This past week saw two interesting decisions from the Baillieu Government. On Tuesday the Secretary to the Department of Sustainability and the Environment sought judicial review in the Federal Court of the Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke’s decision to deny, under the EPBC Act, cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park. Then on Thursday, The Age revealed that a letter had been sent to 229 graziers earlier in the week that revealed that the government had put on hold plans to gazette stretches of the Murray River and reversed a decision to revoke grazing licenses in the same areas by September next year.
It seems that the Victorian Government is really keen to have as many cattle on public land as they can legally get. Unfortunately biodiversity may be the unwitting victim if the state government’s infatuation is allowed to blossom.
Much scientific evidence points towards a negative relationship between cattle grazing and the welfare of the alpine environment. Indeed, part of the submission by the Victorian Government relies on the Federal Government’s reference to published scientific work outlining many of these undesirable impacts. The Secretary to the DSE argues that Tony Burke should not have considered this work, as it did not form part of the original referral, and that doing so without giving Victoria a chance to respond denied it natural justice. Much of the legal argument in the Federal Court over the next few months may revolve around whether the Environment Minister should have provided an opportunity to respond to the science around alpine cattle grazing or whether, as they were published scientific works, they could be considered common public knowledge and be legally relied upon to make decisions under the EPBC Act. By all accounts the Federal Court Judge hearing the application, at least in its early stages, Justice Susan Kenny, is well equipped to handle the scientific aspects of the case. It’ll certainly be interesting to see the what the outcome of this case is and if it has implications for future referrals under the EPBC.
Like cattle grazing in the alps much evidence has already been documented in the scientific literature that points towards a negative effect on biodiversity when cattle are allowed to graze in riparian zones (see for example their impacts on native birds). Further, removal of grazing adjacent to watercourses can have measurable beneficial effects for biodiversity within ten years. Despite this, the State Government now has no timeline to remove grazing from stretches of the Murray that had formerly been proposed as a new and much needed park to protect our states biodiversity.