In showing complete ignorance towards the plight of endangered koalas, NSW Premier Perrottet has diminished chances of re-election next year, writes Sue Arnold.
Thanks to Reverend Fred Nile, the draft legislation is now dead, leaving Perrottet with a humiliating defeat. His anti-environmental credentials are now exposed with a State Election coming in March. Any win by the Coalition Government would be a disaster for not only koalas but the state’s wildlife species.
Last week, the National Party’s Dugald Saunders, NSW Agricultural Minister, introduced legislation that would strip councils of their ability to regulate private logging, extending private forestry approvals from 15 years to 30.
Farm forestry plans would be overseen by the Local Land Services (LLS). Saunders proudly proclaimed his explanation for the legislation’s impact on koalas by describing the species as ‘being “used as a convenient political tool” by the Government’s critics’.
He described the new codes “that we’ve brought in actually do more to protect koalas”.
Presumably, Saunders was referring to the revised State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection SEPP) which commenced in March 2021. The koala SEPP, as it’s known, stripped more protection from koalas.
Basically, the National Party-driven koala SEPP changes ensured there was no prohibition on the clearing of koala habitat. Core koala habitat was not sacrosanct. In spite of major protests from conservation organisations, community groups and the public, the changes were rammed through. This SEPP began the infamous koala wars.
On gaining the premiership in 2019, one of former Coalition Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s first actions was to disband the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), effectively leaving NSW as the only state without a department of the environment. The rot had set in.
OEH was absorbed by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE). As a separate agency, the LLS has no environmental terms of reference or objectives.
The website states:
Local Land Services is a regional-focused NSW Government agency delivering quality customer services to farmers, landholders and the wider community.
We help people make better decisions about the land they manage and assist rural and regional communities to be profitable and sustainable into the future.
Saunders is a strong defender of LLS. Under his proposed legislation, power would be removed from councils to require landowners to obtain development approval if they wish to undertake logging on their property.
Saunders indicated he had no faith in any council abilities.
“LLS experts... know what they're doing; councils struggle to have that same expertise,” he said.
Right. Perhaps Saunders has forgotten that most councils have environmental departments and environmental officers.
“Where you have another layer, and a council layer, it means that councils then can't actually do some of the things we need them to do, which is approve DAs to get housing done.”
Then there’s the NSW Koala Strategy 2022, with $23.2 million of taxpayers’ funds to be invested over five years to ‘improve [koala] health and rehabilitation, and establish a translocation program’.
Although this translates into a miserable $4.64 million year, the Government has previously committed $190 million under the strategy to ‘deliver targeted conservation actions’ working towards the long-term goal of ‘doubling koala numbers by 2050’. Unfortunately, no one knows how many koalas are left in NSW, but there’s no shortage of evidence demonstrating significantly declining populations throughout the state.
The strategy’s four priorities include ‘secure habitat and reduce threats’. Given the Coalition Government’s policies of extinction, the strategy is a hugely expensive propaganda instrument with no achievable goals.
In spite of requests to the NSW Audit Office to analyse these funds with a view to establishing if any of the priorities have been achieved, thus far no audit has been undertaken.
Whilst Perrottet struggles to mention the words “koala” or “environment”, his Treasurer, Matt Kean, former Minister for the Environment, has no such problems.
According to an article in 7News, former Liberal MLC Catherine Cusack told NSW Parliament’s upper house that Kean told her he was “one of the greatest – probably the greatest – environment ministers in Australian history”.
Kean subsequently rejected her claim as “fantasy”. However, there’s little doubt that Kean has tried to sell himself as an environmentalist in spite of the record which contradicts his claims.
Kean was joint minister responsible for the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (CIFOA), which permits the industrial logging of the state’s native forests together with former National Party Leader John Barilaro.
In spite of the catastrophic bushfires of 2019-2020 with an estimated loss of 3 billion animals, no changes were made to the CIFOA or suggested by Kean when he was Minister. He had the power to bring in protections for severely impacted forest species.
As for speaking out on climate issues, Kean made no attempt to declare any koala climate refuges. He was abundantly aware that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has designated the koala as globally one of the ten most vulnerable species to climate change.
Perrottet has demonstrated his abysmal ignorance of climate change impacts on the environment. In June, he blamed Australia’s energy woes on the “ideological war” over climate change scaring off private investment.
In 2019, Perrottet refused to back away from a comment he made in 2015 that climate change measures have been a “gratuitous waste” of taxpayer money.
“Another example of gratuitous waste is the almost religious devotion of the political Left to climate change,” he said in a video address to the Centre for Independent Studies.
In April, Perrottet vowed to ‘throw the book’ at climate protestors with penalties including two years in gaol and $20,000 fines.
As far as koalas are concerned, Perrottet has no record that demonstrates the slightest concern.
Given that the Federal Government declared koalas endangered in NSW, Queensland and the A.C.T. in February, blaming the decline in numbers due to land clearing and catastrophic bushfires shrinking its habitat, the ongoing efforts by the NSW Coalition Government to eradicate the koala can only be described as totally irresponsible.
Claiming that the latest death knell threat to koalas ‘had been supported unanimously in the cabinet room’, Perrottet said:
“It shows a government working together in coalition that balances the needs to provide farmers with support for renewable farming efforts, at the same time protecting koalas’ natural habitat.”
Australia cannot afford to install politicians into state or federal governments who demonstrate such colossal contempt for an iconic, irreplaceable species. The public has demonstrated over and over again that koala survival matters.
March can’t come soon enough for many NSW voters.
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