The stealthy return of cattle to the Victorian alpine national parks by the Victorian Liberal government is a payback to the National Party for their help in winning the last election. In an attempt at arse-covering, they’re touting it as a “scientific experiment”. As Robert Merkel and others have pointed out, they’re obviously taking this audacious action from the “Scientific Whaling” playbook. Simply, they’re breaking the law.
There is a well-defined legal process for such projects, developments or activities in a place of national significance, under section 68 of the Environment Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation (EPBC) Act. In early January, before they sent the cattle in, the DSE was supposed to notify the Federal environment minister, Tony Burke. After that, the Minister is required to publish the notice on the internet and invite public comment. After “consultations with the public and relevant ministers”, the Minister is required to decide whether the activity is a Controlled Action under the EPBC Act.
The impacts must then be assessed (and there are already reams of information on the damaging impact of hooved grazing animals on the Alpine environment, such as the 2005 Alpine Grazing Taskforce report and the 2006 CSIRO study into the Alpine ecology, grazing and fire.) Following assessment, the Minister then may determine whether or not to allow the Controlled Action under the EPBC Act.
It is an offence to carry out activities which may be Controlled Actions without the consent of the Federal Minister for the Environment.
According to news reports on January 12, the (Victorian) DSE claimed to have sent a letter to the Minister, but this letter appeared to have mysteriously disappeared en route.
The Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment has written to Mr Burke’s office advising it of the trial and has offered a full briefing, but it has received no reply.
But the federal Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities has not received the letter.
”Under national environment law, the onus to refer an activity falls on the person carrying out the activity,” a spokesman said.
The cattle are already in the park, so they were in breach of the law already by mid January. I haven’t seen any calls for public comment by Tony Burke for assessment of a Controlled Action under the EPBC act – anyone else seen it? At any rate, the legal process has hardly got to square one.
It’s wrong. And don’t fall for the argument that as a city dweller, you have no right to oppose it. For one thing, this is a Heritage area which belongs to all Australians, not just a handful of families. For another, it’s your taxes at work.
The $5.50 per head fee paid by the graziers when the practice was stopped in 2005 (calves born while up in the high country travelled free) represented a massive subsidy by the taxpayer to a privileged few families, since the tiny fee went nowhere near to covering the damage caused by the cattle. If the Baillieu government is hell bent on allowing these people to do their damage, will the new agistment fee be set at a more realistic level?
Also, when Alpine grazing was ended by the Bracks government, an ex gratia payment was made by the Victorian government to the tune of $100 per head of cattle for the three years after that, up to $100,000 per license holder. (H/T Wilful.) So we were still paying for them.
Now that Alpine grazing has been brought back, will they be required to pay back that money?
You or I would be sent to the wall if we attempted to do something like this, but for the macho men of the Liberal and Country parties, the law is for the little people. We saw the damage that favours for “Labor mates” did to Victorian governance under Bracks and Brumby. Stand by for government by Liberal / Country Party mates. Plus ca change.