AFTER a 17-month battle with the Baillieu government, the environment movement has received a key document that underpinned the controversial decision to return cattle to the Alpine National Park. But the document, it turns out, is rather curious.
The released academic paper – one of two scientific reviews the government relied on to conclude that gaps existed in alpine fire-management science – is a draft. It is now seven years old and does not include any science after 2005, ignoring significant pieces of work by the CSIRO and other scientists.
The literature review was not peer reviewed nor published in a scientific journal.
”This document clearly shows the government did not have a good scientific basis in assuming the need for a trial,” said Phil Ingamells of the Victorian National Parks Association, which used freedom of information laws to find out on what scientific basis the government returned cattle to the park in 2010.
The government had said a review of the science showed ”there was not enough evidence to form an opinion on fuel and bushfire-risk management using strategic cattle grazing”.
It appears to have formed this view based on two scientific reviews: a Department of Sustainability and Environment review – which had been made public – and this other external review, co-written by the University of Sydney’s dean of agriculture, Mark Adams.
But the government insisted the second review remain secret and fought the association through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The government argued the document was exempt under the FOI Act because it was ”obtained in confidence”. The tribunal did not agree and ordered the document’s release.
Professor Adams said the work was part of a Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre project and had since been progressed and submitted for review for publication in an academic journal. He said the draft review had been presented on request by the Victorian government and it was ”most unusual” and ”rather disturbing” that the scientific process had been interrupted by the public release of the document.
DSE spokeswoman Cathy Heycock explained: ”The external literature review in question was one piece of information amongst others that were considered as part of the decision to proceed with a scientific-research trial.
”Other documents that helped inform the decision included work by [the department] that reviewed studies from the 1950s to 2008. Relevant information up until 2010 was also considered as part of [the department’s] decision to conduct the trial.”
The trial was blocked by federal Environment Minister Tony Burke and his department, which found evidence that the six-year trial involving 400 cattle would damage the natural environment and heritage values of the region.
The Baillieu government has appealed this to the Federal Court and is awaiting a decision
Melissa Fyfe and Tom Arup