Animals Opinion

Extinction of koalas means the death of our country's soul

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The governments of Australia are ignorant towards the significance of keeping our koalas alive, writes Sue Arnold.

AUSTRALIA IS AN ANCIENT, mystical continent. With its majestic rainforests, mountains, rivers, plains, deserts, forests, beaches and iconic, unique amazing wildlife, this is one magnificent country.

We live in a sacred place. Ask any Aboriginal Elder. Our land feeds the hungry soul.

In Dreaming stories, Koob-borr, the koala was the wise old man of the bush, the sage counsellor of the Aborigines who consulted him in all their difficulties. Men would ask his help and advice when departing on dangerous expeditions.

The Dreaming stories record that the mother koala shows the greatest devotion to her offspring and if robbed of her baby will cry piteously, as koalas do when hurt in any way.  Among some of the native tribes, the koalas were believed to be the souls of dead children. A belief readily understood by those who heard its heart-rending cries.

Mickey Ryan, Chairman of the Bundjalung Elders Council says:

“Our wildlife is becoming vulnerable everywhere. We’re losing the soul of the country. What’s happening here is downright murder.“

The reasons are straightforward. Koalas are dying as a direct result of governments’ policies of extermination. Defenceless wildlife is being deliberately wiped out because it’s in the way of development, infrastructure, forestry, urbanisation, mining and unsustainable population growth through high levels of immigration.

Our democracy is corrupted. Public interest legal rights have been repealed. There is no transparency. There are no policies to ensure habitat protection, no policies to address the cumulative impacts of development projects, logging, urbanisation — all destroying habitat, taking the lives of defenceless koalas and other forest-dependent species.

Every koala is now sacred. Unless the destruction orchestrated and approved by state and federal governments stops, koalas will go extinct in New South Wales. Queensland, Victoria and South Australia’s koalas are all lined up in the extinction queue.

Koalas are dying out now as their primary habitat is bulldozed, laws repealed, public interest denied. Politicians from the major parties turning their collective backs on the suffering and loss.

The Australian Government is in breach of its ratification of the Biodiversity Convention and the Convention on Migratory Species.

There’s a complete and deliberate failure of compliance and enforcement at the state and federal level.

Slim protections available under state and/or federal legislation have been repealed or replaced including memorandums of understanding and/or bilateral agreements.

In 2012, when the koala was listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act as “vulnerable”, a National Koala Recovery Plan was recommended.   No recovery plan has been developed.

The National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy 2009-2014 has been a complete failure.

Federal koala referral guidelines are not mandatory and allow developers to self-refer if koalas are found on a project site. In some cases, koalas on site have been deliberately removed to ensure the project developer does not have to refer the development to the Federal Government.

Catastrophic bushfires caused by climate change killed more than 3 billion animals. Prior to the fires, drought dried out water holes, sucking the moisture out of leaves on which forest fauna depend for slaking their thirst.

Koalas died terrible deaths, firefighters have nightmares remembering their dreadful screams as the flames incinerated adults and joeys.

Communities up and down the country are fighting tooth and nail to try and save remaining koalas. People who have thrown all their resources into protecting our wildlife.    Frustrated, angry citizens whose petitions, emails, calls, are ignored by governments who just keep killing koalas.

The international outcry over koalas is unprecedented. Millions of dollars poured into the country in a global expression of compassion and concern — to no avail.

In 2015, Greg Hunt, then Minister for the Environment, signed the Common Assessment Method (CAM), agreed to by all state governments allowing one only national listing for a species. No regional listings were permitted.

Efforts to upgrade koalas federally to an “endangered” status are moving at snail’s pace with no decision likely until October 2021. So much for the Morrison Government’s concern.  The CAM is a further roadblock to any endangered listing as Victoria will claim high numbers of koalas in spite of no population estimate for over a decade or more thus ensuring no federal upgrade to “endangered”.

There are no emergency provisions in any state or federal legislation to protect wildlife species.

There are no dedicated national parks or protected reserves for koalas. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has identified the koala as one of the ten most vulnerable species to climate change. Yet there are no climate change policies or refugia for koalas or recognition of the IUCN designation.

Offset policies are a further disaster. Developers can pay dollars to offset habitat destruction — a scheme which can only be described as madness. Once a habitat is destroyed, the home range of animals is permanently lost.   

Senate inquiry recommendations are ignored.  NSW Upper House inquiry recommendations are ignored. Respected Australian scientists with global recognition of their research are ignored. 

The terrible and catastrophic loss of koalas and other ecosystem-dependent wildlife is also a moral issue. One that should make every government bow its collective head in shame.

When a koala loses its home, their future survival is also lost. Stress kicks in, creating a weakened immune system, followed by chlamydia, cancers, leukemia, blindness, painful bladder infections and death.

Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, claims to be a strong Christian.

Yet the Bible makes clear the critical importance of environmental stewardship, highlighting the contradiction in Morrison’s extraordinary refusal to consider anything remotely resembling stewardship:

God has clearly placed humans in a position of responsibility over the creation. (1) Genesis 2:15 says “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (2) We recognise that all created things belong to God (3) and that we are accountable to Him as stewards of the creation. God commissions us to rule over the creation in a way that sustains, protects, and enhances his works so that all creation may fulfil the purposes God intended for it. We must manage the environment not simply for our own benefit but for God′s glory.

As the NSW Government, through its National Party coalition partner, tries to shove yet another koala killing bill through the Parliament in spite of thousands of protests, Australians need to know we are on the verge of a historic, irreplaceable, avoidable loss.

According to a historic document by the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority:

‘The power which the Spirit Ancestors give the land animates that land and its creatures. The land has a will, a life force of its own.’

We must act before that life force is terminally ill.

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

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