The changes that the National Party have demanded to the Koala State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), that passed in the NSW Legislative Assembly (Lower House) yesterday, will ensure that koalas are extinct in the wild by 2050, say experts in the field.
The Inquiry into Koala Populations and their Habitat in New South Wales recognised that the 1994 Koala SEPP had failed to adequately protect koalas and their habitat and ‘that the regulatory framework for private native forestry does not protect koala habitat on private land’.
During yesterday’s debate local Ballina MP Tamara Smith said, ‘It is the such a shame to see what I regard as the most idealogical bill I have seen during the six years I have been in this place before the Parliament. It is a perfect example of the term “un-logic”, which has been described around the world. It is not ignorance or stupidity; it is reason distorted by suspicion and misinformation. It is an Orwellian stat of mind that arranges itself around convenient fictions and ignores established facts… [the] science is being sidelined and replaced by negotiation and politics. It is a tragic day. Our iconic koalas are headed towards extinction and that’s what’s at stake.’
50% decline in 20 years
Before the Black Summer fires in 2019/20 northern NSW koala numbers had declined by 50 per cent over the previous 20 years. The Black Summer fires burnt approximately 30 per cent of ‘likely koala habitat’ according to North East Forest Alliance (NEFA).
Yet the NSW Liberal Party have put forward the Local Land Services Amendment (Miscellaneous) bill 2020 that is not only a massive step backwards for koala protection in NSW, but also removes many other critical environmental protections on private land, according to Greens MP and Chair of the Inquiry into Koala Populations and their Habitat, Cate Faehrmann.
‘This bill isn’t a ‘compromise’ on the new koala policy. It takes koala protections back 25 years, at a time when we need to be strengthening laws to protect koala habitat. We lost maybe 10,000 koalas in NSW in the Black Summer fires. If this bill passes, the government may as well sign their death warrant,’ said Ms Faehrmann.
‘The updated Koala SEPP has been years in the making, but now all that hard work has been scrapped to appease the National Party and the powerful timber and farming lobbies.’
NEFA spokesperson, Dailan Pugh, says that the ‘NSW government has introduced a bill which, if enacted, will condemn the koala, and many other species, to extinction. On the North Coast 61 per cent of high quality koala habitat occurs on private property,’ pointed out Mr Pugh.
‘These proposed changes are clearly intended to make the Koala SEPP ineffective and remove most of the few hard won gains made over the past 25 years.’
Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive, Chris Gambian, points out that, ‘Nothing in this bill helps ensure koalas survive beyond 2050. But it does mean property developers could bulldoze koala trees without needing an approval.’
Analysis of the bill by the Environmental Defenders Office has found that the bill allows for: unregulated land clearing of koala habitat not already identified in rural areas; the prevention of expanded koala habitat protection on private farmland into the future; and the exemption of Private Native Forestry operations from important development consents, with their durations doubled from 15 to 30 years.
‘After making a great song and dance about standing up to the Nationals, it seems the NSW Liberals have backed down completely,’ said Evan Quartermain, head of programs at Humane Society International (HSI).
All members of parliament are being called on to use their conscience and vote the bill down.
‘We need to try to convince our local parliamentarians to vote against it (or at least abstain),’ said Mr Pugh.
‘At a time when koala populations are crashing, with climate change induced droughts and fires decimating survivors, and predictions of extinction in the wild by 2050, it is reprehensible that the Berejiklian government is changing the rules to remove protection for core koala habitat so as to allow it to be logged and cleared indiscriminately,’ says Mr Pugh.
‘The National Party stopped north coast councils from rezoning land for environmental protection in 2012, they stopped the Byron and Tweed Coastal Koala Plans of Management being approved in 2015, and now National Party MP Ben Franklin has promised the Shooters [and Fishers] that “e-zones will not be created in relation to any koala plans of management”.
‘Thanks to the Nationals, councils are not allowed to protect koalas or protect anywhere from logging.
‘It is the height of hypocrisy for Byron Bay-based National Party representative on the koala inquiry, Ben Franklin, to find [as part of the Inquiry] that “the regulatory framework for private native forestry does not protect koala habitat on private land” and that it is “unacceptable that land identified as core koala habitat can be cleared because of departmental delays” in approving koala plans, to now to claim in parliament that there is no need to protect core koala habitat from logging and clearing. Ben Franklin needs to be held to account.
‘Conversely his colleague in the koala inquiry, Ballina-based Liberal, Catherine Cusack, needs to be supported in her stance against National Party bullying and encouraged to vote down these draconian measures intended to reverse protections for koalas and hasten their extinction.’