Tweed Shire Council will urge new federal environment minister Greg Hunt to give the Tweed Coast’s decimated koala population a fighting chance of survival when he reviews the Kings Forest township development plans.
Late yesterday, councillors voted to send a submission calling on the minister to review all previous ecological assessments of the development, and recommending other measures aimed at protecting the shire’s dwindling koala population.
Submissions with the environment department close later today for its review under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
At its last meeting, councillors voted to recommend to the federal government that dogs be banned at the development which will eventually house around 15,000 people.
That move was backed by Richmond MP Justine Elliot who on Wednesday told federal parliament she supported local koala campaigners, council and the state opposition in calling for the dog ban at Kings Forest ‘to protect the largest koala colony on the Tweed’.
Mrs Elliot told MPs there were only around 150 koalas left in the Tweed and ‘the community desperately want them protected’.
Cr Katie Milne said she put up the motion and called for the extraordinary meeting to deal with it because it was ‘crunch time for koalas in the Tweed’ and ‘every level of government needs to pull out all stops to protect these beautiful and iconic animals’.
Cr Milne said the development, which has koala habitat in and around it, ‘must be done in the most careful and sensitive manner possible’.
She said ‘the community has spoken loudly and clearly that their first priority is the Tweed Coast koalas’ and protecting their habitat from development.
Mayor Barry Longland said the aim of the submission was to send ‘a clear message’ from council that it wanted the federal government to ‘take account every possible measure they can in terms of koala protection’
Deputy mayor Michael Armstrong said the issue was about the legacy to be left for future generations by those now living in such a unique and special part of the world.
‘With so few koalas left on the Tweed Coast we must think of our future. We all live here in the Tweed Shire because we value our community and our lifestyle. Our native environment is an important symbol of everything we hold dear,’ Cr Armstrong said.
‘We have an obligation as a community and as councillors to protect what makes the Tweed unique so that those things we appreciate about living on the Tweed can be enjoyed by our children and their grandchildren.
‘We need to do all we can to protect these koalas.
‘Two weeks ago this Council made a statement that we valued the koala population when we asked the federal minister for the environment to impose a ban on dogs in Kings Forest.
‘We want our children and our grandchildren to have a chance to experience koalas in the wild rather than in zoos, or read them about them in history books in a classroom,’ Cr Armstrong said to applause from the public gallery.
But Cr Carolyn Byrne argued against the move, saying she was concerned the latest push to protect koalas was all about ‘a hidden political agenda’.
Cr Byrne said the recommendation should be based on the ‘quadruple bottom line’ instead and ‘not just a species of animal’, and that development was crucial for the children of future generations.
She said the role of councillors was to consider all four aspects of the ‘bottom line’ (ecological, financial, social and governance) ‘and not just one all the time’.
‘I’m concerned that as a council we’re pushing the one agenda and pushing that extremely hard.
‘I do believe the consenting authority will take into consideration a thorough and scientific approach devoid of the political persuasion and also the emotional content that we’ve heard over time,’ she said.
Cr Byrne said developments such as Kings Forest were needed to keep housing in the shire ‘affordable’ and if supply is limited, ‘prices of other properties would escalate’.
Cr Gary Bagnall responded by saying he’d ‘like to remind Cr Byrne and my fellow councillors that species are disappearing off this earth almost every day’.
Icon needs protection
‘There’s no hidden political agenda here, we’re talking about a species, an icon of this country, that needs to be protected,’ Cr Bagnall said.
‘We’re not saying don’t build here, we’re saying build sensibly.’
He said Cr Byrne’s suggestion that koala protection would have a detrimental effect on the future prospects of the shire’s children ‘doesn’t wear with us’.
‘This would be for their enjoyment, so they will be able to see and enjoy koalas in their backyards or bush around them,’ Cr Bagnall said.
‘There’s no “emotional content” here, we’re talking about protecting one of the much-loved icons of our country
‘We’re saying we want to live in harmony with the other creatures of our planet, we want to share this shire with other creatures who have a right to live here too, and we as councillors have a duty to care for them,’ he said, also to loud applause from the gallery.
Cr Milne closed the debate by saying that the environment part of the ‘quadruple bottom line had only come into the equation in planning legislation very recently’ and ‘there was a lot of catching up to do to balance the books in favour of the environment’.
She urged unanimous support for her notice of motion, but veteran pro-development Cr Warren Polglase rejected that by voting against, while his factional colleague Cr Byrne voted for, in the 5-1 vote (Cr Phil Youngblutt was absent).
After the debate, Cr Armstrong told Echonetdaily that ‘many locals are telling me they are worried that the Kings Forest development is being considered by a federal Liberal-National party environment minister.
‘A minister from the same Liberal and National party whose local National Party affiliated Cr Warren Polglase voted against these additional protections for the Tweed Coast koala population,’ Cr Armstrong said.
‘A minister from the same [coalition] whose prime minister described climate change as “absolute crap”.
‘A minister from the same Liberal and National Party state government who has allowed shooting in national parks and is busy rolling out CSG (coal-seam gas) across the north coast.’
The motion as passed was:
‘Due to the importance for connectivity of habitat for Koalas and other Threatened Species, that in preparing its submission with respect to Kings Forest, Council recommends that the Federal Minister for the Environment:
1. Review all previous ecological assessments on Kings Forest and adopts the most precautionary approach available, particularly in regards to the Cudgen Paddock and the eastern portions of the site;
2. Ensure adequate connectivity be provided for Koala movement north/ south/ east/ west;
3. Consider the appropriateness of the location of the main access roads, and the adequacy of the road designs for safe koala movements;
4. Ensure effective exclusion fencing around the development footprint of the site, with adequate over passes and under passes, to limit the potential threat of Koala fatalities in traffic areas;
5. Ensure adequate compensatory offsets for environmental impacts are provided preferably within or adjacent to the site.
6. Impacts from climate change are accounted for including, but not limited to, increased bushfire and flooding events and intensity, ecosystem retreat, and other stressors, including heat stress, and
7. That cumulative impacts are taken into account and provisions for enhanced environmental outcomes are adequate for the recovery of the local Koala population.
8. Ensure the environmental lands are fully funded by the developer in perpetuity, or otherwise arranged to the satisfaction of Council, to ensure functional viability of these areas for Koalas and other threatened species in the long term.’