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Parliamentary red tape hinders the survival of koalas

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The Australian Government seems genuinely disinterested in saving one of our most treasured national icons (Image via maxpixel.net)

A lengthy Parliamentary Inquiry into the future of koalas may take too long to ensure their survival, writes Sue Arnold.

THE FIRST PUBLIC HEARING of the NSW Upper House Inquiry into koalas began on Friday 15 August, with the usual collection of bureaucrats from the former Office of Environment and Heritage now incorporated into an Environment, Energy and Science Group — the Department of Primary Industries and Environment. 

Established on 20 June 2019 to inquire into and report on koala populations and habitat in New South Wales, recommendations and hearings will not be wound up until June 2020, by which time remaining koalas in NSW will have little chance of future survival, save for a few colonies in regional areas unsuitable for mining, deforestation, urbanisation, infrastructure and forest burning for energy.

According to the hearing agenda, forestry bureaucrats were also given the floor with Dr Brad Law, Principal Research Scientist, Forest Science Unit, Primary Industries leading the defence team and with strong denials of any damage to koala habitats in northeast forests.   

An infamous quote source is not identified but presumably comes from former OEH bureaucrats.

‘Similarly, the expansion of new housing planned for south-western Sydney – including almost 70,000 homes between Campbelltown and Wilton alone – could also co-exist with the healthiest koalas in NSW, the officials said.’

However, not a shred of evidence or any published peer-reviewed research that confirmed any study demonstrating koalas can survive without habitat as a result of deforestation and massive urbanisation was produced.

In 2016, Law was a member of the Chief Scientist's Independent Review on the Decline of Koalas in NSW.

In 2016, he was appointed as a member of the NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee.

In May 2019, the Koala Research Plan issued a grant of $124,356 to Dr Brad Law, to assess koala occupancy in private native forests of north-east NSW’. We already know this information; it’s well recorded.

The inquiry has adopted some unusual practices. A major submission by Australians for Animals Inc was not published on the inquiry submissions list.

A phone call on Tuesday 13 August to the relevant secretariat to inquire on the reasons for non-publication revealed:

“We’ve had a lot of submissions and they’re not all published but will be soon. Including the Australians for Animals submissions [there were five]. The submissions should be up soon.”

By Friday, no submission had been published. A further call to the secretariat revealed that an extraordinary degree of censorship of the submission had been decided by the inquiry committee at its meeting prior to the first hearing on Friday morning.

According to the secretariat, all names of senior bureaucrats were removed and evidence (which was publicly available) in relation to a veterinarian who supports translocation was also removed. The Australians for Animals Inc submission was designated as “partially confidential”.

Given that submissions are taken under Parliamentary privilege, this level of censorship can only be described as a blatant attempt to shut down any evidence that should be taken into account by a Parliamentary Inquiry. 

The vet in question is Queensland’s Dr Jon Hangar of Endeavour Veterinary Ecology Pty Ltd. Under the recent Koala Research Plan, $97,980 was allocated to Dr Hanger for ‘koala translocation review and recommendations – investigation for NSW OEH’, a policy now adopted by the Government.

Dr Hangar has been involved in two of the most disastrous translocation projects in Queensland. The Moreton Bay Rail Link and the Coomera Translocation Project were undertaken by the Gold Coast City Council. 180 Coomera koalas were translocated, with Dr Hangar responsible for anaesthetising and taking samples from captured wild koalas. As a result of Right to Information requests, Australians for Animals Inc received the wildlife returns which indicated only two of the translocated koalas survived.

The Scientific Purposes Permit approval for this massive translocation indicated the trauma which translocated koalas endured:

PB40: Veterinary procedures and sampling conducted by Dr J. Hanger are to be undertaken in accordance with Dr J. Hanger's current animal ethics approval and corresponding Scientific Purposes Permit (WISP078241 0).

 

PB41: Additional veterinary procedures permitted to be conducted by Dr J. Hanger are as follows:

 

  • Ultrasound — employed to examine the kidneys, ureters, urinary bladder, prostate and reproductive tract. 

  • Blood sampling — a maximum of 5ml for blood samples to allow for all necessary analysis. 

  • Plasma samples — collected from the blood sample. 

  • Bone marrow samples — no more than 201JI collected by bone marrow aspiration from the iliac crest. 


5. Abdominal aspirate — using an abdominal tap to collect no more than sufficient to allow for a maximum of two microscope slide smears.

 

6. Urinalysis — using cystocentesiss, i.e. locating the urinary bladder using ultrasound and extracting urine through the abdomen using a needle and syringe.

Wildlife returns obtained by Australians for Animals Inc indicated that many koalas from Coomera and translocated sites were subjected to capture and anaesthesia up to eight times.  

Koalas died of starvation, dehydration, predation, radio collars which caused horrific injuries and disease.

Dr Hangar led a koala management program, established as part of the Moreton Bay Rail corridor development project to satisfy legislative requirements and meet community expectations regarding the protection of koalas. This program involved the monitoring and, where appropriate, treatment of over 500 koalas between 2013-2017. 

The project's own records demonstrate an alarming outcome:

  • 281 koalas have died (March 2013 to June 2016);
  • 167 koalas have been found dead during the monitoring period (body or body parts found);
  • 38 koalas have disappeared (no body or body parts found);
  • 116 killed by wild dogs, 82 died from illness, 19 killed by carpet pythons and nine hit by cars;
  • 36 are suspected wild dog predations due to location of tags, bite marks on tags or other evidence of dog activity;
  • 38 koalas have been categorised as “suspect wild dog predation”; and
  • 77 koalas have been euthanased or died in care due to illness or trauma.

The Moreton Bay Rail Link project is overseen by Queensland's Department of Transport and Main Roads. 62 hectares of primary koala habitat was clear-felled.

In a statement, the Department said

‘...only 28 koalas were translocated as part of the Moreton Bay Rail Project, “when assessments identified they were at risk. From the group of 28 translocated koalas, nine have died; five due to wild dog attacks; three to disease; and one unknown”.’

Professor Darryl Jones, the first koala expert to publicly comment – while others have privately issued serious concerns – said it was a disaster:

We now know that relocating koalas is really, really dangerous and really, really problematic.

 

Koalas know when they are not at home. And they get out of the trees and go ‘this not where I know, this is someone else's territory’.

 

And they get on the ground and walk for miles, looking for to where ‘home’ used to be.

 

And this exposes them to injuries from dogs and that is the problem.

 

It has been an absolutely catastrophic failure.

Why the Inquiry committee censored the submission which detailed an alarming situation in terms of the Government granting almost $100,000 taxpayer dollars to a veterinarian whose record doesn’t inspire confidence in translocation is more than curious. Particularly when the information is already on the public record.

Other organisations have advised that their submissions have also been marked “partially confidential” and important sentences removed.

Democracy is disappearing in NSW as rapidly as koalas and their habitat.

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

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