Changes made to the Koala Habitat Protection State Environmental Plan (SEPP) and a local Land Services Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill were passed in the NSW Legislative Assembly, (the Lower house) this week and will be put before the Upper House in November. These changes were demanded by the State National Party and overturn laws and regulations designed to increase protections for declining Koala populations here on the Mid North Coast.
The laws and policies needed tightening not relaxing. The government is taking us backwards many decades, to extremely weak and ineffective regulation, well short of providing the protections needed for koalas.
All this has occurred despite the assurances given by the Minister for Planning, Rob Stokes and the Minister for Environment, Matt Keane, about how important it was to take steps to save koalas from impending extinction and how much they had improved the prospects for Koala survival with recent changes they introduced in March this year.
The Nationals, following John Barilaro lead, bullied and cajoled Gladys Berejiklian into capitulating on measures to ensure their survival. This is the premier who recently said, "I want to be the premier that saves our koala population into the future". How does she now justify her position given these words?
The changes are an insult, especially considering the many years of review by the LNP government, when they sat on their hands and did little to mitigate against the impending disaster Koalas face today.
The cumulative impacts of many years of neglect by government are known to the many experts who have followed this debate over the years. These were fully outlined in the report from Upper House Inquiry on 'Koala populations and Habitat', released in June 2020. The key findings, based on expert advice and opinion, were endorsed by all members of the Upper House committee, including National and Liberal members.
Koalas are set to become extinct without enough habitat to ensure their survival. Koala numbers in our Mid North Coast region are at critical levels - the numbers have been dramatically reduced, perhaps by as much as 80% after recent bushfires. It could be higher figure, closer to 90%. No one knows for sure what the figure is because comprehensive surveys have not been done.
However, John Barilaro and now Gladys Berejiklian seem confident they know what is needed. By adopting the proposed changes suggested by the National Party, they are winding back protections to levels which will be ineffectual, courting the very outcome they say they want to avoid - the extinction of koala.
In fact, this is exactly what we can now expect if these recent changes can proceed. They have seemingly decided their own political futures and the interests of large agribusinesses and property developers set on clearing forests, are more important than koalas.