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Byron Shire
May 18, 2021

Koala expert to join planning panel

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Luis Feliu

One of Australia’s best-known koala experts, Dr Stephen Phillips, has been appointed by Tweed Shire Council to the Northern Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) for three years.

Dr Phillips and serving panel member Dr Ned Wales were chosen by a majority of Tweed councillors last Thursday to sit on the five-member state-administered panel which determines major developments.

While Greens Cr Katie Milne recommended his appointment, pro-development bloc councillors argued against it, fearing he could be too focused on ecology.

Cr Carolyn Byrne provoked an outcry from Cr Milne when she said the eminent ecologist was ‘too narrow-minded’ in his focus on one aspect of ecology in a shire with a diverse environment.

Cr Milne said the remark was offensive and called for it to be withdrawn, but mayor Barry Longland allowed it.

Cr Warren Polglase also argued against his appointment, saying Dr Phillips may have to excuse himself from some panel hearings because of his ‘conflict’ in having worked as a consultant on many local developments.

Dr Phillips, an independent ecologist with more than 35 years’ experience working with koalas, has also advised the federal government on the plight of the marsupial.

Cr Milne said Dr Phillips was a local, very well-known by Council for his work on environmental issues, experienced in Land and Environment Court matters and was ‘willing to put himself in the hot seat’.

‘It’s high time we had a highly qualified ecologist on the panel,’ she said.

Crs Polglase and Byrne had nominated barrister Robert Quirk, the son of well-known Tweed cane farmer Robert Quirk, and urban planning professor Dr Wales, both serving panel members, to be reappointed, with Dr Phillips as the alternate member.

The appointment of the previous Council-endorsed panel members ends on December 31.

Dr Quirk is now the alternate member after councillors voted 4–3 (Crs Polglase, Youngblutt and Byrne against) for Dr Phillips and Dr Wales as the Council-appointed members .

The other three panel members are state appointed, including the chair, former state government minister Garry West, plus former Tweed Shire general manager Dr John Griffin and former Byron Shire general manager Pamela Westing. Their 12-month terms expire on June 30, 2013.

The Northern JRPP is one of six regional panels.

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