Canberra moves to stop alpine grazing in Victoria

FEDERAL Environment Minister Tony Burke will rush through new rules today to stop the return of cattle grazing to Victoria’s Alpine National Park this summer.

In a blow to the Baillieu government’s grazing trial, the rules will come into force almost immediately and will mean that Victoria will need federal approval before cattle can return to the park. The rules also specify that grazing would have significant impact on the heritage values of the alpine region. Legal experts say this effectively ends the trial’s chances of federal approval and casts doubt over the project’s future.

Earlier this week, Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said the state government intended to send cattle back into the park this summer.

Mr Burke said yesterday: ”I don’t expect the Baillieu government to be grateful, but the truth is we’ve saved them from themselves. This gives them the opportunity to put a silly policy on the shelf as a reminder of what not to do.”

State Environment Minister Ryan Smith said the new rules were ”a stunt because Mr Burke knows the Victorian government has already committed to referring the scientific trial to review under the [federal environment] act”. He said the rules should be tested in Federal Parliament along with the broader overhaul of federal environment laws announced in August.

The alpine rules will be made through regulation and come into effect tomorrow.

Federal opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said the Coalition was ”deeply suspicious” of the federal government overriding states. The opposition would ”ensure proper process is followed”.

Australian National University environmental law expert Andrew Macintosh said that under the regulations ”the Victorian government and mountain cattlemen will have few, if any, legal options”.

”The regulations will remove the ambiguity that arguably currently exists about whether the impacts of cattle grazing clear the liability thresholds under the relevant piece of federal environmental legislation,” he said. ”Any subsequent attempt by either the Victorian government or the mountain cattlemen to take cattle into the Alpine National Park is likely to be illegal under Commonwealth law and could lead to heavy fines or even jail for those found guilty.”

The new rules can be removed only if there is a majority vote to disallow them in one house of Federal Parliament within 15 sitting days.

The Victorian National Parks Association’s Philip Ingamells said it was a landmark day as ”our national heritage-listed Alpine National Park, one of the nation’s most important conservation reserves, now has national protection”.

Mountain Cattlemen’s Association president Mark Coleman said ”it is up to the state to sort it out, but this [the new rules] will be to the detriment of ecosystems because grazing is a key tool to reducing fuel loads”.

The state government says the six-year trial is necessary to determine whether cattle grazing reduces bushfire at lower altitudes.

Environment groups say a review of last summer’s grazing found that cattle could access endangered vegetation and frog habitats and that fencing might be needed.

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