Koalas and their habitat were a key focus for the Tweed Shire Council at last week’s meeting where they voted to write to the NSW Premier, Minister for Environment and Heritage, Minister for Regional NSW and Minister for Agriculture to protect Tweeds hinterland koalas from the NSW Koala SEPP (State Environmental Planning Policy) 2021.
The SEPP excludes private native forestry (PNF) from the operation of the NSW Koala SEPP 2021 which means that critical koala habitat can be logged without assessment.
The Notice of Motion (NoM) was put forward by Rhiannon Brinsmead (Liberal) who had worked with councillors Dr Nola Firth (Greens), Meredith Dennis (Independent) and Mayor Chris Cherry (Independent) to bring the NoM together.
Addressing the other councillors Cr Brinsmead said ‘In 2012 koalas in NSW were listed as vulnerable. In February this year they were officially listed as endangered after a rapid decline in numbers due to land clearing and the catastrophic bushfires shrinking their habitat. Koala conservation is key to their survival and the crux of this NoM is the conservation of koala habitat across all of the Tweed Shire.
‘The koala SEPP 2021 exempts rural, agricultural and forestry lands, Zones RU1, RU2 and RU 3 from being subject to the protections under the Koala SEPP 2021. In these zones, the Koala SEPP 2020 continues to apply. Under the current proposal it has been identified that critical and significant areas of koala habitat would be able to be logged without assessment, consent or controls – noting in the Tweed the target trees species and size class for forestry are the same trees most critical to koala habitat conservation. Under the current proposal one might argue that our coastal koala populations are afforded better protections conserving their habitat than our hinterland koalas,’ she said.
‘While I acknowledge the State government’s recent land acquisition, and I understand that land acquisition is a key strategy to koala protection and the NSW government recently required another 73 hectares of land next to the Cudgen Nature Reserve, we really do need the State government to just be doing so much more than what they are currently doing. So in addition to what we had published [online as the NoM] I have also added in there our request for an exclusion from Schedule 1 of the SEPP. And we’ve also put in there just about starting to investigate some traffic calming measures along Clothiers Creek Road. That addition is a direct contribution from the community that not only myself but a number of my colleagues have received.’
The NoM was also supported by Crs Firth, Dennis, Owen and Cherry who emphasised the importance of protecting Tweeds hinterland koalas as well as the coastal koalas.
‘What we are asking here in Tweed is completely congruent with the pillar two of the NSW Koala Strategy. [It] says that the State government wishes to assist councils with undertaking koala habitat mapping; I quote “strategically conserve koala habitat in their local area”. That is what this is about,’ said Cr Firth.
‘We know for sure that the hinterland is not protected. We know koalas are there. There are five sites that were shown to be areas where there are koalas, that work done by the University of Queensland, Southern Cross University, Sydney University, Friends of Koala and Northern Rivers Councils.
‘When we are protecting koalas… we are protecting all species, including the threatened species that are there. It’s so important to look after our internationally significant environment. I am very much hoping that we will in fact get an exemption and that we will be made a special status area. We are also of course the area where the research facility is… and that research hub is mentioned on the State government website.’
No pink koalas
Cr James Owen (Liberal) who seconded the motion pointed out that the coastal koalas and hinterland koalas weren’t different and therefore needed protection as well.
‘I just can’t get my head around the fact that there are different SEPPS for different koalas in different areas. That there are coastal koalas and hinterland koalas – it’s not as if they are different colours and one’s pink and one’s brown, they are all koalas and they should all should be protected and looked after.
‘This issue caused a significant rift within the government, one MP, a Northern Rivers MP crossed the floor on this because she was so dismayed at what was going on and she lost one of her roles in the government because of it. She’s very plugged into matters of the Northern Rivers and was very, very concerned about what impact was going to happen with this. But unfortunately, compromise was agreed and we ended up with this result,’ he said.
‘I love the term “self assessment” – I think that is one of the things under the SEPP where people can self asses as to whether they can chop koala tress down. So if someone wants to put a shed on their property, I just wonder how objective they are going to be in their self-assessment?
‘Most of our rural landowners are amazing environmental champions and do amazing work but I think we need protections in place for when people might not do the right thing and that’s going to have a significant impact on those endangered animals.
‘I hope it leads to some action and some changes because I don’t think Tweed is the only place this is an issue. I hope we can get a bit of collective momentum from other councils as well on this.’
Mayor Cherry spoke in favour of the motion saying ‘Out there in the community there is a very, very strong desire to protect our koalas. It goes right across the whole political spectrum, people just care about this, it is an issue that people want to see the habitat for those koalas protected and protected properly.
‘This NoM highlights there is a precedent out there for the Central Coast Council and the Blue Mountains Council who I believe have both been given exclusions which is exactly what we are chasing here. The precedent is set, there is an opportunity there for the State government to do this so I really hope that something is done to protect those hinterland koalas. As we know with climate change all species are going to have to move inland more and to be thinking about and those corridors for moving across. So I think it a great thing to put forward.’
Traffic calming to protect koalas
Cr Dennis highlighted the importance of the second part of the NoM which is to investigate traffic calming measures in place for Clothier Creek Road.
‘The discussion re Clothiers Creek Road has been a matter discussed with council and discussed with our local member for many years and now that the koalas are endangered we really need to move on this, it’s an urgent matter.’
Council officers have been requested to ‘investigate and prepare preliminary concepts and cost estimates and consult with the community on the installation of traffic calming devices along the 3km section of Clothiers Creek Road West of Bogangar’.