Australia –THE Victorian government has asked the Federal Court to review whether federal Environment Minister Tony Burke acted properly in disallowing a proposed grazing trial in the Alpine National Park.
State Environment Minister Ryan Smith said Mr Burke had failed to “clearly outline” his reasons for ruling out the research trial in January, designed to test whether strategic grazing could mitigate bushfire risk and reduce excessive fuel loads on Victoria’s High Plains.
Mr Burke disallowed the proposed trial, which would have allowed 400 cattle to graze in 10 selected parts of the national park for five months for the next five years, using his veto power under environmental law.
Mr Burke ruled the trial was “clearly unacceptable” and “could not proceed” under his responsibilities to oversee the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, because of its adverse impact on the sensitive ecology and national heritage values of the national park.
In late 2010 the newly elected Baillieu Coalition government controversially allowed mountain cattlemen and their herds back into the national park to meet an election promise, only for Mr Burke to immediately ban it again with a new regulation.
Mr Ryan said last night his government had decided to test the legality of the blocking of the research trial after taking advice from Victoria’s Solicitor-General.
“We have carefully considered our options and have now decided to ask the Federal Court to review the decision-making process,” Mr Ryan said.
“We will be asking the Federal Court to examine the decision to ensure that the commonwealth minister has not and cannot inappropriately use commonwealth legislation to prevent state governments from implementing their policy commitments.”
Mr Ryan said the Baillieu government had responsibility to ensure its response to bushfires in Victoria considered all options, including the potential benefit of strategic cattle grazing.
But Mr Burke said the Victorian government’s move highlighted the difference for the environment between the major parties.
“When Labor sees a national park we see a place where families can go and enjoy nature; the Liberals see our landscape as mines and farms,” Mr Burke said.
Mr Burke justified his January decision to rule out the grazing trial at the time as based on “thorough and rigorous assessment of the proposal, taking into account the advice of my department.”
He said he had accepted the advice and assessment of his department that the reintroduction of 400 cattle “would damage the sensitive natural environment, disturb the remote and wild character of the area, detract from aesthetic values, and erode its heritage values.”
He had earlier told parliament that national parks were not farms, and that “a handful of graziers” had no right to expect “free feed” for their cattle herds at the expense of threatened species and a fragile environment.