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Nationals influence Gladys Berejiklian's environmentally destructive vision

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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced her plan to provide housing for Sydney's growing population (Screenshot via YouTube)

The NSW LNP is determined to expand housing for the growing population at the expense of the environment, writes Sue Arnold.

NSW PREMIER Gladys Berejiklian has announced her new vision for Sydney. One million more homes to accommodate a population of 7 million-plus in Greater Sydney by 2041. 

Any concerns for the remaining Greater Sydney environment and the state’s coastline are not on her government’s agenda. Her plan is growth and jobs at any cost. 

Sydney currently is home to 5.2 million with 87,000 added last financial year, mostly from overseas.

NSW Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey – also National Party anti-environmental member for Oxley – claims that for the first time, a long-term strategy would cover all policy issues related to housing, from homelessness to homeownership.

According to Pavey:

It will help plan for “housing that responds to environmental, population and affordability changes and the preferences and needs of the community now, over the next 20 years and beyond”.

 

The state government, local councils, industry and communities all needed to be involved to ensure the right type of housing was delivered in the right location, Mrs Pavey said. 

Note, no environmental organisations get the nod.

Neither the premier nor Pavey are being honest with the public. The State Government’s euphemistically entitled Intergenerational Report projects a population of 9 million for NSW with virtually the entire coastline up for grabs, transformed into a massive interlinking urbanisation project.

This plan, which incorporates Berejiklian’s latest policy statement, will see the loss of virtually all remaining coastal forests, along with remaining surviving koalas and important biodiversity.

In allocating the housing portfolio to Pavey, Berejiklian has cemented the malignant influence of the National Party. Its exponential irresponsible growth and anti-environmental policies are the foundation of this NSW Government.    

Critics of Mrs Pavey would suggest that the minister is incapable of spelling environment, much less taking on board the impact of such a huge population and housing increase — one that will require massive infrastructure projects from Sydney to the Queensland border.

Her record and appointment as minister for housing should give NSW voting public cause for concern.

When she was Minister for Roads and Maritime Services, Mrs Pavey had responsibility for the Ballina Pacific Highway Upgrade, an upgrade which has seen the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) destroy massive areas of critical coastal forest ecosystems. Hundreds of koalas died in the Wardell upgrade as the RMS continued to flout state and federal conditions of approval.

Mrs Pavey steadfastly ignored complaints, concerns and non-compliance. She ensured a complete lack of any follow-up on animals driven out of the forests by the massive RMS clearing for the highway upgrade. Any attempt to meet with the minister was shoved off to staff who wrote notes at meetings with NGOs, destined to go into the nearest wastepaper basket.

Her efforts to destroy koala habitat in native forests are legendary. As MP for Oxley, in the centre of the critical koala mid-north coast forests, Pavey has been scathing in her rejection of any protection. In 2018, Bellingen Environment Centre spokesperson Ashley Love reported on Mrs Pavey’s response to concerns over the koala population on the mid-north coast. 

He said:

“The forestry industry is seeking to intensify harvesting to convert remaining available forests into highly flammable matchstick farms.

 

Rather than a ratio of conservation reserves to harvestable forest of 6:1 as Mrs Pavey claims, the RFA reveals a ratio of conservation reserves to total forest area of 1:3.”

Mr Love said Mrs Pavey’s claim that recent field survey work had found high koala occupancy in state forests did not have a broad scientific consensus as:

“...the methodology used for the assessment was largely based on the results from placement of limited numbers of sound recording devices in the field – a very imprecise way of assessing koala populations.”

Forestry Corporation's draft harvesting plan for the Kalang Headwaters (in Pavey’s electorate) has a solitary location marked with a pink diamond – their symbol for koala – and the comment: ‘No Koala star search triggers were identified during pre-harvest surveys’.

A team of citizen scientists who trekked into the area have documented evidence of very high levels of koala presence.

A NSW Forestry Corporation map identifying key remaining koala areas on the mid-north coast, post the bushfires, has raised significant anger with the Kalang River Forest Alliance:

The NSW environment department recently evaluated our local koala populations. No surprise that Kalang showed up as an important area for them. From the mapping exercise a wider story can be seen. A widespread continued onslaught of habitat destruction. Industrial logging of core koala habitat is nothing new but as these maps show even when the Government identifies important koala habitat and puts it on the shortlist for conservation, no effort is made to stop Forestry Corpse from smashing it first. Over 5,000 koalas died from bush fires in NSW in the last year. Why won’t Gladys stop the destruction?

(Source: Kalang River Forest Alliance Facebook page)

Extraordinary efforts have been made by NGOs and community activists to have these critical areas declared the Great Koala National Park.

According to the National Parks Association website, the creation of the park would be:

‘...the best chance for koalas to have a secure future in NSW. The new National Park will encompass 315,000 ha of public land in the Coffs Harbour region. This biodiversity hotspot includes two nationally recognised koala meta-populations, estimated to contain almost 20% (about 4,500) of NSW’s remaining wild koalas.’

A recently released Department of Planning and Environment report for 2019-2020 on bushfire damage states the 25% of suitable koala habitat has been lost in eastern NSW:

Over 3.5 million hectares, or 25%, of the most suitable koala habitat in eastern New South Wales is in the RFS fire ground. This includes moderate, high and very high suitability habitat. Over 1.9 million hectares of high or very high suitability koala habitat in eastern New South Wales are within the fire ground. This represents 22% of the best koala habitat in eastern New South Wales. Koala model regions with the greatest percentage of the best koala habitat in the fire ground are the North Coast, Central and Southern Tablelands, Central Coast and the South Coast.

These are all Forestry Corporation logging sites.

As no population estimate has been undertaken by the Government in the state or on the mid-north coast since the fires, there’s no clarity on how many koalas died or how many have survived. The last population estimate was undertaken in 2007.

A report prepared for Federal Minister Sussan Ley’s Wildlife and threatened species bushfire recovery Expert Panel indicated that:  

‘Other species have a substantial portion of their range potentially affected by fires and require emergency intervention and strategic response to support their recovery. These include species like the smoky mouse, koala and giant burrowing frog.’

Right now in Pavey’s Oxley electorate, the Nambucca forest is the focus of forestry operations and massive community opposition and demonstrations.

According to the Nambucca Valley Conservation Association, most of Nambucca State Forest did not burn in the 2019/20 bushfires, making it a critical refuge for native flora and fauna, many of which were listed as threatened even before the bushfires — including koalas.

The Association doesn’t mince words.

‘Given the extent of the fires, their known and likely damage, every patch of unburnt public native forest should be retained so forest dependent plants and animals can have a refuge to survive in until the burnt habitat across the north coast recovers.’

On Pavey’s website, her priorities are well described.

Pavey vows support for 775 people working in timber mills, with assertions that:

‘Changing tenure of an area of land – say from State Forest to National Park – does not in itself “save” or “protect” fauna or flora and more large-scale tenure change is not warranted.’

One can only dread Pavey’s prescription for the “right type of housing delivered in the right location”.

The influence and policies of the National Party present major environmental nightmares for the state. In 2020, their policies can only be described as ignorant and downright dangerous to the future survival of not only wildlife but humanity.

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

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