Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Press conference: Cattle grazing in National Parks in Queensland
16 May 2013
Tony Burke: Thanks very much. There's been reports in the paper today about the intention of the Queensland Government to start treating its national parks as farms.
They refer to a letter that they have allegedly sent to me, but I can let you know that it still hasn't arrived. But clearly they have every intention of wanting to treat national parks as though they were farms.
My position is really clear, national parks are there for people to be able to enjoy nature, it's where families go for their picnics. They are not rifle ranges, they are not farms, they are not there for logging. They are there for people to be able to enjoy nature.
This is a fundamental difference between how Labor and how the Coalition see our national parks. Whether its Victoria, New South Wales or the Queensland Government, in every instance they don't seem to be able to get around the fact that the Australian public believes our National parks are there for nature and for people to be able to enjoy nature.
The position of the Queensland Government is really simple, these national parks that they are proposing are only there because the Commonwealth put up the money. We put up the money, we put up the money for them to be able to become conservation reserves and National parks. We expect the Queensland Government to be good to its word, we expect the Queensland Government to not abrogate the deeds that have been signed with the Commonwealth.
Against that, the Queensland Government is saying that the farmers are in trouble with drought. That's true, that's why the Queensland Government has put in place freight subsidies and fodder subsidies to make sure the cattle get fed. But instead of following their own policy, this is a cash grab from farmers. They make the announcement that they will provide subsidies, for freight and for fodder, and then they try to avoid having to pay those subsidies by trampling over the top of national parks. We'll have none of it.
Reporter: Queensland's Deputy Premier is asking you to go to Queensland to see the state of the drought. Are you planning on touring the area any time soon?
Tony Burke: I think the Deputy Premier ought to recognise, I was Australia's Agriculture Minister for three years during the grip of the longest and deepest drought this nation has known. I know exactly, first hand, from walking through the dust on paddock after paddock around the country, what it looks like on the country when you are getting on the way to a decade of drought, which is a much deeper drought than the situation we are talking about there.
What the state governments did was support farmers, the Federal Government has put money on the table this time again which the Queensland Premier has not yet accepted to provide low interest loans for farmers. You provide low interest loans for them, you provide support in making sure that they can get the fodder and freight subsidies through, to make sure they are getting the help that they need. That's what you do. That's what every government did last time. That's what Queensland's policy is meant to be. We don't expect them to try to do a cash grab back from farmers to avoid implementing their own policy.
Reporter: Given there is a situation where cattle are dying now, it's a fairly immediate problem, is there anything more that the Federal Government can do? Can you offer fodder subsidies so these cows can be fed?
Tony Burke: We've offered $60 million for low interest loans, $60 million for low interest loans that Joe Ludwig, the Agriculture Minister has put on the table and Queensland has refused to agree to. The Queensland Government is meant to have a policy of fodder subsidies and freight subsidies, that get the food directly there.
You've got to remember, not every cattle grazier in Australia is adjacent to a national park. So this sort of policy, there might be a handful of farmers, and if you look at it from a farming perspective alone and you didn't care about national parks, this hardly even provides an answer for farmers. They should be willing to implement their own policies. Yeah it costs more for them to do that. It costs more than if they just plunder a national park. But national parks are there for a reason. There's an agreement with Queensland and they should keep to their word.
Reporter: What powers though, do you have to overrule any decision by Queensland? Would you use any power you have to stop them from doing this
Tony Burke: The reason I'm not going to federal legal powers is right at the moment I don't even have their proposal. They haven't even bothered to make sure that there is a letter or proposal in from of me yet. But what I want people to be in absolutely no doubt is about the strength of conviction on this issue and about the view of the Federal Government.
Now the Victorian Government when they wanted to send cattle up into the Alpine National Park, they came up with every dodgy reason in the world. But the cattle are not now in the Alpine National Park. I was true to my word and true to my conviction and the Queensland Government should know how we act on these issues.
Reporter: just on the loans scheme alone, the industry said they would prefer the Government guarantees its existing loans, they don't want to get into more debt. Is that something the Government looked into as an option rather than just having to get into more debt.
Tony Burke: Well there is nothing compulsory about whether they take them up or not.
Reporter: No but the other option of the Government guaranteeing their current debt rather than having to go into more debt.
Tony Burke: Well you don't want to get into a situation where you are providing radically different options and radically different levels of support where you effectively provide a higher level of support for individual farmers because they are in a whole lot more debt than you do for their neighbour.
The sort of perverse incentives you provide there is not in the long term interest of farmers something the Farmers Federation have always opposed. At that sort of level, you are getting to a level of policy detail that the Agriculture Minister is really the person to talk to.
Reporter: Ok but I was talking about the same sort of program but instead of more loans, guaranteeing debt so it's the same advantage as someone getting an extra loan would get theoretically.
Tony Burke: I don't accept that it is identical, I don't accept that it is identical and I had very strong advocacy put to me by farming organisations when I was Agriculture Minister on those sorts of issues, this would be why the Agriculture Minister has put the offer on the table and certainly if what we are talking about right now is an immediate crisis of making sure that there is fodder for cattle then we should have an approach that deals with all farmers, not simple those adjacent to National parks.
And that has the Queensland Government actually implementing its own policy, rather than announcing its policy and then trying to play a game with National parks so they don't have to spend a dollar. That is a cruel joke against Australia's farmers.
Reporter: Deputy Premier Seeney seems to think that some of the National parks are proposing, i know you haven't seen the plan, some of the areas aren't pristine and are areas where grazing has a history for more than a century. Would you consider some of these so called National parks for grazing if that was an option on the table.
Tony Burke: Well when you say so called National parks, they are either National parks or they are not. And it hasn't been unknown in Australia's history for there to be areas that become National parks that had been stocked for a period of time that then become destocked. There are no shortage of some of our most magnificent areas that have been reserved for National parks that at different times have had cattle grazing organising on them.
That doesn't change the fact that there is a solid principle on national parks that you don't take backward steps and when the destocking has occurred, you then made sure that you do what the agreement always said and what he Australian people expected. National parks are there for nature and for people and families to be able to enjoy nature.
Families don't go for a family picnic to hear gunfire in the background or for the opportunity to see cattle roaming around. They go there to see the Australian bush. They should have that opportunity. There are plenty of other ways to help farmers and Queensland should be good to their own policy instead of trying to announce the money and steal it back.
Reporter: So is this policy legally unprecedented, are you aware of any other cases before where a national park in the situation of crisis has been used for an alternative purpose.
Tony Burke: Well Victoria certainly weren't in a position of crisis when they nominated it. When Victoria wanted to put cattle into the Alpine National Park, on that occasion they claimed it was because of fire management even though all the scientific research was putting out there that cattle grazing would actually increase the intensity of fires.
I'm not surprised that there is a different argument every time. We get an argument about grazing, we get told that logging will be selective logging, we get told that with shooting they will only make sure they hit feral species.
The truth is, when it comes to it, the Liberal Party these days is fundamentally different to what they were 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, when there was a national park proclaimed, it was accepted that there was an area that families could enjoy nature. These days, the view of the Liberal Party is that National parks are for shooting, for grazing, for logging and that's certainly not something that I will countenance.