There was a moment of hope when environmentalists were praising the NSW Berejiklian government for standing up to the bullying tactics of their National Party colleagues over protecting koalas. But it didn’t last and the Liberal Party has again back-flipped, facilitating the koala’s path to extinction by 2050.
‘Koala populations had declined by 50 per cent over 20 years on the north coast before the fires, then they lost 30 per cent of their remaining populations in one fire season,’ said North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) spokesperson Dailan Pugh.
‘The Liberals caved in to National Party bullying. Despite the warning of the bipartisan Koala Inquiry that koalas could become extinct by 2050. The Berejiklian government’s perverse response has been to dramatically weaken protection for koalas and now the Berejiklian government is reducing koala protections on private lands, while logging their surviving populations on public lands.’
Cate Faehrmann Greens MP and Chair of the NSW Upper House Inquiry into Koalas says the back down by the NSW Liberals on the new Koala SEPP Guidelines to demands by the National Party means the future of the koala in NSW is looking even more bleak.
‘Koalas have suffered so much, with at least one third of them killed in the bushfires,’ said Ms Faehrmann
‘They are now seeking refuge and safety in the pockets of bushland and forests which remain. Any further loss could be devastating for local populations which are the key to the species ongoing survival.
‘The protection of habitat necessary to stop koalas becoming extinct must be decided by the science, not by the National Party. For the Liberals to back down on the definition of core koala habitat after years of extensive research and mapping by experts is hugely disappointing,’ says Ms Faehrmann.
The Koala Inquiry was clear on the failure of the 1994 SEPP to adequately protect koalas and their habitat particularly in relation to Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management (CKPOM).
Reporting on the inquiry the committee stated, ‘To hear that in the 25 years of the 1994 SEPP’s operation, only 6 CKPOMs were approved by the department shocked and angered the committee. The committee empathises with the frustration felt by both local councils who prepared these plans, and residents of these local council areas who sought better protection for koalas… Based on the evidence received, the committee believes that the regulatory framework for private native forestry does not protect koala habitat on private land. In fact, the ‘number of quite stringent protections for koalas’ that government witnesses asserted the PNF Code contains are weakened substantially, or indeed non-existent, when practically applied. The committee finds it unacceptable that land identified as core koala habitat can be cleared because of departmental delays.’
Mr Pugh pointed out that the 2019 Koala State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP) was an attempt to ‘fix the mapping criteria and make it easier to identify core koala habitat’.
‘Finally there was hope that Council’s would start to fulfil their obligations to map core Koala habitat and that Koalas would get the legal protection promised since 1995,’ he explained.
‘It was fear of Council’s now mapping core Koala habitat that upset the timber industry and land developers, and thereby precipitated the National Party’s dummy spit.
‘The outcome is that the mapping criteria are being tightened to limit the ability of Councils to map and identify core Koala habitat, and that when identified it will no longer be excluded from broadscale clearing and logging.
‘The measly 5,000ha of core koala habitat mapped over the past 25 years will be opened up for clearing and logging.
‘Contrary to the government’s pretence, outside mapped core Koala habitat there is no meaningful protection for Koalas on private land.
‘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’”.
‘Land clearing is again rampant with 61,800 ha of woody vegetation being cleared each year, and the Government doesn’t even know or care why much of this is being done, let alone how much of it is koala habitat.’
Ms Faehrmann agrees saying that, ‘This back down to the National Party’s demands doesn’t bode well for future reforms to protect koala habitat in the coming years.
‘I fail to see how the Environment Minister is going to keep koala numbers stable let alone double their numbers by 2050 if he can’t get his government to stick to what the experts are telling them is needed to save koalas and their habitat.’