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Sussan Ley's approval of quarry development set to destroy koala habitat

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Environment Minister Sussan Ley has approved a project which will see 52 hectares of koala habitat destroyed (Image by Dan Jensen)

Environment Minister Sussan Ley is defending her approval of a project set to increase the destruction of critical koala habitat, write Sue Arnold.

IN WHAT MUST SURELY be the most egregious act of hypocrisy, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian gifted Port Macquarie Koala Hospital with 6,000 square metres of land to help the hospital expand.

The same day, as a result of her government fast-tracking approval of the Brandy Hill Quarry Expansion Project in Port Stephens, Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley approved the development.

The project, which will see 52 hectares of koala habitat destroyed, has been the focus of massive community, national and international protest. Well-known celebrities have made their objections felt.

It’s no exaggeration to claim that the broad Australian community is deeply pissed off with the anti-environmental policies of koala extinction driven by the Berejiklian and Morrison Governments.

In granting approval to the project, Sussan Ley has contradicted her own experts. In January, she set up a wildlife expert group to ascertain which species were in need of urgent assistance as a result of the fires. 

On the priority list for mammals needing urgent management action in the next 12 months, koalas scored 17.0, the third-highest score after the broad toothed rat and the smoky mouse.

On 1 October 2020, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee released its priority assessment list detailing the nomination to upgrade koalas in the A.C.T., NSW and Queensland to “endangered” status.

In keeping with the Morrison Government’s continuing refusal to address the desperate need for urgent action to protect remaining habitat from developers, the assessment completion time is 30 October 2021.  

An analysis of the decisions by Berejiklian and Ley does not augur well for koalas or any remaining wildlife.

The history of the Hanson Heidelberg Corporation which heads up all the relevant submissions and surveys required for the Port Stephens project is recorded in Wikipedia.

A German multinational corporation active in 60 countries with 57,000 employees, the corporation acquired Hanson in 2007.

According to Wikipedia, Heidelberg Cement is the focus of a complaint before the OECD National Contact Point that addresses complaints against German companies for overseas violations of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The guidelines contain standards on human rights and the environment. 

An Indonesian Indigenous group in the Kendeng Mountains are protesting the destruction of a complex ecological system on which the Indigenous inhabitants depend.

The largest Danish pension fund divested its interest in the corporation due to ‘violation of basic human rights, which conflicts with U.N. Global Compact principles 1 and 2’.

Ms Ley has defended her approval, claiming ‘strict new conditions’ including the establishment of a 74-hectare koala habitat corridor to “support local populations”. There’s a requirement for a plan to plant koala trees which will take a minimum of seven years to be useful as a food or shelter tree. 

But this long-term goal has not deterred the Minister from claiming she is delivering “a net gain for local koalas by providing better quality habitat than there is at present”.

Surely a total failure of any logical thinking.

Locals have documented over 100 koalas including mothers and joeys. Port Stephens has suffered major bushfires which have destroyed critically important koala habitat. However, neither the Federal nor State Government has any concern about the cumulative impacts of the project.

Dust and noise from the quarry expansion which will double projection to l.5 million tonnes per annum will ensure koalas are driven from the area.

The reality of koala survival in NSW is becoming grimmer every day. Every square foot of koala habitat needs to be protected if koalas are to survive in the state. 

Meantime, in NSW, Environment Minister Matt Kean is crowing over adding 200,000 hectares to the national park estate. This is the same Minister who is on record saying he doesn’t support Sussan Ley’s Brandy Hill approval.  

No koala park has been declared in spite of awesome efforts by many conservation and community groups, including local councils to have a Great Koala National Park declared on the mid-north coast, an area of critically important koala habitat under threat of ongoing logging. 

Once again, we have the same mainstream media mantra quoted by the Minister. He wants to ‘double the state’s koala population by 2050’. This projection of 2050 as the extinction date of koalas in NSW is a legacy of a WWF prediction made in 2018, based on modelling of land clearing rates.

It’s no exaggeration to say that politicians leapt on the prediction as a handy “get out of gaol” card in the extinction Monopoly game. Thirty years into the future effectively relieved any government of urgent action.

Given that the prediction was made prior to the catastrophic bushfires, with Sussan Ley in January acknowledging that over 8,000 koalas had been lost on the mid-north coast alone, any mention of 2050 should be rejected.

Koalas are going extinct now. The species is dying by inches as one inappropriate development after another is given the go-ahead by state and federal governments.

Meantime, back in Berejiklian’s corner, Deputy Premier John Barilaro has described koalas as “tree rats” according to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald. As Minister for the Department of Resources, logging of koala habitat continues in spite of massive public protest.

Then there’s western Sydney with a major urban project by Lend Lease at Mt Gilead which will see Campbelltown koalas fighting for survival as feed and shelter trees are bulldozed for the development.

Hong Kong developer Country Garden listed a 364-hectare site with the potential for over 1,500 homes. The company, via Walker Corporation, was given the approval to develop stage one of southeast Wilton. The eastern side of the site will cut koala corridors. The Greater Macarthur area, which southeast Wilton is a part of, is home to the largest recovering koala colony in the state. 

Local community organisations supported by scientific research and surveys estimate some 500 koalas are surviving in southwest Sydney. 

The ICAC inquiry into former MP Daryl Maguire, now-ditched boyfriend of the Premier, heard that a dinner organised with himself and property broker for Louise Waterhouse, William Luong, had them ‘quietly working together to secure the sale of the Waterhouse’s western Sydney land to Chinese property developer, Country Garden’.

Maguire would have secured around ten per cent of a brokering commission between $6.9 and $9.9 million.  

As Peter FitzSimons wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald:

‘The situation for koalas has never been more dire and feel good photo-ops are no more than a cherry sitting atop a turd sandwich.’

The policies of koala extinction driven by not only NSW and the federal governments are reflected in similar attitudes by the Queensland, Victorian and South Australian governments.

Koalas are up against incredible odds. Their fight for survival is a national scandal.

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

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