Environment Opinion

Federal Government continues spin and inaction on environment in 2022

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Watching Prime Minister Scott Morrison on TV clutching a koala, claiming concern for the species was more than most could stomach. 

It's hard to know who is more off-putting: Morrison or his Environment Minister, Sussan Ley. Morrison posed with a koala, claiming the Government’s commitment of an extra $50 million for the next four years to recovering koala populations “would enhance the protection of koalas”.

The ABC article quotes Morrison as saying the new money would be spent on:

“... habitat protection, community-led restoration projects and population monitoring among other initiatives.”

And worse:

Our $50 million investment will enhance the protection of koalas by restoring koala habitat, improving our understanding of koala populations, supporting training in koala treatment and care and strengthening research into koala health outcomes.

 

Koalas are one of Australia’s most loved and best recognised icons, both here at home and across the world, and we are committed to protecting them for generations to come.

As if this outrageous hypocrisy isn’t bad enough, Morrison also indicated the money would go towards furthering education about koalas for the public and veterinarians.

Any conservation, community organisations reading Morrison’s comments have probably choked over their cornflakes. Similarly, veterinarians and scientists specialising in koala ecology.

$50 million breaks down to $12.5 million annually. Peanuts. In 2019, the Government allocated $74 million for koalas. The efficacy of this funding is unknown as no auditing has been undertaken.   

This is the same Government that has failed to produce a koala recovery plan (although a draft is in the system). One that doesn’t bother pretending to protect koalas, but fills the pages with the same old garbage. Climate change impacts, which are severe, are ignored or not mentioned.

Morrison’s environmental credentials are zero. On climate change, in April 2021 he announced that:

“We will not achieve net zero in the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities."

Nor will net zero be achieved any time soon (if at all) in the dark dens of the Coalition Government.

No effort has been made to map, identify or designate refuges for koalas as a result of climate change. Listed as a key threatening process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 Act (EPBC), the issue is ignored.

The 'EPBC Act referral guidelines for vulnerable koalas', which are non-binding, basically give developers open slather allowing them to make their own decision as to whether a project will be harmful to koala habitat.

Then there are the regional forest agreements which were approved for 20 years in 2018. Those agreements remove the section of the EPBC Act relating to the protection of wildlife. These agreements, based on out-of-date research which fails to take into account the 2019-2020 bushfires, are a recipe for extinction. Not only for koalas but other forest fauna.

Koalas are an umbrella species for coastal forest ecosystems. Their eradication includes a major loss of biodiversity.

As a result of a complete refusal by the federal and state governments of NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, there’s no reliable population estimate for koalas in any state.

It’s difficult to understand why governments have refused to undertake population estimates given the catastrophic loss of 71 per cent of koalas as a result of the bushfires and drought. 

Ley  famously announced after the landmark Sharma court judgment, that stated the Environment Minister has a duty of care to the younger generations, that she:

“... didn’t have a responsibility to protect future generations from climate change impacts."

The same Minister approved the destruction of critical koala habitat in Port Stephens for the Brandy Hill Quarry. Who allowed the destruction of the southwest Sydney koala population for massive urban development.  

The EPBC Amendment bill, if it ever gets through the Senate, will give states the right to approve major projects.

Ley at her National Press Club address in June 2021 said:

“... accrediting states against our strong national standards in order, from my perspective, to improve environmental protection and of course improve the economic efficiency of our business, our industry and by extension the wealth of our communities."

Except there are no “strong national standards.”

Veterinarians and the public don’t need to be educated about koalas. Morrison and his Government are the ones that need education together with Coalition and Labor state governments which have allowed the ongoing wipe-out of this iconic, defenceless species.

Koalas are being driven to extinction by political policies which amount to “death by a thousand cuts”.

In NSW, conservation organisations, supported by a huge swathe of the public, have called for the creation of the Great Koala National Park on the mid-north coast. It is without doubt the best possible option to allow koalas to survive in the state.

The Coalition Government has studiously ignored the tsunami of requests, instead creating small areas as reserves or adding bits and pieces to existing parks with few koalas.

Ley claims that:

“... current funding is already supporting eight strategic habitat restoration projects that target thousands of hectares in significant koala areas in eastern Australia."

Where are the projects Minister? What about these projects you spoke of in your address to the National Press Club?

Ley said:

Following the bushfires I requested the Threatened Species Scientific Committee to focus efforts on the koalas.

 

We have already announced $24 million in direct Koala funding, including a much-needed koala census and a genome research program.

 

We will be supporting the development of a national koala disease risk assessment and a program to increase the level of specialist knowledge among veterinary networks for the treatment of koalas.

Where’s the census?  Has anyone told you that the reason koalas get diseases is because of habitat loss?

Another infamous quote from Ley’s address:

I mention the koala census because the first thing I said to the threatened species scientific commissioner- chair and the scientists was: people will talk about koalas and bushfires, and like everyone I was worried. Well, what are the numbers and where are they? Well, we don’t know. We don’t have that data. We don’t know.

 

So the first thing in our koala package is build a national koala census, engage community so we know the quality, the strength, the distribution. So all of this work builds towards that final improved standard that I’d like to see. 

In 2022, we’re no closer to any of that information.

How about your press release of January 2020 announcing $50 million for emergency wildlife and habitat recovery quoting Treasurer Josh Frydenberg:

“This initial investment of 450 million into the protection and restoration of our wildlife and habitat is a critical step in creating a viable future for the animals that have survived.”

Can we have a list of what protection and restoration to wildlife have been provided?  

It’s abundantly clear that Morrison must believe that “marketing” the Great Barrier Reef and koalas is going to convince the public of his “green" credentials.

Hopefully, the public will see this is another exercise in the lies and duplicity which define this anti-environment Government.

Sue Arnold is an IA columnist and freelance investigative journalist. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis.

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