15.2 C
Byron Shire
May 9, 2021

Top koala expert quits Wardell project

Latest News

Join Clarkes Beach paddle out this weekend to stop massive oil and gas field project

Hundreds of local surfers and water-lovers will paddle out at Clarke’s Beach over the weekend to protest against a massive oil and gas field proposed for the NSW coast.

Other News

Cartoon of the week – 5 May, 2021

Letters to the editor We love to receive letters, but not every letter will be published; the publication of letters...

Boarding houses

Matthew O’Reilly, CABS president and Council candidate for the new Byron Greens The over-development of cramped boarding-house accommodation in Sunrise...

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Killer Crocs!

When I was 18, to rebel against the world my parents had created, I shaved a half Mohawk, encouraged my hair to stand on end, grew my armpit hair, wore torn black rags, too much eyeliner and wore 18-hole Dr. Martens boots. These days, to give their parents the shits, the kids are wearing Crocs. With socks. They’re going for comfort.

Respect for Country

Léandra Martiniello, Whian Whian It is the night of the full moon, I have just watched it rise. On the...

Rous County Dam

Jo Faith, Newtown Strong objections to the proposed development of this dam have been articulated by the Indigenous Heritage First...

Greater Sydney under COVID related restrictions

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has just announced that greater Sydney area will go into lockdown until next Monday.

Dr Steve Phillips. Photo Biolink
Dr Steve Phillips. Photo Biolink

Luis Feliu

The state opposition has blamed political interference for the sudden resignation of one of Australia’s top koala experts as key advisor on a controversial upgrade section of the Pacific Highway south of Ballina.

Dr Steve Phillips, who has worked on koala studies for some of the biggest developments on the north coast over the years, resigned from the project a fortnight ago under a cloud.

Fairfax Media reported that Dr Phillips quit after a NSW government ‘backflip’ resulted in ecologists being phoned as they were surveying for koalas near Wardell and told to stop.

The report said that after the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) awarded a contract to Ecosure (the consultancy Dr Phillips worked for) to fully assess koala activity along the planned Wardell bypass, ‘the department changed its mind a fortnight ago, and told the company it could only check for koalas in the immediate vicinity of animal underpass sites already chosen by the department’.

Mr Secord, the shadow minister for roads and the north coast, told media that Dr Phillips was ‘pushed’ because the government did not agree with the expert, calling for an inquiry in whether there had been interference.

But roads minister Duncan Gay rejected the accusation, telling media Dr Phillips’ resignation was due to a ‘contractual’ issue and that the government ‘worked hard to protect koalas’.

The routing of the proposed 12-kilometre Wardell bypass section through a known koala habitat area in the Blackwall Range has sparked a campaign for the government to change course to avoid it.

Opponents say the government is trying to avoid delays and costs on the upgrade and in the process threatening a rare ancestral koala population with the genetic diversity needed to ensure the survival of local koala populations.

Labor MPs Walt Secord and Luke Foley have called on Mr Gay to meet with campaigners to find a solution that ensures the upgrade goes ahead but also protects koalas.

The Sun Herald report said that in his resignation letter to Ecosure, Mr Phillips said the department direction ‘compromises the integrity, independence and veracity of the field assessment that was agreed to’.

The letter, according to the article, said the underpasses chosen were ‘very poorly informed’ and that the department appeared concerned that what Dr Phillips might say in his report ‘may damage the “progress” they have made’ on the highway design.

The Sun Herald report said genetic tests and new research by Dr Phillips last year discovered the Wardell koalas were a ‘linchpin’ colony, and vital for the survival of coastal koalas, which suffered high rates of disease because of inbreeding.

In the excerpts of the resignation letter published by the newspaper, Dr Phillips said there’s a lot at stake for koalas at Wardell and it was ‘a line in the sand’.

Dr Phillips, whose previous work with koala studies includes the proposed township of Kings Forest on the Tweed Coast and the contentious world motor rally held on the northern rivers in 2009, also urged the federal government to ‘take a strong position’ on the bypass issue because all the data was there.

The ecologist is an internationally acknowledged authority on the ecology, conservation and management of koalas.

Ballina Shire Council has identified the Meerschaum Vale-Blackwall Range area as ‘nationally significant’ and a key local source population for north coast koalas.

The two Labor MPs say a study found 70 per cent, or 13 of 18 localised koala colonies in the local government area, would be heavily impacted by construction of the route.

‘Barry O’Farrell allows reckless logging to occur in magnificent north coast koala habitats and now he is allowing his roads minister to put a 12-kilometre stretch of the Pacific Highway straight through rare koala colonies,’ Mr Foley said.

‘It is no wonder the scientific community is questioning Barry O’Farrell’s promises on the environment.’

Mr Foley and Mr Secord today called on Mr Gay to work with the local Northern Rivers community to find a solution.

‘At the start of European settlement there were an estimated 10 million koalas in Australia,’ they said in their joint statement.

‘Today, there have been a mere 11,000 reported sightings on the north coast bioregion.

‘Koalas have suffered due to encroaching development, logging, attacks by pets, imported disease and road accidents,’ they said.


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


  1. Typical case of a government having made a predetermined decision which it then rationalises and selectively collects data for, instead of using available all evidence to make a wise choice
    No wonder that everybody protests and is cynical about their concern for the environment

  2. I always judge a government on how they treat the environment and it sounds like Barry O’Farrell government only cares about the cheapest and quickest way to get the job done couldn’t care less about wild life and how it effect them.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Man dead after boat capsizes near Yamba

Police say a man has died and a second has been taken to hospital after a boat capsized south of Yamba this morning.

Jonson Street bus shelter gone and an era ended

Byron Shire Council says that the wooden bus shelter on Jonson Street outside the Byron Visitors Centre is being removed today with all bus services operating from the new bus interchange on Butler Street in Byron Bay

Upside down river

Tim Harrington, Lennox Head Letter contributor Richard White (letters 21/4/21) quite correctly identifies the Richmond River as an ‘upside down river’ and nowhere is this more...

Ballina Dragons’ great results at Urunga

The Ballina Dragon Boat Racing Club is a group of paddling people from all walks of life who enjoy being out on the water having fun and keeping fit.