Kosciuszko’s Victorian neighbour, the Alpine National Park, has been the subject of both Federal and Supreme court cases this month. Parks Victoria was taken to court over the implementation of their Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2021. Both court cases ruled in Parks Victoria favour, allowing them to proceed with the implementation of their plan to protect the park from heavy-hooved animals.
The Victorian Supreme court case
Yesterday, Justice Moore of the Victorian Supreme court dismissed an application to delay ground shooting of feral horses in and near the Bogong High Plains. The application was brought by cattleman Phil Maguire against Parks Victoria.
This is the second rejection this month by the judicial system of attempts to prevent effective management of feral horses in the Victorian Alps.
The central issue in the case brought by Mr Maguire was whether Parks Victoria had a legal obligation to consult the public further on their decision to use the method of ground-shooting to reduce growing horse numbers in the Alpine National Park.
Mr Maguire claimed that a number of documents – Statement of obligations under the Parks Victoria Act 2018 and the 2016 Management Plan and its subordinate Action Plan – required Parks Victoria to engage in public consultation before the method of ground-shooting could be used.
Mr Maguire’s first challenge was to demonstrate that he had standing (standing asks whether the person(s) bringing a lawsuit, or defending one, has enough cause to “stand” before the court and advocate, since not anyone can go to court for any reason).
Justice Moore ruled that he did not have standing, because even if Mr Maguire were successful in arguing that Parks Victoria had an obligation to consult, that success would not have benefited Mr Maguire more than any other person.
Although the Judge could have dismissed the application solely on the basis of lack of standing, he took the option to make a determination on the requirement for public consultation.
He ruled that Parks Victoria was not under an obligation to consult on this particular decision. The Judge described the management and action plans as strategic and conditional, and not documents which impose rules and obligations on Parks Victoria in the way that Acts of Parliament and Regulations do.
Justice Moore had some chilling comments on the quality of Mr Maguire’s case. At one point he commented that ‘his submissions are of limited assistance in determining the issue at hand’ and later that ‘fixing on, in isolation, two brief expressions taken from a brief summary of background information and issues in a strategy document of more than 140 pages in length is to be deprecated’.
Mr Maguire is reportedly considering an appeal. Parks Victoria told the court ground shooters would not start their operations before Tuesday, June 9, or June 12 if Mr Maguire lodged an appeal within a week.
Victoria’s horse-threatened plants and animals are still holding their breath, waiting to hear when the management plan will proceed but their chances of survival have been significantly improved by today’s Supreme court decision.
Update 19 June 2020: The Supreme court today rejected an appeal to the original decision, reiterating that Mr Maguire had no standing. Parks Victoria have confirmed that they will now proceed with horse removal from the Victorian Alps.
Does the public voice matter?
While further public consultation was not deemed necessary at this point in time, Parks Victoria undertook an extensive public consultation process during the preparation of their Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2021.
In 2017 the community were invited to review the draft action plan and provide feedback on the proposed control methods and almost one thousand participants contributed their thoughts.
Although not proposed, ground-shooting was the most heavily commented on control method. Of 351 comments that addressed ground-shooting, approximately 80% were supportive of the control method.
Earlier this month, the Federal court ruled in favour of Parks Victoria’s feral horse management plan after an eighteen-month long challenge by the Australian Brumby Alliance.
By Linda Groom
Linda Groom volunteers for Reclaim Kosci and is a member of Canberra Bushwalkers. Linda coordinated the Save Kosci 560km protest walk from Sydney to Mount Kosciuszko in November and December 2018.