The NSW National Party has decided to stay in the well paid pond of the NSW government following a tantrum over the Koala Habitat Protection State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP) that began on Wednesday.
It was kicked off by National’s Member for Clarence, Chris Gulaptis who, according to the ABC, said he objected to the SEPP because it ‘was more about ‘protecting trees and not necessarily the trees that koalas live off’.’ By Thursday the NSW Nationals were threatening to move to the cross bench, and refusing to support government bills unless their demands regarding the koala SEPP were met – while of course remaining in government and being extremely well paid by the taxpayers.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told them on Thursday they couldn’t have it both ways and following crisis meetings this morning [Friday] the Nationals backed down and re-entered the fold.
Nationals leader John Barilano has since claimed that ‘Nothing has changed from yesterday… all we ever asked for was a resolution around the koalas SEPP and the impact it has on our communities,’ as reported on the ABC.
So what was all the fuss about?
The Koala Habitat Protection SEPP had come into effect on 1 March bringing some changes to the existing SEPP that ‘clarifies the definition of core koala habitat and increases the number of tree species that can be used to identify koala habitat from 10 to 123,’ according to a press release from the Nature Conservation Council in December 2019.
‘Changes to the NSW koala planning policy announced today [20 December, 2019] improve a relatively ineffectual planning instrument, but they fall well short of what is required to protect the species.’
The Nature Conservation Council pointed out that local councils were under no obligation to develop koala plans of management (KPoM). They also highlighted that some council’s were ‘hostile to koala conservation’ and that costs to develop them could be prohibitive for some councils.
Black Summer fires
Before the Black Summer fires it was clear that the NSW koala population would be extinct by 2050. Following the unprecedented Black Summer fires the WWF reported that there was a ‘a 71 per cent decline in koala populations across six locations in northern NSW’.
‘The Koala Inquiry reported in June with the key finding, supported by all members of the Committee including government members, that koalas will be extinct by 2050 unless the government takes urgent action,’ Chair of the Inquiry and Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said today.
‘It’s extremely reassuring to see the NSW Premier and her Planning and Environment Ministers taking the findings and recommendations from the recent Parliamentary Inquiry into koalas seriously, including not giving in to an ultimatum to weaken koala habitat protection laws.
‘The Inquiry found that the ongoing loss and fragmentation of koala habitat poses the most serious threat to koala populations and that koalas in the wild in NSW cannot be guaranteed unless the government takes further action to protect their habitat,’ she said.
Protect core koala habitat
The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) is calling on people who want core koala habitat to be identified and protected from logging to contact the Liberal Party and encourage them to resist National Party bullying.
‘The Koala SEPP was introduced by the coalition in 1995, with the then National Party member for Ballina, Don Page, claiming credit for it,’ NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said.
‘The SEPP basically requires the preparation of KPoMs that identify core koala habitat. These are required for individual Development Applications (DA) over core koala habitat.
‘Where Councils identify core koala habitat it is identified as Sensitive Regulated Land and therefore can’t be cleared under an exemption, and is excluded from logging under the Private Native Forest logging codes.
‘This has been intended since the first 1994 Koala SEPP, yet the Koala Inquiry identified that over the last 25 years only six comprehensive KPoMs have been approved, and these are mostly just for parts of Local Government Areas (LGA), and mostly don’t identify core koala habitat.
‘The bipartisan Koala Inquiry found that the regulatory framework for private native forestry does not protect koala habitat with the theoretical protections for koalas “weakened substantially, or indeed non-existent, when practically applied”.
‘In 2019 the coalition adopted a revamped Koala SEPP that tries to make the process for identifying core koala habitat workable.
‘Since then Timber NSW have been worried that if Councils identify core koala habitat then they won’t be able to log it, and have been targeting the National Party in a campaign to overturn the SEPP.
‘The threat by the National Party to resign from the coalition is all about trying to make the identification of core koala habitat unworkable so that it can continue to be logged and cleared.
‘Koalas had declined by over 50 per cent on the north coast since the Koala SEPP was first introduced 26 years ago, then in 2019/20 [Black Summer fires] 30 per cent of their high quality habitat was burnt, with losses of 44–100 per cent of koalas from firegrounds.
‘Since 2015 clearing of native vegetation has doubled, with no consideration of koalas. Wild koalas will likely go extinct in NSW by 2050 if the National Party continue like this.
Pay for KPoMs and surveys
NEFA are asking people to email or phone the offices of Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Planning Minister Rob Stokes and Environment Minister Matt Kean to thank them for helping protect koalas against National Party and encourage them to provide support to Councils to complete the mapping of core koala habitat across NSW within five years.
The Nature Conservation Council has also called on the NSW government to reimburse small landholders the cost of pre-development koala surveys and to fund local councils to formulate koala plans of management.
‘We all want to save koalas from extinction so it makes sense for the government to support all practical measures that will protect them,’ Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.
‘The conservation movement stands ready to sit down with farmers in good faith and work through any issues they have with the provisions of the Koala Habitat Protection SEPP.
‘We know the overwhelming majority of farmers care deeply about the land, bushland and wildlife in their care.
‘Reimbursing the costs of pre-development koala surveys for small landholders is a very practical way the government can help landholders play their part in conserving koalas for future generations.
‘We have said from the start that the Koala Habitat Protection SEPP falls short of what’s required, but it is an improvement and should be retained.’
Mr Gambian said another practical measure the government should take is to give local councils the resources they need to complete koala plans of management.
NEFA are also asking people to email or phone the offices of north coast National Party representatives to protest their attempts to remove protections for Koalas, such as Geoff Provest (Tweed), Chris Gulaptis (Clarence), Gurmesh Singh (Coffs Harbour), Leslie Williams (Port Macquarie), Melinda Pavey (Oxley), Stephen Bromhead (Myall Lakes) and Upper House representative Ben Franklin.
‘We need to show that the community supports koala protection,’ Mr Pugh said.
Parliamentary contacts are at: Parliament NSW
♦ Ben Franklin, Geoff Provest and Kevin Hogan of the NSW National Party were contacted but have not responded.