Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Decision to ban cattle grazing in Alpine National Park
Interview with Ashleigh Gillon, Sky News
31 January 2012
COMPERE: Some questions about Kevin Rudd and whether he may or may not be returning to the leadership. We are going to take you live now to Canberra. Joining me from there is the Environment Minister, Tony Burke.
Mr Burke, I know that you have just made an announcement banning cattle grazing in Victoria's Alpine National Park and I do want to get to that. But first, I am keen to ask you about some comments that your colleague, Simon Crean, made this morning.
He said that Kevin Rudd needs to accept that he will never be Prime Minister again, that he is not a team player. Are you as certain as Mr Crean is that Mr Rudd won't be making a comeback?
TONY BURKE: There's no leadership change. There's no leadership change on. We can't stop there being speculation. If the media wants to run that as the story of the day, we can't stop that. But, you know, there is not a change on.
Julia Gillard is the Prime Minister. She's the right person to be the Prime Minister and she'll continue to lead us. She'll take us to the next election and every day leading up to that election we're going to be doing the right thing to make sure that we build the Australian economy and build Australian society.
COMPERE: Still, though, the polls out this week have been pretty dire. If you're still on a primary vote of around 30 per cent this time next year, you'd have to acknowledge that a leadership change would be very tempting for a lot of your colleagues.
TONY BURKE: I've got to say, I reckon it used to be a criticism of the media that politicians are obsessed about polls. I think it's fair to say these days the main people who want to talk about opinion polls are the media, more than the rest of us.
There's a really important economic story in Australia and, you know, when was the last time that we had the discussion about the reality that under Labor, interest rates have been consistently lower than they were under John Howard?
About the fact, you know, there's discussion from Tony Abbott's speech today about job creation. Well, at the exact same time that the rest of the world is seeing rising unemployment over these recent years, we've created 700,000 jobs.
The story of what actually matters and makes a difference in people's lives is what we choose to spend our time on.
COMPERE: Still, though, a lot of Australians are very interested in these leadership tensions and, regardless of what you say, they are of course there. We're seeing almost every day Julia Gillard is having to bat off questions about this.
There are reports that Kevin Rudd is behind the scenes, trying to position himself. Australians are, of course, very interested in whether or not they may have a new Prime Minister before the next election. From previous history, of course, that has been something that we've been surprised with in the past.
So no one seems to be ruling it out. Are you worried that if Kevin Rudd did make a return that he wouldn't lead a Government that is in that team player mentality? Do you agree with Simon Crean that that's one of the key reasons why Kevin Rudd perhaps won't come back?
TONY BURKE: Your question's hypothetical. It's not going to happen. I've been asked this question for the last 12 months, as though it were about to happen. I've kept saying there's not a change on; let's get back to the real issues. I say the same now.
COMPERE: Why did Simon Crean feel the need today to be so public in those sorts of comments? It seemed to be a pretty direct message to Kevin Rudd and his supporters to lay it off Julia Gillard.
TONY BURKE: That's a question you'd have to direct to Simon. I don't know that I could answer on his behalf.
COMPERE: Well, the Coalition, on the other hand, is doing very well in the polls. Today no doubt you would have caught up with the National Press Club speech that Tony Abbott gave. He laid out his vision for the future. He did have some positive policies that he talked about. A lot of them we had heard before the last election, of course.
The Government keeps saying Mr Abbott is Mr No, that he doesn't have any plans for the future. Today, though, he went through quite a specific list of things that he would do as Prime Minister.
One example that was quite an interesting idea, he promised that he'd spend every - a week every year in an Indigenous community if he was Prime Minister. Do you think that that's a good idea, in light of the tensions we've seen over Indigenous issues over the past week or so? Is it something that perhaps all leaders should consider?
TONY BURKE: Oh, engagement with Aboriginal Australia and Torres Strait Islanders is a critical part of the role of an Australian Government. I think the reflection of what you've seen since we came to office shows a really strong commitment on that.
Just on his speech, though, actually, if I can, I think one of the most telling things was when he got to the point where he was saying how he was going to save money for the Government. The way he was going to save was, he said he was going to cut a couple of taxes.
Now, you don't save Government revenue by cutting a tax. You save it by abolishing a package. What he revealed with direct numbers on today, which hasn't yet been reported, but it is there in his speech when you add up where those dollars are coming from, he recommitted that the packages that went with carbon pricing and that come with the mining tax will be gone.
That means a cut in the pension. It means a cut in family payments. It means taxes going up for small business. It means a cut in superannuation payments. That is there in dollar terms in his speech today.
COMPERE: Of course, Mr Abbott has been arguing for a long time that if the carbon tax isn't in, then there would be no need for those sorts of compensation packages. We could talk about that for some time. We are running out of time, though.
I do want to look at your decision to ban cattle grazing in the Victorian Alpine National Park. Those pushing for cattle grazing argue that the cattle would help reduce the build-up of undergrowth which poses a bush fire risk. What advice did you get that led to you deciding that it's more important to protect the environment there than prevent those bush fires?
TONY BURKE: Well, the scientific evidence that the department relied on, and there's a good bank of scientific evidence on the issue, has never backed in this theory that the way to fight fires is with cattle. It's a theory that has been a kite-flying thing that the Victorian Government have thrown around. But they don't have the evidence to back that in at all.
What I have done, though, as well as saying that their proposal doesn't match national environmental law, it can't go ahead, and my plea to Victoria to start treating a national park as a national park, not as a farm, is also to say, let's sit down at the table and look at how we can work together on improving managing bush fire risk in sensible ways, on dealing with weeds and dealing with pests in that area.
I'm making the same offer to the New South Wales and the ACT Governments. That alpine area crosses a whole lot of boundaries. There are real problems in management. Let's get to the serious way of dealing with that, rather than having some silly proposal that we think everything can be solved by a cow.
COMPERE: Mountain cattlemen are now saying that if there is a major bush fire ripping through that area, then you're the one they'll be blaming, that you're the one who should be accountable.
TONY BURKE: Yeah, look, there's a lot of - a small number, actually, of families that were looking forward to being able to feed their cattle for free off the back of a national park. The same families that were paid compensation for getting out a few years ago wanted to be able to get back in and get the feed for their cattle for free.
Obviously they've got a really strong interest in being able to get a benefit that no other farmer in the nation gets. So I can understand why they feel strongly about it.
I want to have a sensible conversation about how we deal appropriately with managing bush fire risk. I'm there to be able to have that conversation at the table. The cattle concept has always been a silly idea that was not backed up by any of the evidence.
COMPERE: The Victorian Government only wanted to introduce cattle grazing for five months of the year, though, not year round. Couldn't it have been done in some controlled way?
TONY BURKE: Well, it's a bit hard to do it all year round. You've got snow. They wouldn't be able to do it all year round.
COMPERE: But considering it is just the five months, do you think that there could have been some restrictions put in place to ensure that it could be done in a sustainable way?
TONY BURKE: Look, this isn't something where I've only had a brief to look at. I went out when they had them in there last year and had a look at the sites I saw the way that the cattle had been trudging through some endangered and delicate wetlands. The damage that's done is real and it takes a while for things to be able to bounce back after that.
You've got to remember, in an area that gets snow in winter, you have a very fragile environment in the course of a summer. What I went and saw last year was real damage that had been done. I think we can have a way of being able to have a sensible management of national parks that doesn't go against heritage values, that doesn't involve turning a national park into a farm.
COMPERE: Tony Burke, appreciate your time.
TONY BURKE: Great to talk to you.