About 100 people rallied at Djarrbarrgalli (Domain) on November 6 as part of a week of action for koalas across New South Wales organised by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and NSW Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann.
Rallies also took place in Grafton, Taree, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and Bellingen.
The protests were called to oppose the National Party’s Local Land Services Amendment Bill, which removes protections for koalas which had been included in the government’s Koala Habitat Protection State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP).
This comes a month and a half after National Party leader John Barilaro threatened to bring down the Coalition government if the Liberal Party did not amend its own SEPP — which required property owners to take several more modest steps before they could submit a development application. The steps included expanding the list of trees considered vital to the iconic marsupial’s survival.
The National’s bill aims to force the Liberals to back-flip on its promises to improve protection for koalas.
Uncle Craig Madden welcomed us to country, and spoke of his experiences as an arborist. Volunteer koala rescuer Kai Wild spoke about his experience to rescue injured and burnt koalas on Kangaroo Island over the Black Summer fires. “I still have the scars from the claws of these injured koalas on my arms, and I still have them in my mind. This is a toll that anyone who has worked as a wildlife rescuer would understand well”.
Nicola Benyon from Humane Society International drew attention to the devastating fact that koalas could be extinct in NSW by 2050. He said the bill will only accelerate this extinction catastrophe. “It’s a selfish piece of legislation; it’s about self-interest and we hope that the NSW Liberal Party will wake up to the fact that the people of NSW want compassion and care and protection for koalas”. She also criticised the federal government for failing to take adequate action.
Nature Conservation Council spokesperson Chris Gambion criticised the NSW government for prioritising their “property developer mates” who want to clear vital koala habitats. He said the “koala bill” and changes to planning laws allows farmers to clear up to 25 metres of land beyond their fences in the name of bushfire safety.
Faehrmann underlined the hypocrisy of the NSW Liberal Party, which claims to want to double koala populations while simultaneously clearing vital koala habitats and failing to take meaningful action on climate change.
She said the new bill was designed to appease property developers and big farmer and timber industry interests. “When they say this is just about letting farmers do what they do without red tape, don’t believe them.” She also criticised the NSW Liberals for capitulating to the Nationals’ demands and questioned whether the former had even looked at the draft bill. She suggested that the enormous support for koala protections could be enough to prevent the bill passing.
Labor NSW MLC Penny Sharpe spoke against the bill, saying if passed the only place people will be able to see koalas will be “in a zoo or a museum”. She highlighted the vast areas of NSW where koalas can no longer be found — the result of land clearing, climate change and bush fires. She also highlighted the vital work of koala carers and rescuers.
Another Save Our Koalas rally is being organised on November 10 at 1pm, when the bill may be brought to parliament, as well as a vigil at Martin Place that morning. You can sign a petition by the Nature Conservation Council here.