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April 22, 2024

Wildlife hospital in ‘financial tailspin’

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A couple of native marsupials get some care at the Byron Wildlife Hospital. Image supplied

The Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital (BBWH) faces possible closure, after a NSW government panel recently deemed the facility did not demonstrate ‘value for money’ in its funding application.

The rejection was supported by NSW Environment Minister, Penny Sharpe (Labor), with her office telling The Echo the decision was ‘at arm’s length’ from the panel.

This is despite BBWH’s proven expertise and experience in providing veterinary and rehabilitation services for native animals in the region, something that was also acknowledged by the government in its rejection letter to BBWH founder and CEO, Dr Stephen Van Mil.

Dr Van Mil said in a statement, ‘We are extremely disappointed and surprised at the announcement, but native animals are the biggest losers in this decision’.

Since operations began in January 2021, the hospital says over 4,000 animals have been treated, and over 1,000 in 2023 so far.

A BBWH spokesperson said, ‘On February 6, 2023, the then NSW coalition government announced it had reserved funding of $6 million over four years for BBWH to continue its vital work.

At the time, Northern Rivers-based MLC, Ben Franklin (Nationals), said he believed it was ‘nation-leading, and an exemplar of what can be done across the country.’

A BBWH spokesperson said, ‘In January 2023, the NSW Government’s Expenditure Review Committee approved funding to be reserved for BBWH, based on a strategic business case’.

BBWH says the funding rejection letter was received one week before funding was due to commence on July 1, ‘leaving us in a financial tailspin’.

Yet a spokesperson from the office of NSW Environment Minister, Penny Sharpe, told The Echo that the previous minister responsible did not sign off on the funding, as required. 

They also rejected the BBWH’s description that the NSW government ‘revoked’ their funding, since none was offered.  

Value for money?

So what is value for money when it comes to NSW government grants?

According to www.nsw.gov.au, ‘A cost-benefit analysis offers the most comprehensive means of assessing value for money’.

As to how a NSW government panel determines value for money, the website says, ‘A number of Treasury Policy and Guidelines Papers provide guidance that assists in determining value for money’.

These include: ‘NSW Government Business Case Guidelines, NSW Government Guide to Cost-Benefit Analysis and Program Evaluation’.

Substantial evidence 

A BBWH spokesperson told The Echo, ‘We provided substantial evidence and calculations for “value for money”, and also provided an independent economic impact assessment report and a cost-benefit analysis’.

‘BBWH have sought advice from the minister’s office on the formula for calculating value for money in their services, but the response so far has only referred to what is stated in the rejection letter from the Department of Planning & Environment.

‘We acknowledge that the minister acted on her department’s advice, but we believe the grounds for that advice are spurious. 

‘We think this because the letter provided was written in language designed to obfuscate, confuse and cloud meanings. It provided no specific feedback on what constitutes “value for money”.

‘We are at a loss to understand how much more we needed to do to meet the government’s own value for money criterion when it is not clear how the department itself calculates this. 

Economic impact report

‘We commissioned an economic impact report and tallied up costs and benefits of our work over three years. Through our no fee training programs we also provide over $250,000 of in-kind training value for future generations of vets.

‘Short of commissioning PwC or Deloittes to write our submission, we are not sure how, as a charity hospital, we could have done more to show that our work is effective and value for money’.

The Minister for the Environment’s office told The Echo, ‘The NSW government continues to support wildlife rehabilitation in the Northern Rivers region through existing programs, including a NSW Koala Strategy regional partnership which benefits both koalas and other native wildlife. Investment in this regard totals more than $2M.

‘Additionally, $3.5 million has been provided to deliver programs under the NSW Koala Strategy to support the wildlife rehabilitation sector, vets and vet nurses, and to improve outcomes for sick and injured koalas’.

Yet that funding does not support the essential services for other native and threatened species.

Alternative funding 

Despite the knockback, BBWH have sought a meeting with the Minister, and asked the government to ‘consider alternative funding options, for BBWH to continue, including emergency funding options given the severe impact of the decision’.

The charity has also asked for advice and support from elected representatives, including Member for Ballina Tamara Smith (Greens), and Member for Lismore, Janelle Saffin (Labor). 

Ben Franklin’s office has yet to respond, say BBWH.

Public support for the campaign is also welcome, says the BBWH spokesperson, and they encourage letters to be sent to the minister, asking her to reverse the decision.

Letters of support 

Letters of support for BBWH funding can be sent to Penny Sharpe MLC, Minister for Climate Change, Energy, the Environment & Heritage: 52 Martin Place, Sydney, NSW 2000.

Members of the public can make a tax-deductible donation to BBWH at www.byronbaywildlifehospital.org/donate.

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  1. I am very disappointed in the Labor Government for wanting to scrap the funding for the Byron Wildlife Hospital which has being doing a wonderful job helping native animals it is not only the Koalas that need help there is a lot of other animals that need help as well. The hospital is vital in Northern rivers especially if we have bush fires and more floods.

  2. While I have no particular love for the Nationals, the blind and very illusorical adherence to lesser evil voting not only disappoints as in cases like this but also sets up a blasé attitude from the ALP of “well the Greens and do gooders will give us our preferences no matter what.”
    I have been going on about this self inflicted de emasculation of power for over four decades. What’s new?

  3. if $937.50 for each & every native animal rescued by the local wildlife hospital does not equal ‘value for money’ in the minds of government’s enviro “experts”, i suggest to withhold rates & tax to open an account for alternative funding.
    it’s a way that would work.


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