The NSW government promised to better protect the State’s koalas. In December environment minister Robyn Parker named the koala as one of four iconic species to be given tier-1 recovery priority in her bold Saving Our Species program.
The preferred route for Section 10 of the Woolgoolga-Ballina Pacific Highway upgrade is set to plough through the regionally and nationally significant lower Richmond koala population, separating three areas of known koala activity.
The work will destroy 350 ha of koala habitat and the ameliorative measures proposed are totally inadequate for mitigating the impacts of this route on up to 200 koalas.
Putting it mildly, the proposed upgrade project has been poorly informed in terms of potential impact on koalas and is giving only lip service to the conservation and management needs of an ‘important’ population.
People are asking, ‘how can this be, given the koala was listed as “vulnerable” under the Federal Environment Protection & Biodiversity Act 1999 in May 2012?’
The upgrade has been declared a controlled action under the Act, therefore it will require approval from both the NSW planning minister and the federal environment minister.
However assessment will take place by way of an accredited assessment process, which in this case is Part 5.1 of the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. The federal ‘watchdog’ will be relying on the same reports as the NSW planning minister.
Friends of the Koala is calling upon the NSW minister to refer the project to the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC). Whether or not he chooses that option, any decision, whether it’s the PAC’s or the minister’s should be made available for public comment prior to the commencement of the federal process.
For our members the federal minister’s decision will be a litmus test of the EPBC Act’s veracity for protecting the koala.
The preferred route must be changed. There are better options.
Lorraine Vass, president, Friends of the Koala, Inc.