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Berejiklian Government backs koala extinction plan for Campbelltown

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The Berejiklian Government isn't doing enough to stop the destruction of koala habitat, increasing the danger of extinction (Image by Dan Jensen)

A significant koala population is facing being wiped out to make way for a major housing development, writes Sue Arnold.

AN EXPLOSION OF JOY was felt across the U.S. as the Electoral College votes indicate a huge victory for Joe Biden, signifying the end of a dreadful four-year reign of terror under a narcissistic, criminal President.

Yet here in Australia, we’re witnessing a different kind of reign of terror, narcissism and corruption hidden in spin and contradictions. A hard-hitting, objective Fourth Estate would be calling for charges of crimes against nature to be laid at the doorsteps of the Morrison and Berejiklian Governments.    

Our wildlife is being wiped out. The Morrison and Berejiklian Governments are actively destroying Australia’s wildlife heritage.

In NSW, the latest extinction plan is focused on Campbelltown koalas, a population whose habitat spreads across the Greater Macarthur Growth Area, destined to be a huge metropolis.

The largest surviving disease-free population remaining in the state has resulted in massive efforts by the community to ensure their survival.   

Community angst has been focused on LendLease’s project to build a new 1,700 housing estate at Mt Gilead.

As a result of the ongoing outrage, demonstrations, submissions and protests, in December 2019, Minister for Energy and Environment Matt Kean and Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes requested advice on the protection of the Campbelltown koala population from the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, specifically:

  • the adequacy of the proposed measures for koala conservation proposed by property group Lendlease on land referred to as Mt Gilead Stage Two;
  • the consistency of these measures with the NSW Koala strategy;
  • what, if any, additional conservation measures are considered necessary;
  • what, if any, site-specific measures for koala species should be incorporated into the Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan for the Greater Macarthur Growth Area to support the long-term viability of the koala population; and
  • whether east-west corridors linking the Nepean and Georges Rivers can contribute to the conservation of the Campbelltown koala population and, if so, which east-west corridors and what measures should be taken to ensure their effectiveness.

An Independent Expert Panel was established to provide the advice. Several members of the panel had been appointed to previous “independent panels”.

The majority of the members has previously been appointed to the NSW Koala Strategy expert panel in 2018.

The appointees included:

  • Dr Kathy Belov, Professor comparative genomics at Sydney University. Her major focus is on the Tasmanian devil. Professor Belov is a NSW Koala Expert Panel member. Belov’s statement on her appointment to the NSW Koala Strategy expert panel indicated her concerns: ‘I particularly welcome the opportunity to develop veterinary training courses in partnership with agencies including Taronga Zoo’;
  • Professor Jonathan Rhodes, University of Queensland, a member of the NSW Koala Strategy Expert Panel stated: ‘This Strategy provides an important starting point and I look forward to seeing future development of the strategy that ensures the long term stabilisation and increase in koala population in New South Wales’;
  • Dr Chris Armstrong, PhD in Chemistry is the Deputy Chief Scientist and Engineer, a member of the NSW Koala Strategy Expert Panel and leader of the report on Campbelltown koalas; and
  • Dr Carolyn Hogg, University of Sydney. Dr Hogg’s focus according to the University website is: ‘developing better tools and technologies to integrated molecular genetics into real-time conservation management decisions.’

Armstrong, Belov and Rhodes serve as Expert Advisory Panel members for the NSW Koala Strategy.

From the Strategy:

During the first three years of the Strategy, the aim is to stabilise koala numbers in koala populations across the State by delivering actions under four pillars: koala habitat conservation, conservation through community action, safety and health of koala populations and building our knowledge and education. The Strategy will contribute towards the long-term goal to increase koala numbers and populations across the State.

The primary recommendation of the NSW Koala Strategy is the protection of habitat.  

Belov and Rhodes served on the Committee which the former Chief Scientist and Engineer Mary O Kane’s report on the decline of koalas in NSW released in December 2016.

In response to the independent panel set up to provide the ministers with advice in relation to Campbelltown koalas, LendLease commissioned a new koala conservation plan of some 237 pages, the sheer volume of details ensuring that few will plough through the document.

But the bottom line is clear. No plans can protect a koala population numbering between 300-500 koalas facing a 1,700 housing development.

As if this assault on habitat wasn't bad enough, the Government has also released the draft Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan for the western parkland city projected to grow from 740,000 people in 2016 to 1.1 million by 2036. 

Described by the Government as:

‘A thriving, liveable western parkland city to include dedicated areas to protect the region’s many unique native plants and animals...

 

 

This Plan represents one of the largest strategic conservation planning exercises ever undertaken in Australia...’

According to the plan’s koala documentation, the southern Sydney koala population numbers around 600-1,000 koalas. Six commitments are included in the plan which is based on the Chief Scientist’s report on Campbelltown koalas.

Once again, we have funding research and koala health and welfare programs, installing 120 kilometres of koala exclusion fencing to separate important koala habitat from residential areas around Appin Road and the promise of the Georges River koala reserve:

‘The NSW Government claims to commit $84 million in the first five years to fund priority conservation actions including planting 100,000 trees to restore koala habitat in the koala reserve, the 120 km exclusion fencing and establishing biodiversity stewardship sites on public and private land.’

Whatever are biodiversity stewardship sites?

At the same time, the Berejiklian Government continues to approve massive logging operations in north coast forests. The ongoing destruction of koala hubs is the source of an extraordinary level of scientific and community concern.   

The Brandy Hill Quarry has been given the go-ahead; there is simply no let-up in the plan to wipe out NSW koalas.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that government funding will be focused on zoos and wildlife hospitals with no acquisition of habitat, the only solution which will allow koalas to survive.

The latest effort by Berejiklian is to allocate more than $37 million to a new wildlife hospital to be built at Taronga Zoo. According to the media release, the Centre for Wildlife Rescue, Conservation Medicine and Species Recovery will care for the zoo’s more than 4,000 animals as well a provide primary care for unique animals across NSW.

A wildlife care centre will also operate out of Taronga Western Plain Zoo; the wildlife hospitals will cost $77 million.

In January 2020, the Morrison Government established a $50 million emergency fund to address the devastating loss of wildlife in the bushfires.

News reports indicated that:

‘...half of the emergency wildlife and habitat recovery fund will go to frontline responder groups including wildlife carers, hospitals and zoos including Zoos Victoria, Adelaide Zoo and Taronga Zoo’.

And finally, Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley's latest media release claims to be finalising a koala protection package later this month which will include investment in habitat conservation and research.   

At the same time, the EPBC Amendment will go before the Senate and unless its voted down, the Federal Government will hand over powers of approval for major projects to state governments.

A report just released by WWF ecologist Dr Martin Taylor demonstrates that weak enforcement of environmental laws over the past decade has permitted the destruction of tens of millions of native animals, including thousands of hectares of threatened species habitat.

The future of Australia’s iconic and unique wildlife must be elevated to the status of a national emergency. No country can afford such delinquent, irresponsible governments.

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

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