Retiring Director of National Parks Peter Cochrane stated in the opening pages of his report for 2012-13 that he, and obviously the Australian government as a result, values engaging and responding to stakeholders and likes achieving objectives by working in partnership to improve environmental, cultural and heritage outcomes.
I highlight these values and approaches, as they are directly relevant to the decision made by Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, to allow a three-year trial of cattle grazing in the Victorian Alpine National Park. I am very happy, because as the granddaughter of a high country cattleman I spent my summer weekends up in Hinnomunjie at the gathering where cattlemen from wide and far and, indeed, thousands of people from the wider Australian community came to celebrate the heritage and cultural values of the cattlemen and to be, once again, on the high plains hoping that this day would come. Hopefully, there will be more to come.
The government has approved the Victorian state government's trial of grazing in the Wonnangatta Valley, subject to 33 strict conditions, because it is important that we get it right. The trial site has been limited to 262 hectares of land—what was a former cattle station. In fact, for 118 of the past 144 years, Wonnangatta has been a cattle station. Since the cattle were removed from the leases, it has been used for trail bikes and four-wheel drives. Indeed, it has been quite overgrown. I will quote from Charlie Lovick, President of the Mountain Cattlemen's Association, when talking about the Wonnangatta Valley:
… like many other parts of the High Country, has degenerated into a scrubby and pest infested state …
The cattlemen have said: 'The unintended build-up of fuel loads et cetera around the valley are a problem. The deer are in charge. Conservation as it has been practised by Indigenous people, followed by the cattlemen, is failing.' That statement was directly from the cattlemen, after they were taken out of the Wonnangatta Valley by a previous state government.
The first year after the trial concludes, the Victorian government must undertake further surveys for approval before introducing cattle in subsequent years so that we can get it right, so that we can ensure that a balanced use of the land is practised. This morning, Charlie said that in this trial the cattlemen aim to 'demonstrate their own conservation credentials' in conjunction with other users and parks management. Further, he said:
We are prepared to be judged, not by what we say, but what we do …
The concept of balancing the needs of communities with the need to protect the environment by sustainable use is supported by international treaties that both sides of this place should support because our nation is a signatory to them. The international Convention on Biological Diversity, with 193 member countries, including Australia, supports:
… the customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices.
The convention aims to preserve and maintain knowledge and customs of Indigenous and local communities. In a country as young as ours, a cultural practice that has been going on since the 1860s is definitely considered a local cultural practice and custom. Similarly, the international Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, which has 178 signatories and which Australia ratified in 1976, recognises cultural, recreational and economic perspectives in land management.
As I said, Wonnangatta Valley was first settled in the early 1860s and was used for grazing up until the Wonnangatta station was purchased by the Victorian government in 1988. Since then it has not been managed by the state of Victoria. The Wonnangatta Valley attracts up to 10,000 visitors per year for recreational use, including using the land not for grazing cattle or indeed even riding horses but for running machinery around it. I suggest that the cattlemen will take very good care of it.
The announcement means that cattle men and women will be able to continue to practise their living culture and maintain an Australian legend. I am very pleased to welcome this announcement by the minister and indeed I congratulate the Victorian mountain cattlemen, their communities and the state government of Victoria on their long advocacy of this issue. It is a great day.