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Queensland Government continues 'open season' on koalas

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Annastacia Palaszczuk is doing whatever it takes to convince us that she has the best interests of koalas at heart (Screenshot via YouTube)

The Palaszczuk Government has been creating the illusion of being proactive on koala preservation but in reality, nothing has changed, writes Sue Arnold.

IT'S BEEN 92 YEARS since the Queensland Government declared an open season on the state’s marsupials. An estimated 600,000 koalas were killed for pelts exported to the USA,  An obscene trade stopped by U.S. President Hoover in 1930 at the request of the Wild Life Preservation Society of Australia.

Some experts believe Queensland koalas have never fully recovered from the massive slaughter. Indeed, in 2019, the available evidence demonstrates that Queensland governments have continued the program of eradication with only a change in methods and tactics.

Instead of shooting koalas, extinction would be achieved through “death by a thousand cuts”.

Proudly announcing the latest Draft South East Queensland Koala Conservation Strategy 2019–2024, the Palaszczuk Government's efforts to persuade the public that koalas now have a high priority and their protection is a once in a generation chance to ensure their survival in the South East provide a dismal reflection of the ongoing policies driving extinction.

In early December, the Premier announced 570,000 hectares of land would be set aside as “koala priority areas”:   

“About 300,000 hectares of this land is [existing] koala habitat.”

The draft strategy will now be put up for public discussion and submissions can be made until the end of January. 

Given Annastacia Palaszczuk is facing election in October 2020, she’s apparently taken a leaf out of Donald Trump’s playbook by getting in early with the fake news and misinformation. However, Annastacia’s playbook has yet another tool — illusion.

Drowning the populace with never-ending policies, plans, strategies, maps, ensuring a bottomless pit of papers and acronyms which add up to colossal government intransigence, public inaccessibility, no transparency or accountability and major complexities create the illusion of a government doing something.

The list below represents the clearest evidence of governments’ collective failure to adopt panel recommendations or take any substantive action to halt the appalling loss of koala habitat to development over the last decade.

The Draft South East Queensland Koala Conservation Strategy 2019–2024 takes its place along with:

This list is incomplete and makes no attempt to deal with the massive complexities which are inherent in the planning system. Koalas are at the mercy of a bureaucratic, legal maze which guarantees public confusion and ongoing losses, with few options for any legal challenges.

The foreword of the latest draft strategy includes the following statement by Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch.

‘The Queensland Government is committed to protecting koala and appointed the Koala Expert Panel to provide advice on their future protection.’

Minister Enoch’s playbook is repetitive. In response to the Final Queensland Koala Expert Panel Report 2017, she states in the Minister’s foreword:

‘The Panel‘s report and the Queensland Government’s response heralds a new approach to conservation measures for koalas in South East Queensland for future generations.’

At a koala threat round table meeting held in Brisbane in February, koala conservation groups were invited to focus on targeting threat mitigation measures and locations for inclusion in the strategy.

Attendees protested strongly that the meeting needed to address the most important significant threat — loss of habitat. The Minister’s bureaucrats rejected any discussion on habitat loss or the impacts of major urban developments which are unquestionably the primary cause.

Current projections indicate the human population of SEQ will rise by two million people (to a total of 5.3 million) by 2041. This creates the need for, on average, more than 30,000 new dwellings each year.

In 2017, the Government was well ahead with planning for massive urbanisation in the southeast, with Queensland Environment Minister Stephen Miles commenting:

he expected to be handed a report from the Koala Expert Panel in the next few weeks, which would dictate how the government could change its town planning rules in south-east Queensland to manage rapid population declines.

 

“We can't make a choice here between more houses for people to live in and our koala populations,” he said.

 

“We need to find a way to do both and that's what I'm hoping the expert panel will provide us some guidance on.”

He must have been kidding.

On page eight of the draft strategy, two maps show the pre-clearing (1960s) extent of koala habitat and a map of current habitat. These maps are irrevocable evidence of the catastrophic clearing allowed by Coalition and Labor Party governments.

No GIS layers of planned and approved developments are available with the draft strategy.

Another curious omission.

Even more concerning is the deadline for submissions relevant to yet another effort to map koala habitat. Submissions must be made by 22 December, ensuring that this highly complex and critically important issue (aside from planning legislation and regulations) can’t possibly be addressed in such a short time frame.

As one koala expert put it, “The fix is in”.

Then there are the minutes of the Koala Advisory Council which raise more questions.  

From the March KAC minutes:

The key points from the consultation were:

 

  • Strengthen legal protection for koala habitat.
  • Enforcement and compliance.
  • Local government should have a role in identifying and protecting koala habitat.
  • Offsets should only be used as a last resort.
  • Need to map threats and work with the SEQ Wildlife Hospital Network and local community.
  • Develop partnerships and engagement targets.
  • Need for a more open and transparent process.

The draft strategy fails to reflect the key points.

Any discussion outside of the minutes was to be kept confidential in spite of minutes reflecting the need for transparency.

From the July KAC minutes:

Conflicts of interest:

 

  • The Chair reminded KAC members of the confidentiality agreement and the importance of acting in accordance with this agreement.
  • The Chair acknowledged the usefulness of Queensland Government sharing confidential information to ensure better decisions are made.
  • The Chair sought agreement from KAC members to acknowledge the importance ofmaintaining confidentiality from information provided in the past, today and in the future.
  • All KAC members agreed. 

At the same meeting:

DES confirmed that koala habitat will only be mapped at a State level and that koala habitat will no longer be mapped at a local government level on the commencement of the new mapping and associated regulations.’

Given that local councils have intimate knowledge of koala habitat in their shires and can approve major developments, the new mapping regime ensures major gaps in identifying koala habitat.

Under the current release of the draft strategy, no planning regulations or amendments, critical to any educated submission will be released until the strategy is approved. This failure to release the proposed planning changes is absolutely critical to any support for the strategy as it’s the planning regulations which allow councils to have different regimes which contribute to the ongoing loss of koala habitat.

Yet the minutes of July meeting of the KAC state:

‘It was confirmed that it is the intent that the Strategy and the Planning Regulation amendments will be released concurrently.’

Queenslanders are faced with few choices when it comes to the environmental credentials of the major political parties. An LNP Government win in the October elections will sound the death knell for remaining koalas.  

Palaszczuk’s illusionary koala policies are a grim reminder that the Labor Party is as deficient in its environmental policies and responsibilities as the Coalition parties.

Unfortunately, koalas and our wildlife heritage are paying the price.

Sue Arnold is an investigative journalist. She heads up Australians for Animals NSW Inc and the U.S. California Gray Whale Coalition. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

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