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Byron Shire
June 15, 2021

Ballina koalas’ ‘fate sealed’ as highway route confirmed

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Koalas are known to have been killed by being thrown out of trees during highway clearing. Photo Friends of Ironbark Forests
Koalas are known to have been killed by being thrown out of trees during highway clearing. Photo Friends of Ironbark Forests

After a 10-year campaign to prevent the Pacific Highway south of Ballina from being routed through the middle of the region’s most significant koala colony, Friends of the Koala learned by checking a website that new federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg had rubber-stamped the RMS proposal on his first day in the job.

After years of consultation and negotiations, the group was not even given the courtesy of a phone call to say that the Ballina Koala Plan and the 546-page Koala Management Plan had been approved.

Friends of the Koala (FOK) president, Lorraine Vass described it as ‘an ignominious conclusion to our decade-plus fight to keep the Pacific Highway Upgrade Project away from the Lower Richmond koala population.’

‘The new Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, approved the Ballina Koala Plan on the very day he was sworn in to office. The Koala Management Plan for Sections 9 and 10 was approved under delegation on 11 August.’

Mrs Vass said that ‘neither the minister nor his department had the common decency to breathe a word, despite repeated attempts by Save Ballina’s Koalas campaigners to winkle out news. We are appalled with the disrespectful treatment of the community’s concerns and with the underhanded way in which these approvals have been announced.’

‘Arrogance, deceit, vandalism’

To add insult to injury the Ballina Koala Plan’s ministerial approval was given on 19 July, one day before the Koala Management Plan was submitted to him.

‘We anticipated that the Koala Management Plan was being revised with a view to achieving consistency with the Ballina Koala Plan but to read that it had been submitted the day following approval suggested a highly orchestrated exchange between the NSW and federal bureaucracies involved,’ Mrs Vass said.

She also queried why, when the koalas’ fate was sealed, the RMS waited a further seven days before announcing the decision it is website.

‘Only yesterday (Monday) RMS hosted a pop-up information meeting at the Meerschaum Vale Hall on the draft urban design and landscape management plan and proposed design refinements for the upgrade.

‘No mention was made about the approvals to the residents and stakeholders who attended although it must have been known to the communications team members present. How can we have any faith at all that the Koala Management Plan is not just another box ticked or that there will ever be any change to the RMS culture of arrogance, deceit and environmental vandalism,’ she said.

Injured, homeless koalas expected

Ms Vass said the group would now turn its attention to how to best deal with the casualties of the upgrade.

‘Unfortunately our experience with the T2E is that there are likely to be a number of mortalities and a lot of injured koalas likely to require our care.

‘It’s hard to see how that experience isn’t going to be replicated,

‘I’ve already had calls from their ecologist and I’m going back and rereading their Koala Management Plan.’

Reacting to Wardell residents’ claims on ABC radio that the koalas may be ‘better off’ under the plan with ‘26 underpasses’ and ‘thousands of extra trees’, Mrs Vass said, ‘yes, there will be more trees but it’s what they’re taking down in the meantime.’

‘And no matter how many underpasses they build it’s just a few metres in total over a 12.5 kilometre stretch of road that divides their colony,’ she told Echonetdaily.

‘You’ve also got to take into consideration the time lag. It’s the disruption to this population and what that will mean in the short, medium and long term.’

As far back as 2005, in the Interim Report of the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Pacific Highway Upgrades, Chair Jenny Gardiner wrote, ‘The Committee was moved by the evidence of these participants [hundreds of local residents] who told the Committee that they feel powerless to influence the RTA in its decisions about the future of their homes and communities.’

‘Koala or human, nothing has changed for residents impacted by the route of Section 10,’ Mrs Vass said.


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  1. Unbelievable !! Yes Monday they the RMS – get all the community down to Meerchaum Vale Hall and do not have the decency to tell us about the approval – I knew of the approval ! thought that this would have been addressed ? BUT not even mentioned – I have lost complete faith in the RMS – they have mistreated the koalas and the community – and are not to be trusted – such a shame and still hard to believe – THAT death of Ballinas Koalas is ok for our goverrnment and most of the the Local Ballina Council and the current Ballina Mayor

  2. Absolutely atrocious.

    Bye-bye Ballina koalas, bye-bye long-nosed potoroos and see ya later to a good healthy Ngunya-Jargoon Indigenous Protected Area. Hello extinction and degradation.

    Nice work Bob Higgins, Duncan Gay, Josh Frydenberg and all the bureau lackies and consultants creaming it along the way – you have delivered us all an impoverished future. I hope somewhere along the way it bites you hard.

    Claims by Wardell residents that koalas will be better off with a new highway built through the middle of the colony are nothing but a big pile of steaming excrement. Shameful lies..

    • Ultimately under our Westminster system responsibility for decisions rests with Ministers, not bureaucrats or consultants. Public servants at all levels of government are required to act honestly and to follow lawful instructions – we cannot run government any other way. I can appreciate that you are upset by this decision and those involved, but it is grossly unfair to describe the officials concerned as “lackeys” for doing what they are required to do by law and by their codes of conduct. Similarly consultants are contracted to provide advice against terms of reference drafted by officials who are again implementing the Government’s polices. They have no basis in law to do other than what the contract asks them to do. They win those contracts by competition including on price. Using a pejorative like “creaming” is to suggest thee was something underhand in their selection for the work that corrupted the value for money principle that underlies all government contracting. It is demoralising for people who work for government to be subject to language like “lackeys” and “creaming” and unlike politicians they cannot respond. The fate of the Koalas rest in the hands of governments who set the parameters around how these things are assessed and unless you are aware of specific incompetence by officials or consultants in carrying out their given task or corrupt tendering of the consultancies, than I would suggest it is government that should be the sole object of your criticism.

      • We all know from long experience, what very often happens in government contracted inquiries especially into environmental matters – they hire the people they want to give them the answers they want. We know this happens – from first hand reports. So don’t play the offended innocent please!

        • George West. You wrote “We all know from long experience, what very often happens in government contracted inquiries especially into environmental matters – they hire the people they want to give them the answers they want. We know this happens – from first hand reports. So don’t play the offended innocent please!” I am certainly not “playing” at anything in response to your comments and it does not please me to have people suggesting that I am. I am not “innocent” in the matter of environmental assessment – I worked for decades for the Commonwealth in the agency that contracts more planning, feasibility and review studies than any other agency in Australia. These were in many sectors – and many involved infrastructure. The latter always included an assessment of environmental impact (or potential impact). I have never seen an example of hiring people to give a preferred outcome in terms of feasibility, environmental impact or anything else. Public servants task professionals to do the assessment. Normally if they are not from the relevant profession themselves, they use in-house expertise to contract the most suitable people to give the advice sought. It would be unprofessional of the individuals doing the studies to be swayed by political or any other considerations not relevant to the terms of reference – it is simply not worth the professional reputation on which their good income is based to try and “gild the lily”. That does not mean that the professionals always get it right – that is why all substantial reports are peer reviewed by in-house or other contracted professionals from the relevant discipline. Again any professional doing unprofessional work will soon be found out. What does happen is that people who do not like the advice given to governments try and discredit the professionals and the process. In some cases too governments do not follow the advice given. The Grattan Institute has recently exampled infrastructure investments like the upgrades to the New England Highway or the Canberra Light Rail where sound economic advice that does not support the investment has been ignored, or undue emphasis has been placed on indirect benefits. But those are the sins of government not of public servants and advisers, and it is governments that should be criticized when they do not follow sound advice, along with individuals and groups that do not like what the advice is saying and try and pressure government to make decisions that are economically or environmentally unsound. .

  3. I am sickened by this decision, as a wildlife carer I see only too often tne result of destruction of habitats for our wildlife, ‘collateral damage’, even if underpasses or overpasses are built, tnere will be no animals left to use tnese underpasses.

  4. This absolutely shameful. The iconic Koala is now on the endangered list in many parts of Australia. bombard the relevant Ministers with letters & email regarding this awful decision.

  5. I too am alarmed at this, however there may be some hope for the Koala if underground tunnels can be built. Please google search “Clever koala learn to cross the road”. Scientists have now discovered the Koala is quick to learn to use the tunnel system under major roads. Yes, it’s a big compromise but perhaps it’s time to start lobbying for these tunnels to be included in the freeway build!

  6. This is shocking “another case of dictatorship and no CARE for humans or wild life
    What a legacy for a Gov to leave
    Sure my something can b done
    Bloody pollies to think of the money they get from taxpayers and then ignore good people

  7. I hope the next time that frydenburg is doing a photo op with a koala it leaves a permeant reminder on his face…this country is doomed. Not for one incident but the history of this country is littered with the destruction of the natural enviroment.

  8. Our Governments don’t know how to do anything so they build highways, instead of fixing interior
    The government needs to be dismissed , go home let the people make intelligent decisions again.

  9. We are bombarded by advertisements on TV and radio about the plight of animals and birds around the world, and yet we are killing off our own birds and animals including our universally known Koalas. When will it stop, we must respect all wildlife before it is too late. Yes, we need roads, yes we need more housing, but we need to protect the environment first and foremost. This is a big beautiful country. Choose wisely when building housing estates and constructing highways, DONT allow the dollar sign to rule our nation, go back to respect, responsibility and wisdom.

  10. It will never end, while money and greed drive the decisions.
    The only hope for the koalas is to buy all the land before the developers get it.
    Those poor dear animals….


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