Politics Opinion

Minns Government sells out Great Koala National Park

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NSW Premier Chris Minns is failing to keep his promise to protect koala habitat in the state (Image by Dan Jensen)

In a stunning blow to the promised creation of the Great Koala National Park, the Minns Government has announced it won’t be established until 2025.

The announcement is a spectacular act of political hypocrisy demonstrating why the public has largely lost faith in our political institutions. A few days before the Budget was introduced, Environment Minister Penny Sharpe announced that in 106 koala hubs, amounting to approximately 8,400 hectares or 5% of the park, logging would be suspended. The suspension was a result of growing public anger over the industrial logging of the proposed park.

It’s important to note Sharpe talked about suspension, of which no time frame is provided. Suspension doesn’t create any kind of permanence. The tiny amount of habitat protected amounts to what can only be described as a sop to public outrage.

An ecologist did the sums:

‘8,400ha, or 84km2, is the equivalent of only 6% of the surface area of Brisbane City Council LGA.’

No details were provided and no one knows which hubs, or where. Locals say half of the hubs in the park have already been logged and may support few koalas. Some of the hubs are in national parks or in areas with no koala colonies. Government identification of hubs is based on work done in 2017 or earlier, with no updates since the 2019-2020 bushfires.

There’s no clarity on whether hubs or the entire compartments would be spared. Perhaps the worst aspect of this decision, designed to quell growing public anger over the appalling destruction of the park’s prime koala habitat, is ecological ignorance. 

Koalas are an umbrella species for coastal forest ecosystems. When habitat is destroyed, not only koalas but significant biodiversity is eradicated. In rejecting any concept of ecosystems, corridors, dispersal needs, or other endangered fauna and flora, Sharpe’s and Minns’ focus on koalas is misleading. By continuing to focus on one species at the expense of all others, with no understanding of ecosystem functions, is the action of a government with zero environmental credentials.

Anyone who has watched footage of beautiful forests being turned into war zones, bulldozers tearing down trees and ripping the heart out of important, critical biodiversity areas will feel the pain of loss. The scale and rate of industrial logging have never been seen before say forest conservationists. They’re witnessing not only the loss of forests to future generations but the mindless, appalling, brutal destruction of our life support systems.

Any improvements to protection measures for koala hubs have not been included in the Budget. Minister Sharpe’s Budget press release sang praises of the Government’s koala policy.

The press release, titled ‘NSW Government boosts koala funding to bring them back from the brink’, states:

The Minns Labor Government has committed to saving koalas in NSW, ensuring future generations can continue to see them in the wild, with $172 million in new funding in the 2023-24 NSW Budget.

 

To bring the iconic koala back from the brink, the NSW Government is intensifying efforts to protect them with an $80 million down payment for the Great Koala National Park.

$80 million has been variously allocated to assess and establish the Great Koala National Park (GKNP) on the mid-north coast to preserve tracts of koala habitat. All the work required to assess and establish the park was done, years ago.

Prior to Labor’s election, $80 million was promised for the planning process to ‘take into account expert scientific and stakeholder advice, and include an independent economic assessment of the park's impact on local jobs and communities’.

It’s all been done, years ago.

More recently as a “down payment” for the park. More like the cost of keeping the public quiet.

Over four years, $88 million is allocated to the creation of the Georges River Koala National Park to protect crucial koala habitat in south and south-western Sydney. According to Labor’s pre-election promises, the park would happen within three years. Now it’s four. How long does it take to create a park?

Sharpe also promised a Labor government would work with other landholders to ‘“maximise the protection of wildlife corridors” and identify additional lands for the national park’.

Lisa Cox reports in The Guardian:

‘[Labor] is also proposing to set up a koala centre to support volunteer wildlife carers in the area and establish infrastructure such as exclusion fencing on roadways and koala crossings.’

Apparently, this koala centre is off the list now. Instead, funding (unknown) will be allocated to the Koala Care Centre in Macarthur, with $3.5 million for local koala care organisations. Again, no information about which care organisations.

Given the massive urbanisation projects being built, or approved in southwest Sydney, neither a park in four years or $3.5 million to carers will negate or prevent the extinction of the healthiest remaining population of koalas in NSW.

Labor’s Budget claims the Government will build infrastructure to allow koalas to safely cross busy roads in southwest Sydney. Care groups who have spent a considerable number of years collecting and scraping up injured and dying koalas hit by massively increased traffic caused by the growing urbanisation will wonder what planet the Environment Minister is living on.

Local government areas in southwest Sydney were responsible for 86% of road strikes on the last generation of koalas in the entire Sydney Basin as new housing developments encroach on habitat. Extra people driving thousands more cars.

Government press releases don’t mention that in June, a Walker Corporation project to build 12,900 homes in the Appin precinct in southwest Sydney was approved. Appin supports an important disease-free growing colony of koalas — the area is prime koala habitat. A conglomerate of property developers has bought every inch of land surrounding Appin, according to the Sydney Basin Koal Network.

A koala trying to survive in the Appin precinct (Photo courtesy of Sydney Basin Koala Network)

With 73,000 homes planned for the Macarthur region, with the surviving population of koalas in the Sydney Basin, no budget funding for monitoring forestry operations and ongoing logging in the GKNP until potentially the end of 2025, the Minns Government’s Budget raises questions about integrity and environmental responsibility.

Why is the Government committing electoral suicide? Many people voted for Labor on the promise of creating the park. Population growth is driving environmental destruction. Without timber, massive urbanisation projects won’t be built. Banning logging would oblige the Government to pay compensation as the previous Government extended existing contracts another five years in 2022.

How much are koalas worth?  What are the values, economically and ecologically of native forests? 

Or more to the point, how long can the Australian environment survive with governments who look no further than the next election, ignoring climate change urgency, biodiversity loss and catastrophic consequences for their irresponsibility and ignorance?

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

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