Byron Shire Council has delayed exhibition of its draft coastal koala management plan and a prominent koala rescue group is blaming Bluesfest.
Development of the Byron Coast Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management has been overseen by a Project Reference Group (PRG) including Byron councillors, state agency representatives and community members.
Studies undertaken as part of the plan discovered that in 2010 there were just 240 koalas left on the coastal strip of Byron Shire, of which 12 were spotted on the Bluesfest site.
The PRG last week recommended Council put the plan on exhibition for eight weeks, during which time it would hold workshops for stakeholders, including planning and ecological consultants, larger developers, festival organisers and members of the community.
But Council last week resolved that the stakeholder workshop for music festivals would occur prior to the plan going on exhibition and that the PRG would be required to conduct a subsequent review of the Koala Plan of Management.
It further required that if the PRG and the festival promoters can’t agree then an independent review will be commissioned.
Friends of the Koala president and PRG member Lorraine Vass puts this outcome down to the influence of Bluesfest director Peter Noble.
‘Raising his issues through the public exhibition period isn’t good enough for Mr Noble,’ Ms Vass said.
‘It is absolutely outrageous that approval of the draft plan for exhibition is being delayed in this way.
‘That the interests of one landholder can delay exhibition of the instrument that is aimed at addressing the bigger picture of koala survival in Byron’s coastal areas demonstrates councillors’ inadequacy to deal with inordinate influence.
‘This situation is particularly ironic as Mr Noble is one of the very few people in Byron Shire who already enjoys prior consideration through an individual Koala Plan of Management that exists over his Tyagarah site. This plan is presently being revised; however, Mr Noble is required only to take new information and the Comprehensive Plan “into consideration”.
‘Friends of the Koala is bitterly disappointed by Byron Council’s decision at this vital stage of the draft plan’s progress,’ Mrs Vass continued.
‘Our understanding is that only one councillor, Cr [Duncan] Dey, who is on the PRG, made himself available for the briefing workshop a week before the Council meeting. Staff and consultants were left high and dry, not one apology tendered.
‘So much for Byron’s elected members’ commitment to koala conservation,’ she said.
Cr Dey agrees that the delay is unnecessary and unconscionable but says he ultimately supported the resolution, as it was clear an amendment he foreshadowed was not going to get up.
But he said the outcome meant Bluesfest was getting special treatment.
‘Peter [Noble] seems to me to be jumping the queue. He would have had eight weeks to have a workshop and then changes would have been made to the plan – like everybody else,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘One of the biggest issues is the plan floats the concept that there needs to be a 650m buffer between stages and places koalas are known to inhabit. If the koalas on the site require special attention I’m sure that could be undertaken as part of his plan.’
He said the most disappointing element of the debate was that the plight of the remaining koalas was not even mentioned.
‘There was no discussion about preserving koalas; it was all about the right to do what he likes on his site.
‘No-one’s out there to destroy his festival – I just want to see the koalas looked after.’
Cr Dey said he was also critical of his fellow councillors, who voted overwhelmingly to oppose the PRG’s recommendations.
‘I regret I wasn’t more forthright in supporting the koalas,’ he said.
‘I wonder how many councillors have read the plan – yet the majority of them seem to agree it needs to be changed.
‘I don’t think the councillors who voted in favour [of the delay] understand how important it is to protect this species, which is on the way out.’
Bluesfest was approached for comment. So far none has been received.
But the motion’s mover, Cr Sol Ibrahim, told Echonetdaily the delay was warranted and wouldn’t impact on the welfare of koalas.
‘There isn’t an urgency in the sense that implementing this document is immediately going to save koalas’ lives because everything that immediately can be done is in fact being done,’ he said.
‘I think it’s wrong to imagine that every day there is a delay another koala will die.’
Cr Ibrahim said the Bluesfest site was the only landholding mentioned in what was intended to be a ‘shire-wide’ document and he disputed conclusions drawn about the impact of the festival by the plan’s authors.
‘Research by Sean Fitzgibbon, from Queensland University [acting on behalf of Peter Noble] revealed that about half of koalas moved away from the site during the period of the 2010 and 2012 festivals and [subsequently] returned to the site.
‘Neither of the research findings reported adverse health affects to the koalas.’
But he claimed the official report contained ‘a highly speculative and unsubstantiated series of assertions are made that effectively said that it can be expected over time that all koalas will move away from all music events.
‘I questioned the author of the Byron report about the series of conclusions he had made and asked him for other supporting evidence but he didn’t have that.
‘So what we had here was a report that was 95 per cent excellent but that particular issue was likely to have a dramatic effect on people’s views around music festivals generally and in this case the named stakeholder [Bluesfest] had no opportunity to provide feedback or contrary evidence before the document went on exhibition.’
Cr Ibrahim said it would be ‘about a month’ until a meeting is held between stakeholder between Bluesfest and the PRG to ‘have a closer look at the statements and assumptions in the document.’
He said he expects Mr Noble’s issues ‘should be resolved’ and it would be ‘a month or two before it comes back to council within the ordinary cycle’.