Court to hear alpine grazing ban challenge

THE Baillieu government will argue the Commonwealth acted outside its jurisdiction when it blocked a controversial cattle grazing trial in the Alpine National Park in a long-awaited court challenge.

The state government is seeking to overturn a decision by federal Environment Minister Tony Burke that the trial is ”clearly unacceptable” under national environment laws due to its impacts on national heritage values in the alpine region.

Victoria has sought a judicial review of the decision, which will be heard in the Federal Court today.

The Baillieu government wants to allow 400 cows into the national park for five years in a trial it says will test grazing’s impact on reducing bushfire risk. The government promised the trial at the 2010 state election, winning it the key support of the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association.

Conservation groups have equated the project to Japan’s so-called scientific whaling and warned it would have major impacts on the region’s sensitive environment.

In its application to the court, the Baillieu government argues the Commonwealth used information not in Victoria’s original trial application to make its decision.

It says the Commonwealth breached natural justice by not allowing Victoria to address the extra material.

Victoria is seeking to force Mr Burke – who rejected the proposal at the first hurdle – to do a full assessment of the proposed trial under environment laws. It is also seeking costs for the review.

Mr Burke yesterday said he stood by his decision. ”The court will make a ruling on the legality of my decision that the proposed action is clearly unacceptable under national environmental law,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Baillieu government said: ”The strategic use of cattle to reduce the risk of fire in Victoria’s high country was a firm promise of the Coalition government before the [2010 state] election.

”We are delivering on this promise on which we have a mandate.”

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