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Byron Shire
October 4, 2022

RMS accused of cover-up over highway-route secrecy

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Save Ballina Koalas spopkesperson and Ballina Shire councillor Jeff Johnson.
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Roads and Maritime Services NSW (RMS) has been accused of sitting on studies of a koala colony in the path of the Broadwater section of the Pacific Highway, with protection groups suggesting the authority is massaging the figures.

And the Ballina Environment Society is suggesting the reason RMS is sticking to the more expensive and environmentally damaging route is that it may have already approved some key tenders.

Save Ballina’s Koalas campaigners say they are ‘frustrated with repeated delays’ in releasing the latest study results.

Campaign co-sponsor Friends of the Koala applied for information about the study under freedom of information legislation in August last year but RMS requested modification of the application in October and then delayed the release of documents until 7 December 7.

Campaign spokesperson and Ballina councillor Jeff Johnson said that Woolgoolga2Ballina Project Manager, Bob Higgins had ‘promised Ballina Council that the koala studies and planning for the controversial Section 10 (Broadwater to Coolgardie) would be transparent.’

‘What we’ve got instead is a closed door and information being kept from the public,’ Cr Johnson said.

Echonetdaily understands the documentation that RMS is willing to release will be after it has finalised and circulated the Ballina Koala Plan, which is expected to be in late January.

RMS ‘not acting in good faith’

Cr Johnson has accused RMS of ‘not acting in good faith’.

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

And Friends of the Koala president, Lorraine Vass said she ‘thought NSW’s right to information system was aimed at ensuring responsible and effective government but I have become totally disillusioned.

‘Four months down the track and we are really no closer to receiving any of the scientific documentation we have been seeking, even though we have shared all our Ballina data and we provided the majority of the samples for the genetic study,’ Mrs Vass said.

‘Quite frankly, we expected better in terms of consultation and provision of information.

‘The reason for the delay given in the latest advice appears to be based on a perception that campaigners could jeopardise RMS’s “ability to complete a piece of research and internal deliberations towards a publication”. Intervention such aspublic circulation and/or discussion of the primary materials that inform the proposed publication”is described as an “intervening event” which is clearly unacceptable to RMS,’ Mrs Vass said.

Cr Johnson said that without information being released ‘it’s hard not to be concerned that the RMS doesn’t like what the PVA (Population Viability Analysis) studies are showing’.

Breeding reduced

‘Perhaps instead of accepting the science they are trying to find another way to satisfy the federal environment minister, Greg Hunt’s conditions that were imposed to ensure the long term viability of this population,’ he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Effie Ablett, of the Ballina Environment Society, says the recent genetic studies are ‘likely to prove that the population in the path of the proposed Section 10 of the Highway upgrade is a source population for most of the northern rivers koalas’.

‘Breeding is reduced as numbers of males, particularly young males are low, and this is likely to be the result of car hits on local roads and wild dog attacks,’ said Dr Ablett.

Contracts let?

Dr Ablett queried why RMS had ‘doggedly stuck to this more expensive route, when there are other route options largely using existing highway?’

‘Is it because contracts have already been signed for high-level construction over the Bagotville swamp areas, and a very long bridge over one of the widest parts of the Richmond River near Broadwater?

‘Is it because of one or two influential landowners would be affected by alternate routes or quarry materials on this route?

‘I question RMS’s transparency and the procedures under GIPA which could reveal this sort of information,’ Dr Ablett said.

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  1. While the RMS is judge and jury and stands behind the “critical infrastructure legislation” to avoid legal challenges there is no chance of independent decisions.

    We need a brave politician to introduce a bill to provide independent scrutiny of the RMS

    Until we do sadly the truck lobby will crush all other interests

    Lets hope a few brave Koalas can hang on until then.

  2. Not a single word of the RMS and their consultants can be trusted. They are the architects of one of the greatest ever blitzkriegs on the globally significant biodiversity of the NSW North Coast.

    It saddens me greatly that, if our amazing biodiversity is to have any chance of surviving, we know that we need to hang on to every bit of remaining vegetation and to reconnect and restore degraded and fragmented habitats, yet the RMS is either in the process of destroying right now (between Woolgoolga and Grafton) or proposing to fragment and destroy some of the largest intact expanses of native vegetation across the lowlands of the Richmond and Clarence River Valleys.

    There is so much cleared land available in the Richmond Valley for building roads that there is no excuse for clearing and fragmenting the last large and intact areas of bushland in Ballina Shire to create a massive highway deviation.

  3. seriously i get that there is significance in colonies and there structures and surrounding eco systems.
    but seriously this stretch of north coast road has taken a lot of human lives and needs to be safer. that means 4 lanes which also helps australian east coast with the much needed productivity it is so starved of (complained lately about the price of things ……have a look at the frieght component, its huge).

    has anyone stood at the top of st helena or any of the higher points in the local area and had a look at how insignificant the space is that the highway takes up….. it’s minimal. then have a look across the landscape and see how many camphor laurels cover it and continue to starve the the area of good koala habitat.

    imagine replacing each camphor laurel with a eucalyptus that a koala could eat…….its mind blowing when you look out at how much land could be vegetated towards koala friendly habitat if we wanted to.

    stop whining and come up with some solutions that are realistic and co habitual, rather than complain about and politicise everytime there’s any type of development.

    get on the front foot and make things better with an ecoconsious solution that works for every being not backwards “hey you can’t do this and you can’t do that” boring mantra. become more positive and you’ll achieve a better outcome for the koalas as a species and our beautiful honey pot we call the northern rivers(or should i say australia).

    be smarter not louder.

  4. Hey Larry

    Thanks for the input.

    The proposed major deviation of the Pacific Highway between Broadwater and Coolgardie is approximately 3km longer than the existing carriageway. The existing carriageway is flat and almost entirely straight (with only a couple of bends at places such as Boundary Creek).

    Duplicating the existing highway is the best and most efficient solution and will avoid any impacts on koalas, potoroos and myriad other threatened species, as well as avoiding encircling the Ngunya-Jargoon Indigenous Protected Area (a conservation reserve of immense cultural, economic and tourist-use value) in a ring of 4-6 lanes of concrete. There is no reason for koalas to be made extinct to save human lives, because adding 2 lanes to the existing highway will achieve a safe carriageway. Wouldn’t you agree?


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