The recently announced $50 million emergency fund for koalas by the Federal Government has been called a ‘smokescreen’ by environmental group North East Forest Alliance (NEFA).
The funding comes from the federal government’s $2 billion bushfire relief fund that was announced by Prime Minister Scott Mossison on 6 January.
Announcing the koala funding Treasurer Josh Frydenberg referred to the Black Summer fires that raised approximately 10 million hectares of land, with 8.4 million hectares saying that ‘This has been an ecological disaster, a disaster that is still unfolding. We know that our native flora and fauna have been very badly damaged’ (ABC).
A NSW Parliament report in 2020 identified that koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless ‘urgent government intervention’. This gives Australian’s now less than 30 years to turn this koala extinction threat around.
However, NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said that Scott Morrison’s announcement of $50 million for koalas is just a smokescreen to cover-up his Government’s approval for increased logging and clearing of koala habitat, while allowing climate heating to run amok, threatening the future of both koalas and the Great Barrier Reef,
‘Without good policies on habitat protection and climate change no amount of money will save koalas,’ said Mr Pugh.
‘If Scott Morrison was fair dinkum about protecting koala habitat the first thing he would do is to stop their feed and roost trees being logged and cleared. Money is no good for koalas if they have nowhere to live.
Climate action needed
‘The second is to take urgent and meaningful action on climate heating, as koalas and their feed trees have already been decimated by intensifying droughts and heatwaves in western NSW, and bushfires in coastal areas. If the Morrison Government doesn’t take urgent action on climate heating then neither koalas nor the Great Barrier Reef will have a future.
Regional Forest Agreement
‘When the Morrison Government issued an indefinite extension to the north-east NSW Regional Forest Agreement in 2018 they agreed to remove the need for Forestry Corporation to thoroughly search for koalas ahead of logging and protect all identified Koala High Use Areas from logging.
‘They also agreed to overriding the NSW Government’s own expert’s panel recommendations, supported by the EPA, to retain 25 koala feed trees per hectare in modelled high quality habitat, by reducing retention down to just 10 smaller trees.
‘Thanks to the Morrison Government we now have a shoddy process where a few small trees are protected in inaccurately modelled habitat, while loggers rampage through koala’s homes, and if a koala is seen in a tree then all they need to do is wait until it leaves before cutting its tree down.
‘Now Scott Morrison is allowing the Forestry Corporation to log identified refuges in burnt forests where koalas survived the fires.
‘The situation on private lands is just as dire. Morrison did nothing to save koala habitat when his State National Party colleagues declared war on koalas in mid 2020 and forced his Liberal colleagues to agree to remove protection for mapped core koala habitat and to open up protected environmental zones for logging. This too is covered by Morrison’s Regional Forest Agreement.’
‘If he really cared about the future of koalas the first thing Morrison needs to do is amend the Regional Forest Agreement to ensure there are surveys by independent experts to identify core koala habitat for protection before clearing or logging.
‘Paying for the surveys and providing assistance to affected landholders would be a good use of taxpayers money.
No new coal or gas
‘The second thing is to stop new coal and gas projects, because to have any chance of saving koalas and the Great Barrier Reef we must act urgently to reduce our CO2 emissions, rather than increasing them.
With the assistance of the Environmental Defenders Office, NEFA is challenging the validity of the North East NSW Regional Forest Agreement on the grounds that the Commonwealth has not duly considered climate change, threatened species and oldgrowth forest. The case is listed for hearing by the Federal Court on 28 March.
‘For the future of koalas, and our growing lists of threatened species, I hope we are successful’ Mr Pugh said.