The Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) has accused state government bodies of potentially overseeing the localised extinction of koalas in two sites on the north coast.
NCC CEO Kate Smolski visited the region last week to lend her weight to voices already opposing two state-sponsored developments that pose serious threats to the already critically endangered marsupials.
And she has called on the Commonwealth Threatened Species Commissioner to intervene at one of the sites – the proposed deviation of the planned Pacific Highway upgrade south of Ballina that would cut through a valuable koala colony in the Blackwall Ranges.
‘Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews has been in the role for almost eight months but has done nothing to address the plight of the nationally significant koala population in the Blackwall Range wildlife corridor,’ she said after visiting the site with Friends of the Koala president Lorraine Vass on Thursday.
Ms Vass wrote to Mr Andrews last on July 23, 2014, explaining that the Ballina koala population faced extinction within 20 to 25 years if the highway went through the middle of Blackwall Range.
His office has still not responded.
‘This issue is clearly within the Threatened Species Commissioner’s area of responsibility, so we are now appealing to him to intervene on behalf of our iconic koalas on the north coast,’ Ms Smolski said.
Developers’ undue influence
On Friday she met with opponents the contentious West Byron development, which threatens a 50 percent increase to the coastal town’s population and which she said will destroy another critical koala wildlife corridor.
‘The NSW planning department’s handling of the West Byron development is one of the worst instances of administrative heavy-handedness by the planning department we have seen,’ Ms Smolski said.
‘Planning minister Pru Goward needs to explain to the community why the West Byron development has been fast-tracked, because this is not a development of state significance and it does not deserve to have a separate planning policy to ram through development that the people clearly oppose very strongly.
‘Sadly, this is a consequence of the state’s flawed planning system giving developers undue influence.
‘The minister’s actions in relation to West Byron are a flagrant breach of the promise the Coalition gave before the last election to return power in the planning system to the people.
‘Fast-tracking approvals for major developments in this way increases the risk of poor quality, unsustainable projects being imposed on communities.
‘The lack of transparency and community input into projects like West Byron greatly increase the risks of corruption. Major developments have the biggest impact on the environment and therefore require greater scrutiny.’
Ms Smolski said the NSW planning system needed urgent reform to ensure communities and the environment had the protections they deserved.
‘The government should remove restrictions on third-party appeal rights, require environment approvals from expert agencies such as the Office of Environment and Heritage, create a system of independent environment assessments that breaks the connection between proponents and the assessors and return power to communities to decide the future of their towns,’ Ms Smolski said.