The Victorian Government has called on its federal counterpart to give "fair and serious consideration" to its plans to re-introduce cattle to the Alpine National Park this summer for fire-mitigation trials.
The contentious issue, which is at the centre of a public standoff between the Ballieu and Gillard Governments, will be brought to a head this month after Victoria's environment minister referred the trial to the Commonwealth Government for consdieration under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The Victorian Government says the trials are needed to test whether grazing can help to reduce fuel loads and minimise bushfire risks in the Alpine National Park. It plans to return up to 400 cattle to the park each summer for the next five years.
However the move has drawn condemnation from green groups who claim that cattle cause long-term damage to environmentally sensitive areas. The Federal Labor Government has also opposed the trial on environmental grounds and has actively moved to block the trials.
Management of national parks are State responsibility, however Federal environment minister Tony Burke moved to override the Victorian Government's authority on the park grazing issue in October.
He rushed a new regulation into parliament that required any future proposed grazing activities in the Australian Alps Heritage Area to be first assessed for environmental damage under the Commonwealth EPBC Act.
The Victorian Government has this week placed the ball back in the Federalk Government's court by referring its research trial to the Commonwealth for consideration under the EPBC Act.
Victorian environment minister Ryan Smith said it was always the Ballieu Government’s intention to refer the trial for Commonwealth consideration, and said the referral would enable the Commonwealth to assess the environmental impact of the alpine research trial and then decide on approval and any conditions associated with an approval.
The move is effectively designed to force the Federal Government to assess the trial on its merits, rather than on political grounds.
"Tony Burke's recent media stunt to introduce regulations that would make the Coalition Government to refer the trial to the Commonwealth were nothing but political grandstanding,” Mr Smith said.
"The challenge for Tony Burke is to actually give fair and serious consideration to examining any potential impacts of the fuel reduction trial.
"In Victoria, we take bushfire mitigation very seriously. The strategic use of cattle to reduce the risk of fire in Victoria's high country was firm promise of the Coalition Government before the election. We are delivering on this promise on which we have a mandate.
"This is not a process for Tony Burke to complain about the merits of the trial or him to try to make a political point. He must give fair consideration to the referral and make a decision based on possible impacts and mitigation measures under the trial and not the trial itself.
"The referral document makes it clear that the research trial is designed to provide the Victorian Government with peer-reviewed scientific evidence to inform the fuel and bushfire risk management in our high country using strategic cattle grazing," Mr Smith said.
In comments to The Age newspaper Mr Burke said: “Everybody knows my personal view about state Governments treating a national park as though it were a farm.
“Any application, once it is received, will be assess according to national environmental law.”