Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt-Chief Opposition Whip) (20:43): In rising to speak on this motion put forward by the member for Makin, I would like to put some level of balance and common sense into this argument. Clearly those that are contributing on the other side are city-centric and probably understand only what they read in the papers, the magazines and what have you in relation to national parks. Certainly, when I listen to some of the arguments put forward, it is more about ideology than practicality and reality.
I am very much a strong proponent of national parks and protecting our biodiversity and our amazing fauna and flora. Make no questions about it: in Leichhardt we have some truly spectacular natural areas within the Daintree, Lakefield, Black Mountain and Jardine River national parks, and they attract many visitors to our region, and of course tourism is the backbone of our economy. However, in considering this motion today in particular in regards to Queensland, the member for Makin clearly has no understanding regarding some of the relevant information.
The Queensland government’s decision to allow graziers to agist drought-stricken cattle in five national parks and eight reserves was an emergency response to an emergency situation. We have tens of thousands of head of cattle that are slowly starving to death. It could take months but eventually they will die. This tragic situation has arisen from a perfect storm of events, the first and most significant being the Gillard government’s knee-jerk decision to ban live exports to Indonesia in mid-2011.
This decision has resulted in an oversupply of cattle in our properties. The irony is that for a long period after the ban the cattle would not be exported because they were above the weight limits permitted for live export. Now, however, graziers are struggling to find enough grass to feed these cattle thanks to bushfires and emerging drought. We also have the oncoming calf drop in October-November which will further exacerbate the problem.
As for the assertion by the environment minister, Tony Burke, that the Queensland government just wants to trample national parks, can I say that, like the member for Makin, Mr Burke has no idea what he is talking about. As a grazier myself I can testify that we have to be practical about the fact that you are breeding and raising cattle for slaughter but this does not mean that any grazier wants to see their cattle suffering, slowly starving to death on land that can no longer support them.
The decision to open up some of these conservation areas and national parks is purely a commonsense approach and certainly a very humane one in relation to treatment of these animals. It seems that many people, including green groups, have conveniently forgotten that the national parks in question have predominantly been former cattle stations. Given that they were considered suitable for inclusion in the national parks after more than 100 years of cattle grazing, where is the risk to their suitability after temporary usage by graziers in their time of need?
There is absolutely no reason why these parks cannot be managed in an appropriate way viewed as a valid management process rather than as the environmental disaster that the green groups are promoting. Grazing will help manage invasive species like buffel grass and other weeds and counter pests including pigs and dingoes.
In addition, I do not believe that the animal welfare groups comprehend the consequences of their actions. Given the key role they played in this situation, they need to come forward and offer their support. I would like to see Animals Australia and other highly vocal welfare groups and maybe the member for Makin take a trip to these areas in regional Queensland, walk through the paddocks and see these starving cattle.
I would even go so far as to say that if they really wanted to help they should bring along a gun, bring the ammunition and save the farmer the anguish of having to shoot their own animals. This would certainly effectively drive home to them the true impact of rushed and poorly conceived policy. This whole situation came about because of an absolute stuff-up by the Gillard government, and there has been very little done to try and improve the situation.
The nonsense about offering $60 million in low-interest loans does not feed the cattle and pushes farmers into further debt. It is time to strike a balance between conservation and development. Rural communities can thrive if they are given opportunities for economic development and are not burdened by unnecessary red tape. In the meantime I will continue to work with the Cairns Chamber of Commerce and the Papua New Guinean government on a proposal that will see Queensland cattle exported to Papua New Guinea to help with their national herd shortage. This is a project which has gained incredible momentum and I am proud to be part of this practical solution.
To view the official Hansard, click here