It appears that governance in NSW is no longer about representing your constituents, it is about following the party line, no questions asked. Fortunately for the NSW koala population, that is predicted to be extinct in the wild by 2050, one upper house Liberal MLC Catherine Cusack was prepared to cross the floor to at least ensure that the compromise Liberal/National party bill being put forward could be considered rather than rushed through parliament.
As a result of her amendment, that referred the bill to Portfolio Committee No. 7 – Planning and Environment for inquiry and report, and then crossing the floor to ensure its success Ms Cusack was sacked as a Parliamentary Secretary by Gladys Premier Berejiklian immediately following the 19 to 18 vote.
‘Ms Cusak’s principled stand displayed rare integrity and courage and has come at some personal cost,’ said Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian.
According to the Chair of the Inquiry into Koala Populations and their Habitat Greens MP Cate Faehrmann MLC, ‘The bill [had it passed] would have: frozen the inclusion of new koala habitat under the Koala SEPP; allowed land clearing within “environmental zones” on rural lands; Removed local council’s ability to require development applications for Private Native Forestry; [and] doubled the maximum duration of private native forestry agreements.’
During Ms Cusack’s speech to parliament she cited the devastating historical impacts of slaughtering koalas for the fur trade where ‘at lest four million were sent to the USA… In Victoria it is estimated that hunting continued until barely 1,000 koalas were left, and the Australia Koala Foundation estimates that fewer than 500 were left alive in New South Wales.
‘After that the slaughter moved north to Queensland, where a month-long event known as “Black August” in 1927 saw more than 800,000 koalas killed. We have made so many mistakes,’ she said.
‘One day all of us here in this Chamber will be dead and gone, but the impacts of what we decide today will last forever… I have really tried throughout my time in Parliament to protect koalas. I wrote the environment policy for the 2011 election and prioritised a review of the State’s koala recovery plan, which was hopelessly out of date. I secured funding through those processes, and that was part of our commitment. I tried for the Blackhall Range koala community. I lost faith in Federal protections in the process, so I am fully aware that there is no Federal backstop if this bill passes today.
‘That issue and its outcome have been really significant in how I have arrived at my position today, because all of the fine words explaining how much Roads and Maritime Services and others care about koalas were for nothing. I no longer have any confidence in fine words. I just have to process what is on the table in front of me. I was not party to the processes that brought this bill to the House. I cannot be held accountable and nor can I have any faith in that process, which has zero to do with protecting koalas. It is to try to patch-up a political disagreement.’
North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) spokesperson Dailan Pugh has highlighted the fact that this is double standard, ‘when Chris Gulaptis said he was going to go to the cross-benches and vote against the government he wasn’t sacked as a Parliamentary Secretary.
After sacking Ms Cusack ‘Premier Berejiklian then released a statement with Barilaro saying they are going to revert to the 1995 Koala SEPP 44. This is the same SEPP that Byron’s Coastal Koala Plan of Management was prepared under and the government has refused to ratify since 2016, as well as refusing to ratify Tweeds since 2015. From Ben Franklin’s statements in parliament, it is clear that they are going to continue to block these and all the other plans they have been sitting on for years until the National Party find another way to subvert koala protection.’
Following the vote and reactions by the NSW Liberal and National parties Greens MP Cate Faehrmann MLC has said that, ‘What has become increasingly clear is that this bill isn’t about the koala SEPP. The National Party seemed to have concocted the crisis around the koala SEPP in order to progress their agenda to remove the government’s regulatory oversight of environmental protections on rural land – period.
‘This is a gross overreach by the National Party and it’s incomprehensible that this bill passed the Lower House of Parliament without a peep from the Liberals. All they had to do was look at the Objects of the bill to realise just how far its tentacles reached.
‘The Liberals have been taken for a ride by their National Party colleagues. They have every right to be angry at what’s in this bill because it does far more than simply tweak the new Koala SEPP, it reads like the forestry and big agriculture industry’s wish list come true,’ said Ms Faehrmann.
‘It’s abundantly clear that this bill was to be the National Party’s Trojan horse which would have seen decades of work on the government’s primary mechanism to protect koalas discarded and nullify environmental protections on rural land.
‘Not a single member of the Liberals spoke to this bill when it passed through the lower house. If not for the courage of Catherine Cusack today, the koala would have been sacrificed for the sake of preserving an increasingly fractured Coalition.
‘Sending this bill off to an inquiry is the best outcome and what better committee to examine this bill than the one that just wrapped up its landmark inquiry into koala populations. I look forward to examining in detail the insanity of what the National Party have just tried to pull off,’ said Ms Faehrmann.