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Byron Shire
September 27, 2021

Koalas the losers in highway upgrade

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Ecologist and koala expert Steve Phillips with Cr Jeff Johnson. Photo Eve Jeffery.
Ecologist and koala expert Steve Phillips with Cr Jeff Johnson at last night’s meeting.

Eve Jeffery

Expert ecologist Dr Steve Phillips says he has serious fears for the survival of local koala population as the state government’s announcement overnight that it will not change the controversial route of the Pacific Highway south of Ballina seals the fate of around 200 of the species near Wardell.

Ballina’s most significant wildlife corridor is at risk due to the deviation proposed for the Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway Upgrade Project between Broadwater and the Ballina by-pass, north of Wardell.

Inclement weather didn’t stop about 140 people packing out the conference room at the Ballina RSL last night (Wednesday January 28) to listen to the growing concern from ecologists about the devastating impact the state government’s now-confirmed highway deviation will have on a number of threatened species, including a nationally significant koala colony and the last remaining viable population of Long-Nosed Potoroos.

Dr Phillips told the meeting that the population viability modeling that he has completed has clearly shown, no matter how conservative the inputs, that unless the proposed  highway deviation through the important koala colony is reconsidered, ‘we will have a local extinction event of this nationally significant koala colony within 15 years’.

The government has stated that the route won’t be moved but they will get chief scientist Mary O’Kane to oversee a working group on koala protection.

Roads and north coast minister Duncan Gay told ABC this morning,’We believe that we’ve carefully put [the bypass] in the best place possible. It’s certainly the one that is overwhelmingly supported by the local communities. But we need to do is ensure we put the best possible mitigation in place so the long term survival of the koalas is guaranteed.’

Wednesday night’s meeting was facilitated the ‘Save Ballina’s Koalas’ campaign coordinator and Greens Ballina Cr Jeff Johnson, who says it was great to see so many people attend the meeting.

Despite the minister’s comments, Cr Johnson says that he sees much opposition to the road.

‘Over 50,000 people have signed online and hard-copy petitions’, said Cr Johnson.

‘They are always saying that we want to protect our koalas, our potoroos and our Aboriginal cultural heritage. We want the highway route reconsidered,’ he added.

‘While the overall project has been approved by the NSW and federal governments, it may not be possible to meet the federal minister’s conditions of consent relating to the koala in the section from Broadwater to Wardell,’ Cr Johnson said.

The presentations from Dr Phillips and Mark Graham, who have both worked extensively in the area highlighted what’s at stake if the highway deviation isn’t reconsidered.

Troy and Susan Anderson, who gave the Welcome to Country, spoke about the importance to Aboriginal people of conserving the area due to the number of sacred sites and scar trees that would be destroyed if the current route is retained.

Friends of the Koala president Lorraine Vass. Photo Eve Jeffery.
Friends of the Koala president Lorraine Vass.

President of Friends of the Koala, Lorraine Vass, said that the ‘Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) need to wake up’.

‘This route is in exactly the wrong place’, she said after the meeting. ‘We know about the koalas and our experience is with the koalas but there are other species involved and there are cultural considerations also.

‘Clearly this is a very special place in the world.’

Miss Vass say that the RMS need to reconsider what they plan to do. ‘Take it away, go back to the drawing board and look at a few more options.’

Several Wardell residents who are for the proposed deviation also attended the meeting and discussions became rowdy.

Communications broke down as the evening progressed which saw the premature closure of the event cutting short a Q&A session at the end of the meeting.

Dr Phillips said after his talk that the current koala community, which is in two main groups, is well and truly entrenched in the area and the road will impact them greatly.

‘We have been back over time, looked at historical records, there have been koalas in this area for well over 100 years.’

‘I continue to be amazed by what I see with koalas’, says Dr Phillips. ‘Certainly in terms of the populations north of the Richmond River this is probably the most significant population. Looking at it holistically, the best solution to minimising the impact on this population is simply to put the road somewhere else.’

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  1. The “grey brigade” residents of Wardell acted like a bunch of spoilt brats, interrupting the speakers by booing and yelling out. They should be ashamed of themselves. I wasn’t there to listen to them whinge.
    Thanks to Jeff Johnson for organising the talk and to the speakers. Dispute the interruptions I found it very informative.

  2. Here, here, yes I agree the “grey brigade” were very rude, there was no need to carry on like that. Congrats to Jeff and Speakers, you kept your cool very well. Just makes me want to treasure and help our wildlife even more !!

  3. Disappointing result. I hope the State Government have proposed a very big land bridge from Wardell to Blackwall Range over the Hwy to pick up the pieces of decimated wildlife and cultural connectivity.

  4. Well I was at this meeting and thought I was at a ISIS Meeting I had heard so much propaganda and misinformation: the only speaker who was saying the truth was Steve Phillips and as for Mark Graham who I have heard speak before, I agreed with what he said at the time, his presentation was was very poor; as for the last guy he was an insult to anyone with half a brain. To say the people of Wardell were happy 50 yrs ago when the bridge and highway went through town, if he had been here then he would know they were happy they didn’t have to wait hours for the car ferry. I also feel you have misquoted Steve Phillips. Were you at the same meeting as me? we all love and care what happens to our koalas and potoroos.

  5. It’s interesting that the local National Party MP’s are announcing that the highway is going ahead at the same time they announce an ‘expert’ panel to oversee the environmental issues associated with Section 10 (Broadwater to Wardell). Thanks to everyone who came to the meeting (except those that sought to disrupt the meeting and became aggressive towards others who had a different opinion to them).

    The Federal Environment Minister will make the final decision as to whether this ill-conceived route is allowed to proceed. If anyone would like to get involved with the campaign, please check out the campaign FB page ‘Save Ballina’s Koalas’ and leave a message.

  6. Would not 15 years be conservative.
    With 200 Koalas it does not say what the male to female equivalents are to breed.
    So if it is the same in the human race it is 50/50 and you only need to kill 100 koalas to kill the lot and with a busy highway through the middle that will halve the population in an instant as it separates the 200 into two groups and during construction maybe 50 could be killed so you are then down to 150. 75 each gender male to female.
    How much money is the highway worth and how much money is out national icon worth.
    Put a money figure on it NSW government as the Federal Tourism Minister is trying to get rich Chinese to Australia while the Chinese are getting Australian tourists to go to China to see the Panda.
    When the Chinese revere the Panda can’t Australians do the same with the Koala when the Chinese trade with us in so much of our fossil fuels and China is worth many billions of dollars to us. Where is the sense when the highway is worth a pittance to what International Tourism is to Australia.


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