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Politics Editorial

The Coalition, koalas and coal

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Is Barilaro, Berejiklian or Morrison to blame for the annihilation of Australia’s favourite furry marsupial, the cuddly koala? And why is there such a kerfuffle over recent legislation changes affecting koalas?

WILL THE REAL KOALA KILLER PLEASE STAND UP?

In recent days, Deputy Premier and NSW National Party Leader John Barilaro, hardly a doyen for the environment at the best of times, is clearly determined to destroy what’s left of an already devastated koala population.

Much has been made of Barilaro’s refusal to approve his Government’s changes to the planning legislation, which were touted to improve koala habitat, as he has continued to bluster and threaten to spit his party’s collective dummy and sit with the crossbench.

Rather than highlighting the obvious disunity within the NSW Liberal Party, which most in the mainstream media seem happy to overlook, this has paradoxically provided a welcome public relations reprieve for NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian. For it is Gladys who has long been dubbed the “koala killer” on social media — a well-earned moniker as we will see. Luckily for Gladys, Barilaro’s latest hissy fit has propelled the koala issue into prominence, making him appear the villain in this scenario.

Now, there is no doubt that Barilaro couldn’t give a toss about the environment, a fact that he has only half-heartedly attempted to hide, while he focused on the big picture: unfettered development. No amount of cuddly koala photo ops could dissuade him from this development prize — particularly, development in which his donor mates have a financial interest.

However, like most tales of environmental devastation, there is seldom only one culprit, one corporation or, indeed, one government to blame. It takes systematic dedication to create a wasteland of the type the NSW Government, aided and abetted by its Federal Government counterpart, has managed to orchestrate — an environmental wasteland which no koala can call home.

Over six years of NSW State Coalition rule, complemented by seven years of Federal Coalition rule, the building blocks for this catastrophe have been gradually but ever so effectively put in place.

Who, then, can lay claim to being Australia’s number one koala killer?

BARILARO ‘DOUBLES’ DEAD KOALAS

Before we can clearly determine the koala killer status of each of the above politicians, we need to explain the latest in a series of legislative changes, which led to all the current fuss, at least.

The new State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019, or SEPP, came into effect in March, after devastating bushfires ripped through what was left of koala habitat.

But, as IA's Sue Arnold explained, this latest planning policy change was a band-aid measure intended to quieten public outrage and is even weaker than the previous legislation:

‘Neither planning policy document is mandatory. This is an important point. The Coalition leaders in NSW are arguing over a policy which has no mandatory legal status, no compliance, no monitoring and highly questionable public interest standing in any legal challenges.’

Nonetheless, propelled by just one complainant, from a significant National Party donor, developer and former Newcastle Mayor, Jeff McCloy, John Barilaro took it to the limit, rambling on about farmers’ rights and threatening his one and only bargaining tool — splitting the Coalition.

But, said Barilaro:

“The National Party stands for a thriving koala population — we actually want to see the koala population double.”

Given his Government’s policies have so far only hastened their demise, it is unclear whether the "doubling" was in reference to a dead or alive koala population.

#KOALKILLER AKA BEREJIKLIAN

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has an impressive record where koala extinction is concerned.

But says Gladys:

 “I want to be the premier that saves our koala population into the future.”

Of course, her actions say otherwise.

As IA has previously indicated, in order to deny the devasting extinction caused by her policies, Berejiklian has ensured that there are no reliable current population estimates and consistently refused to undertake assessments of remaining koala populations, making their numbers impossible to determine.

In further support of her koala killer status, Berejiklian has also:

  • cut the budget for the National Parks and Wildlife Service;
  • continued unprecedented massive clear-felling of native forests, to almost 13 times the annual average in the ten years prior;
  • planned to privatise state forests;
  • planned to burn forests for biomass;
  • renewed Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs), which do not allow legal recourse; and
  • overseen 11 regions assessed as “high biodiversity risk” due to high levels of clearing and insufficient conservation area provisions, seemingly in contravention of the regulations.

MORRISON'S MORE-COAL-LESS-KOALA MOTTO

As with most environmental disasters, the overriding responsibility rests squarely with the Federal Government, since it is here that the groundwork for all relaxation of environmental protections has been dug.

It was this Federal Coalition Government under Morrison – and Turnbull and Abbott before him – that has consistently ignored the science of climate change, cut funding to scientific research and innovation, penalised renewable industries and stubbornly insisted on pushing the fossil fuel agenda.

National environment protections have been decimated under PM Scott Morrison’s watch and climate change ridiculed.

His attempt to eliminate existing protections, such as they are, by further reducing the scope of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, may yet meet an obstacle as crossbench senators have vowed to block the proposed changes.

But Morrison has not stopped there.

As late as this week, the PM has gone against science, logic and even the natural progress of industry and put his decisive foot down. The energy industry wants to move away from costly fossil fuels in favour of renewables. But, says Morrison, he won’t be letting a little thing like advancement stand in the way of Australia’s fossil-fuel-at-any-cost (literally) policy.

Insisting that we would have a gas-led recovery whether the industry wanted it or not, Morrison also managed to insert coal back into the conversation for good measure with this profound statement:

“In Australia, you cannot talk about electricity generation and ignore coal.” 

He has ensured that digging up what’s left of the environment will go ahead by also stacking the COVID-19 Commission with fossil fuel executives.

And when Australia was burning to the ground, in unprecedented fires brought on by climate change, Morrison’s priorities were exposed as he took off on holiday to Hawaii.

Proving that information will have no part to play in his Government’s agenda – the one that sacrifices the environment at every turn – the PM has continued to remind us where his priorities lie.

Despite holding a poor mishappen wombat in an attempted "empathy for wildlife" photo op, Scotty from Marketing will not lift a finger to save koalas.

The only thing that will be saved or recycled by his Government is the ignorance he first displayed in Parliament when wielding a lump of coal around in honour of the biggest Coalition donors: fossil fuel magnates and Rupert, of course.

This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.

You can follow executive editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @VMP9. You can also follow Independent Australia on Twitter at @independentaus or on Facebook HERE.

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