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Byron Shire
January 29, 2023

What’s the fuss about koalas and the National Party?

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44–100 per cent of koalas were lost in some areas during the Black Summer fires. Photo supplied.

Aslan Shand

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.

Koalas need a variety of trees to feed from to stay healthy. Photo NEFA.

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.

Burnt koala habitat following the Black Summer fires of 2019/20. Photo supplied.

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.

Logs ready for removal from Gladstone State Forest, a high koala use area near Bellingen. Photo NSW Greens

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.

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  1. Backdownboyo Barilaro needs to get his mind and his priorities right. He is all for saving feral horses to allow them to continue destroying Kosciuszko National Park but doing everything possible to protect Koalas from extinction in the wild is a tree too far Backdownboyo Barilaro.

  2. The National Party should be ashamed of themselves putting logging before Koalas, surely they can find other trees that Koalas don ‘t live and eat in. it is a disgrace that they don’t care if the Koalas and other wild life are extinct by 2050. SHAME SHAME

  3. Guilty I am a conspirasist, If that is a word. This whole thing smells, there has been a large amount of press on how the coalition is dissolving due to koalas, and our valiant premier is standing strong for them(koalas), and the Nats are standing strong for the farmers. Threatening to cross over and wreck the coalition. So that makes Barilaro look like he is doing his job and it makes our premier look sensitive and caring towards koalas, when she is responsible for some of the most backward ecological legislation in the modern era. Don’t even get me started on the lack of any quick political support during last years bush fire crisis.

  4. Agree with Joachim above…..the Nats were all for supporting feral horses in Kosciuszko NP but when it comes to an endangered native animal they are arrogantly belligerent. The SEPP has been in law for 25 yrs & when necessary changes are made (at last) the Nats freak out & claim that they can no longer destroy anymore of their land…such a shame.THIS IS ALL ABOUT DAMN FORESTRY GETTING THEIR GRUBBY HANDS ON NATIVE FORESTS IN PRIVATE LAND, that’s the kicker. SADLY THE REAL KICKER, IS THAT MOST KOALA POPULATIONS NOW ARE ON PRIVATE LAND. So if we don’t legislate & actually enforce this protection & make landholders preserve a greater diversity of Koalas trees ,there will be NO Koalas in less than 30yrs. Many NGO’s are willing to work with farmers for a positive outcome ( this never happens from the other side) and many of us will pay more tax & support environment groups to do this.Farmers whingeing about lost venue don’t seem to care that the real costs have come to tax payers by subsiding damn State Forestry for their corrupt & unsustainable logging practices for decades & decades.

  5. Mr Gulaptis is still determined to pursue the Nationals agenda to exterminate the Koala.
    Don’t these political parasites need to be held to account for the wholesale environmental destruction that has always been at the heart of ‘Country Party’/Nationals/red-necked yokels, hell bent on destruction of the environment for profit and pleasure ? The ‘Hunters and Shooters ‘seem poised to inherit the cloak of ‘destroyers in chief ‘with the clear policy of if it moves kill it, which is much easier to sell than the more complex agenda of the Nationals of cloaking the party in the rhetoric of conservatism while embracing the ideal of personal enrichment at all costs.
    Cheers, G”)

  6. Thinking about the Nat’s Koala crusade I figure that the
    ‘real estate’ already owned & to ‘be owned’ in order to
    swell a member’s portfolio is really what land investing
    is all about. Talk about coalition-claws!

  7. Koala’s one, Nationals nil., the koala’s have just had their life expectancy increased, and hopefully, the NSW. Nationals have had their life expectancy decreased. It’s a real pity the koalas don’t vote, it would be much easier to remove this appalling, anti-environmental political party from these North Coast seats, that they continually pork-barrel their way back in to, with taxpayers money, come every election.


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