Environment Analysis

NSW Labor must ensure survival of an iconic Australian species

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Labor Premier Chris Minns (image via YouTube)

Labor must establish a safe haven for koalas and put an end to the destruction of their habitat, writes Sue Arnold

POLITICAL HYPOCRISY needs to be exposed. "Keeping the bastards honest" is the legitimate role of the Fourth Estate. 

The promise to establish a Great Koala National Park by the incoming NSW Labor Government is the best example of this hypocrisy.

A national park dedicated to koalas would be a global first. A uniquely Australian park that recognised the importance of this iconic species, now facing extinction. Creating the park is more than a NSW state issue. In Indigenous culture, there are many koala dreamings; their loss kills country.

Koalas are struggling to survive. Time is of the essence.  

Environment Minister Penny Sharpe has repeatedly said the park will be established in the “first term of government". The term is four years and there’s no guarantee of a second term.

In reality, the establishment of the park could take another three-plus years. Meantime, the Forestry Corporation is allowed to log koala hubs in the proposed park for the next 12 months. If the establishment of the park is not undertaken until the last year of government, how much more logging will be allowed?

The evidence of double-speak and in-fighting in government between forestry interests and koala survival is hard to ignore. Agencies contradict each other. It’s increasingly obvious koalas are in the way of political expediency.

The Minister continues to assert in the mainstream media that Labor gave a commitment in its pre-election promise that there “would not be a moratorium on forestry activities".

The assertion doesn’t stack up. IA has gone through every press release, article, comment, to find any Labor pre-election commitment to no moratorium. Nothing was found. 

Ms Sharpe had this to say about a moratorium:

"That's not the plan… we need to obviously do the conservation work, but we also need to involve industry and unions about the impact."

Prior to the election, The Guardian reported, 'Labor said it won’t commit to the size of the park immediately – nor the potential cost of compensation for the logging industry as a result of the transfer of state forest land – but will use “expert scientific advice” to guide its establishment'.

The cost of compensation has been assessed as has the economic potential.

A report published in April by conservative think tank The Blueprint Institute found native forest logging in NSW ran at a loss and said the government would save taxpayers $45 million by shutting down that sector of the industry in the coming year rather than when current forestry agreements expire in 2040.

'This includes the estimated cost of providing transitional packages to the industry as, it shuts down, as well as the cost of breaking wood supply agreements that extend to 2028', the report said.

An alternative stream of revenue is laid out. Using the north coast forests for purposes other than logging will generate at least $294 million in revenue.  

The report recommends the government should legislate the end of native forest logging in NSW.

As to the conservation work, it’s all on the record. Parliamentary inquiries, government reports, budget estimates, questions on notice, the NSW Upper House Koala Inquiry, Save the Iconic Koala campaign, NSW Koala Strategy efforts and peer-reviewed published research.

Australia’s native forests are some of the world’s most ancient forests. The Blueprint Institute reports forests are efficient carbon sinks, are among the most diverse environments on the planet and provide vast quantities of water.

But what really causes angst is that the record shows Minister Sharpe is abundantly aware of the crises facing koalas. In a Parliamentary hearing in March 2021, Sharpe acknowledged that 90 per cent of koala populations are in decline.

Sharpe asked former Environment Minister Matt Kean

“Given the recent bushfires and obviously what we know about koalas, which is that 90 per cent of their populations are in decline and there is speculation there could be fewer than 20,000 left in New South Wales, what is the science behind the ability to double that by another 20,000?"

How many koalas are left in NSW?

Sharpe asked Kean

"The experts, they are experts and I would heed their warnings very closely, in the material that I have got make comments such as, 'how can you set a target for a population when you have no idea how many there are?'"

But the reality is no government knows or wants to know. 

Neither the Coalition nor Labor governments were, or are willing, to undertake any on-ground population estimates, instead relying on out-of-date data, a flawed 2016 Chief Scientist Report and questionable science.

It’s not only Sharpe dragging her heels. Treasurer Daniel Mookhey said“The government was getting on with the job of creating the national park but it could not rush in a moratorium on logging".

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the era of global boiling has arrived after scientists confirmed July was on track to be the world’s hottest month on record.

He said:

“Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it’s just the beginning."

In 2009, the International Union for Nature declared the koala one of ten species globally to be hardest hit by climate change.

Australia is predicted to cop similar heatwaves currently experienced by the U.S., Europe and Asia when summer months begin. Currently, there are no refuges established to deal with the projected climate impacts.

Yet another compelling reason why the park is critically important. 

People weary of broken political promises are less and less inclined to vote for the major parties as evidenced by the rise of independents. If the Minns’ government pursues the same old path the consequences of losing the state’s koala population will be a cynical public fed up with being fed nonsense at a time when environmental matters should be primary.

Well-known environmental campaigner Dr Bob Brown laid out the ramifications of the Government’s ongoing rejection of a moratorium:

“If Premier Chris Minns and Environment Minister Penny Sharpe acted urgently, they could tell the people of NSW that they have kept their election promise and done what they said they would do."

“But,” he said, “if Chris Minns and Penny Sharpe break their promise to NSW voters, they will be responsible for every tree that falls and every koala that dies, because they failed to act with the urgency needed.

Further, he said:

“You can’t create a Great Koala National Park after you have allowed it to be destroyed.”

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

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