Australia — Opponents and supporters of cattle grazing in national parks are waging a last-minute charm offensive to woo key Victorian crossbench MPs as a vote looms on laws to ban the controversial practice.
The Andrews government is facing a tough battle to pass its bill to ban grazing in a number of national parks, with many of the upper house crossbenchers who will decide its fate telling Fairfax Media they remain undecided on how they will vote.
The proposed ban follows a decade-long battle over cattle grazing in Victoria’s Alpine National Park.
The practice was originally halted in 2005, then reinstated by the former Baillieu government under a three-year “scientific trial” they argued would test whether grazing reduced bushfire risk.
Although Environment Minister Lisa Neville canned the trial when Labor returned to power last year, she is pushing legislation to formally ban future cattle grazing in the alpine park for any purpose.
That ban would also extend to the River Red Gum national parks along the Murray, Goulburn and Ovens rivers.
Lobbying on the legislation is coming to a head, with the vote due next week and the result still unclear.
The Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria, a driving force behind the now axed trial, will meet with several of the crossbenchers to push their case against the legislation.
Crossbenchers have also been invited to visit the high country by the association. And the cattlemen helped organise a statement by former CSIRO bushfire researcher, David Packham, in support of alpine grazing, which has been quoted by some Coalition MPs during debate over the bill.
Graeme Stoney from the Cattlemen’s Association said members of the group were coming to Melbourne on Wednesday to meet with crossbenchers.
“I think the thing is running 50-50 support, it is a very divided debate,” Mr Stoney said.
Mr Stoney said the minister already had the power to stop the grazing trial and the legislative ban was “overkill.” He said the association would continue working to have grazing return to parts of Alpine National Park, but admitted it would be harder if the legislation went through.
The Andrews government has organised scientific briefings for crossbenchers, while Ms Neville has spoken to MPs personally and the government will talk with them further this week on the legislation.
Many in the scientific community point to research papers finding past instances of grazing did little to reduce bushfires and that the presence of cattle in sensitive alpine environments threatens native flora and fauna.
The Victorian National Parks Association has also met with crossbenchers to outline the scientific case for the ban, and will reiterate their message with a package of follow-up information to be sent to crossbenchers this week.
The Park Association’s Phil Ingamells said: “We call on the upper house to respect the decades of impeccable high country science, rather than one pseudo-scientific study aimed at returning cows to the park.”
With the opposition almost certain to vote against, and the Greens to vote for the legislation, the government needs to win support from the Shooters and Fishers Party or two other crossbenchers.
Democratic Labour Party MP Rachel Carling-Jenkins said she was yet to decide on how to vote. “My priority is to make sure that all sides are heard and also that all evidence is taken into consideration,” she said.
Vote 1 Local Jobs MP James Purcell supported the continuation of grazing. “I don’t believe there are too many issues with grazing in the high country,” he said.
A spokesman for Sex Party MP Fiona Patten said no decision had been made and Ms Patten was scheduled to meet with the Cattlemen’s Association during the week.
Shooters and Fishers MP Daniel Young said he had been talking to groups from both sides. “We’re looking at it from the community’s point of view,” he said.
Mr Young said the legislation on grazing should be based on good sense rather than ideology.