In the clearest show yet that the state government is unmoved about the plight of the north coast’s last intact koala colony, it indicated in parliament yesterday that it still intends to plough through it when it builds the new Pacific Highway south of Ballina.
The news came yesterday after the shadow roads minister, Labor MLA Jodi McKay, presented a petition signed by 17,000 north coast residents calling on the government to re-route the new duplicated section of highway away from the Blackwall Range, which takes it right through the middle of the koala colony.
Ms McKay told parliament that the highway would be the last straw for the koalas, which have already been heavily impacted this year.
According to Friends of the Koala, in the past seven months 17 koalas have died in the region, including six from car strike and seven from chlamydia.
But all of this fell on deaf ears, with the parliamentary secretary for rural roads, Andrew Gee, telling the house the government ‘does not support this petition’s call for an alternative route for the upgrade of the Pacific Highway’.
‘Mr Speaker we value our natural environment are committed to protecting koala habitats across New South Wales. It’s a priority to us while we are upgrading the highway to a four lane divided highway. And to that end we are investing millions to protect flora and fauna along this route,’ he told the house yesterday.
Save Ballina’s Koalas spokesperson Jeff Johnson told Echonetdaily ‘if they [the government and the RMS] were serious about protecting koala habitat they would route the highway in an are that does not compromise it destroy more than 300 hectares of core koala habitat on the north coast.’
‘What we see time and time again with this government is that they say one thing for their media sound-bite and then does the complete opposite,’ Mr Johnson added.
Federal environment minister Greg Hunt is yet to give the final approval for the controversial section of highway due to ongoing concerns with this important koala population.
‘If this highway goes again, we could see the extinction of koalas in the wild on the north coast,’ Mr Johnson said.
He added he was still hopeful that the federal government would kill off the plan once it received a full report on its likely impact.
‘The population viability analysis modelling has been completed but that work has yet to be peer reviewed and once that report is finished it will then be submitted to the federal government for consideration,’ Mr Johnson said.
‘The fact that 10 years after the state government originally approved this route they still don’t have a final approval for it shows that [roads minister] Duncan Gay and [RMS Pacific Highway project director] Bob Higgins are determined to push ahead no matter what the studies show and how much it costs.’
A number of koalas are known to have died during the construction of the Tintenbar to Ewingsdale section of the highway, even though RMS says it took measures to avoid knocking the animals out of trees they were felling.