Let 'er rip Ted Baillieu could spell R.I.P.

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Baillieu’s ‘let er rip’ approach to the environment could spell R.I.P. for his beleaguered Government, writes environment editor Sandi Keane.

ON FRIDAY, Victoria’s Baillieu Government lost its appeal in the Federal Court to overturn a ban on cattle in the heritage-listed Alpine National Park.

Justice Susan Kenny’s decision amounted to a smackdown when she dismissed all four grounds for seeking a judicial review.

The State Government, via Victorian taxpayers, may be liable for costs.

Four hundred cattle were re-introduced to the park in 2011 as part of the Victorian Government's controversial six-year trial, 'Investigation of fuel and bushfire risk management using strategic cattle grazing'.

Cattle were banned in the park in 2005 by the Bracks Labor Government, following a thorough report by the Alpine Grazing Taskforce. This followed the banning of cattle in other Alpine National Parks, such as Kosciuszko National Park, Brindabella National Park, Namadgi National Park, Baw Baw National Park, Mount Buffalo National Park, Snowy River National Park and Avon Wilderness Park.

The re-introduction was seen as a sop to the Mountain Cattlemen of Victoria for delivering government to the Coalition when their campaign unseated Gippsland East’s Independent MP, Craig Ingram.

The ‘trial’ sparked outrage from environment organisations. The backlash intensified when the ‘trials’ showed extensive damage to the park but delivered little mitigation from bushfires that were generally carried by unpalatable shrubs.

The Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, said the trial was "clearly unacceptable" under national environmental law and ordered its Department of Environment to assess the environmental impact.

The assessment showed ‘irrefutable evidence’ that cattle grazing would damage the sensitive natural environment.

As a result, regulatory changes, formally recognising the significant impact of livestock grazing on the Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves, were made to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBCA).

In January 2012, the Federal Environment Minister banned cattle from the park, saying it was “clearly unacceptable under national environmental law.” A month later, the Victorian State Dovernment retaliated with an appeal to the Federal Court for a judicial review of the ban.

The outcome was no surprise.

The Baillieu government’s claim that cattle would reduce the bushfire load was seen as a badly executed piece of hokum and denounced as a farce by more than 125 scientists.

The use of a flimsy ‘guise’ to honour its commitment to a few cattlemen resembled a leaf out of the Japanese “scientific” whaling handbook. It consolidated public opinion that Baillieu – once thought of as a moderate - was the worst environmental premier on record. More evidence on this here and here.

Even more ludicrous was the suggestion that the destruction of the park’s fragile mosses, lichens and bogs would be a positive benefit for Victorians — unlike the damage (!?) of wind farms. Draconian new legislation, Amendment VC82, prohibits wind farms being constructed in National Parks or an area thought to have ‘environmental value’.

The mossy peat beds throughout the alpine bogs are gradually recovering thanks to efforts by alpine ecologists and volunteers such as the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA).

Most at threat is the endangered Alpine Tree Frog’s habitat. VNPA’s Executive Director, Matt Ruchel, recalls seeing juvenile Alpine Tree Frogs “sitting in cattle poo” in bogs trampled by heavy hooved cattle.

The damage could be clearly seen after only a few weeks of the “trial” on several YouTube videos.

Independent Australia talked to farmer Peter Forster who is Secretary of the Environmental Farmers Network (Australia).

“Most of our members are broadacre farmers and have tried running cattle on our farms. We know how much damage cattle do to waterways so why would you put them in a national park?” he said.

Small ‘l’ Liberal voters are turning off in droves at the growing spectre of their beloved Liberal Party as the Mad Hatter at a neo-con ‘Tea Party’. The latest Newspoll shows Labor with a 10-point lead over the Coalition government of 55-45 (two party preferred). Premier Ted Baillieu's net satisfaction has slumped to minus 15, one of the worst results for a leader in two decades. Baillieu’s ‘let er rip’ approach to the environment could spell R.I.P.
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