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Gladys Berejiklian will bring the end of koalas

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A vote for Gladys is a vote for environmental destruction (Screenshot via YouTube)

Focusing on development and progress, while Gladys Berejiklian is Premier of NSW the koala population doesn't stand a chance, writes Sue Arnold.

IF GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN wins government in NSW on 23 March, the public can kiss koalas goodbye.

In Brunswick Heads on Thursday 14 March, the Premier arrived together with her security officers. The purpose of her visit? A promise of $3.8 million to build a new surf clubhouse and $23 million for mental health helplines across NSW.

As usual, her election campaigning has featured huge financial bribes to communities and the Ballina North Coast electorate was no exception. However, perhaps aware that she was in the midst of a highly aware environmental community, Berejiklian refused to answer questions.

Instead, she advised that “This [new surf club] will be a place for people to meet, exercise and help train our amazing volunteers and nippers”.

Not to be put off by her undemocratic refusal to respond to the local media, veteran journalist Jim Beatson, 73, braved the security officers surrounding the Premier and attempted to ask a question.

Instead, Jim was pushed, shoved and dragged by security officers into the nearby surf club. The assault took place for several minutes in front of a large contingent of mainstream media.

In his own words, Jim describes his proposed question:

I have been a professional journalist from the mid-’80s working for The Guardian, Time Magazine, The Washington Post and the Australian Financial Review.

 

Recently, I was prevented from asking a question of Premier Gladys Berejiklian when three of her staff pushed me violently out of a media conference at Brunswick Heads Surf Club — before I could even get past saying, Jim Beatson, Bay FM.

 

My question?

 

When you were in Byron less than a year ago, you assured our listeners that you did not want to go down in history as someone responsible for the reduction of koalas in New South Wales.

 

It has been widely publicised throughout the Northern Rivers that the New South Wales State Government, along with the Queensland State Government, are now recognised as one of the world’s top 11 deforestation hotspots, along with the Amazon and Sumatra.

 

Australia is the only developed nation on that list. In northeast New South Wales, your government has doubled the logging intensity of clear-felling, allowed on 140,000 hectares of public lands, from Taree to Grafton.

 

According to the North East Forest Alliance, signs of koalas in these forests are abundant. Around one tree alone, 111 scats – that is koala poos – were found. Many other trees had smaller numbers of scats around their bases. This sounds like destruction of koala habitat. How does this advance your concern for koalas, and indeed your role in history?

The continuing refusal of Berejiklian and her Minister for Environment and Minister for Planning and Environment to hear the deafening roar of protest over deforestation and koala mortality is downright terrifying.

North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) issued a media release on 15 March demonstrating that 2,500ha of Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) designated highest priority koala habitat has been logged in the past four years at a rate of 636ha per year.

In 2017, according to NEFA, the OEH analysed koala records to ‘delineate highly significant local scale areas of koala occupancy currently known for protection which they termed koala hubs’.

Report author Dailan Pugh said:

It was shocking to find that the Forestry Corporation  has been targeting the best koala habitat for logging.

 

Current harvesting plans show many more koala hubs are proposed for logging this year.

 

The government’s contempt for the survival of koalas in NSW is a disgrace. This has to stop if we want koalas to survive.

Protests have been held in the Gibberagee State Forest with activists locking on to logging machinery.

NEFA attempted to make a peace offer with the Forestry Corporation insisting that the Corporation undertake the legally required pre-logging surveys for koalas necessary to identify and protect koala high-use areas.

Dailan Pugh doesn’t mince words when it comes to the appalling practices of the Corporation:

NEFA is determined to force the Forestry Corporation to look before they log, and to protect koala high use areas, as required by their threatened species licence.

 

We have put forward the peace offer to the Forestry Corporation of engaging a specially trained koala scat-detection dog to do the required searching. 

 

This would be quicker and more effective and efficient than manual searches, and provides an independent means of identifying koala high use areas to exclude from logging. 

 

We have offered to fund a one day trial to initiate these scat searches, though the Forestry Corporation are yet to respond.

 

We have had enough of the Forestry Corporation's wilful disregard for their legal obligations to protect koalas, and the EPA's refusal to make them obey the law.

 

If the NSW Government refuses to uphold environmental laws applying to public land then it is beholden on the citizenry to do so.

Taking legal action against the Forestry Corporation is well nigh impossible.  

Clearing of native vegetation and koala habitat continues unabated, even as the Government is now in caretaker mode.

According to the Environmental Defenders Office (NSW), shortly before entering caretaker mode, the NSW Government passed an amendment to the Local Land Services Act 2013 (NSW) which allows the clearing of native vegetation for ‘maintaining water supply and gas supply infrastructure’ and ‘collecting firewood, clearing planted native vegetation and maintaining telecommunications infrastructure’.

In a further warning of disasters on the horizon if the Berejiklian Government wins office, the EDO submission relevant to the draft NSW Bilateral Agreement points out some of the significant failings of NSW environmental legislation.

The new NSW Laws enshrine significant discretion for decision-makers and have reduced standards for environmental protection, for example mine site rehabilitation decades in the future can count as an offset now; offset requirements may be discounted in favour of other socio-economic factors; and supplementary measures – such as research projects or paying money into a fund – are a readily accessible alternative to finding a direct offset (that is, protecting the actual plant or animal that has been impacted by the development.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Berejiklian electoral promise of $23 million for mental health helplines across NSW may be necessary to cope with the huge number of citizens who are in utter despair over the ongoing destruction of nature.

Little wonder the hard-faced woman surrounds herself with security officers and refuses to answer questions. 

You can follow Sue Arnold on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

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