“Scientific” grazing trial a controlled action

It looks like the cattle are getting closer to being returned to the Alpine National Park.

Today, the Federal Government made public its most recent decision on the Victorian Government’s proposal to graze cattle in the Alpine National Park, to ‘research’ whether cattle grazing results in bushfire fuel reduction. The Minister has decided the action is a controlled action for the purposes of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act). What this means is that the grazing trial requires the approval of the Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, before it can proceed.

The Minister has decided to assess the impacts of the grazing trial on the basis of the information already provided to the Federal Department of Environment by the Victorian Government. What this means is that the Victorian Government will not have to do a rigorous environmental impact assessment of its proposal. The decision to not require the Victorian government to undertake an environmental impact proposal indicates to us that the Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, is likely to approve the grazing trial.

The next step in the process is that the Victorian Government must seek comment from the public on all the information sent to the Federal Department of Environment for the controlled action decision. This will be interesting, as the Victorian Government has submitted extra information to the Federal Department of Environment which thus far the Department has not made publicly available. The Victorian Government then must compile the information, including the comments from the public, and submit this to the Federal Environment Department, who then prepares a report to the Minister.

The EPBC Act decision is crucial, because there is no requirement for the Victorian Government to assess the impacts of the cattle grazing trial under the Victorian laws. One of the bases being relied on by the Victorian Government to say its trial is lawful is a section in the Victorian National Parks Act that enables the Victorian Secretary to the Department of Environment and Primary Industry to promote research study or investigation of matters that relate to the objects of this Act. Objects of the Act include the study of ecology, geology, botany, zoology and other sciences relating to the conservation of the natural environment in those parks. In other words, the Victorian Government is saying that reintroducing cattle into the Alpine National Park is about science, rather than appeasing the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association.

Saying that the grazing trial is scientific reserach brings to mind Japanese whaling. The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling states that any Contracting Government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit, and the killing, taking, and treating of whales in accordance with the provisions of this Article shall be exempt from the operation of this Convention. The Japanese Government relies on this clause when it undertakes its annual whaling expeditions.

It seems to us that both the Japanese and Victorian Governments are dressing up historic, environmentally damaging practices as science, in order to make their actions appear lawful. Whether the Japanese Government can continue to get away with that hangs on the decision of the International Court of Justice, following the case brought by the Australian government last year. Unfortunately, we doubt that the Environment Minister will be as critical of the Victorian Government as the Australian government has been of the Japanese government. We encourage everyone who thinks cattle do not belong in a national park to submit to the Minister that the EPBC Act approval should be refused.

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