas? So it was bitterly disappointing, but absolutely no surprise at all, when the Sydney union organiser who became the minister for the environment decided to ban cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park, despite the fact the Victorian government won a clear mandate at the last state election to introduce its trial.

The minister’s reflections in this place in relation to the possibility of using grazing to reduce the bushfire fuel loads was another demonstration of the rank hypocrisy we have seen from the Labor Party on this issue. I want to refer to a media release from the ACT Labor government. It was released in October last year and quotes the Manager of the Fire Management Unit, Neil Cooper, as saying:

‘Grazing is a crucial, if oft forgotten, component of the ACT‘s hazard reduction program …

‘Strategic grazing serves to not only remove bushfire fuel, but it also ensures the remaining fuels are compacted.

‘This year we intend to graze more than 7000 hectares across 76 separate sites.

I hope the minister is listening to this. Strategic cattle grazing removes bushfire fuel in the ACT.

Let’s get this right: it is okay for the Labor Party to use cattle to protect homes in Canberra but not to help save lives, properties and the environment in the Victorian high country! I call on the minister to simply admit that his decision to ban grazing in the Alpine National Park was all about pleasing the Greens. Regional Victorians will never forget this. They will never forgive this government for its contempt for country people and its contempt for the more than 150-year heritage of the mountain cattlemen.

In the time I have remaining I want to refer to some comments made by the Mountain Cattlemens Association president, Mark Coleman, during a recent parliamentary hearing in Traralgon. Mr Coleman’s comments are already on the public record, but I think they are worth repeating here, in this, the people’s House. Mr Coleman was asked to provide some background information on his group’s concerns. He described the Alpine National Park and summarised the issues as follows:

The land ranges from high alpine peaks to low river flats and mid-range country. Management of such a diverse area cannot be a one size fits all. People who live around the edge of this massive park know a lot about management. They talk about it all the time. Every summer, they live and work with the reality of fire. The problem is that decisions of management are influenced by people with other agendas, and those people do not have to live within the park.

Minister Burke saw an opportunity and took up the issue for political gain for his government. The minister began using the same words as the conservation movement and the Greens, showing that he was working in tandem with them. The minister said a lot of outrageous things that were untrue about the cattlemen and the trials. … The very good name and reputation of the cattlemen has been trashed for political advantage.

Mr Coleman went on to point out the many advantages of bushfire reduction and the opportunity to use cattle as part of an overall management plan. It is there on the public record for people that would like to check.

The mountain cattlemen and their families are typical of many of the types of people you meet in regional Australia. They are very resilient, honest, hardworking and practical people who believe in practical land management. They respect the environment and love the lifestyle they have enjoyed over many, many years. They have cared for the high country over more than 150 years and left it in such good condition that it was declared a national park after 150 years of grazing.

When will someone in this government recognise that attacking the heritage and the lifestyle of regional Australians simply has to stop? To put it simply: country people have had an absolute gutful of being told how to live their lives by city based Greens and Labor MPs who show us no respect and treat us with contempt.

(Time expired)

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