New policy on NSW koalas 'catastrophic'

The new land-clearing laws won't offer protection to koalas. Photo: Andy Hay/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Environment groups slammed the NSW government’s new koala habitat policy, announced on March 8, as a catastrophic setback for the endangered species. 

While the new rules may have brought the Gladys Berejiklian government some internal peace, they have also put the vulnerable koala population in greater danger.

Responding to the Nationals leader John Barilaro’s threats to bring down the government last year, the Liberal Party agreed to remove core zones in rural areas from the koala State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP).

The Nationals have just gutted planning rules meant to protect koala habitat,” Chris Gambian from Nature Conservation Council (NCC) said on March 9.

“The Liberals have caved in to political threats from the Nationals.

Farming and forestry zones will now be excluded from the SEPP, even though these are the most important areas of koala habitat under threat, he said.   

Exempting rural zones from the koala protection policy means that the areas where most koalas live are now under threat from developers.

“By removing protections from these areas, the government is basically giving up on the species and signing its death warrant,” Gambian said.

According to the NCC, logging and land-clearing on forested and agricultural land accounts for 90% of all koala habitat destruction. Yet, the new deal puts rural and forestry lands out of reach of the koala protection policy. 

“While big agribusiness and property developers will be popping champagne corks, I know most Australians want to protect koalas and their habitat,” Gambian said.

NSW Greens spokesperson Cate Faehrmann said the new policy is a win for the logging industry. She said the Nationals’ “dummy spit” was never about farmers. “It was always about appeasing the logging industry’s demands to be able to log koala habitat on private land. The key threat facing koalas is the ongoing loss of habitat, [and] this new SEPP won’t stop this loss.”

Two-thirds of the koala population live on private land, Faehrmann said. The new land-clearing laws will mean that “almost none of it is protected”. 

She said the government’s promise to double koala numbers by 2050 is “false” because it “doesn’t have the courage to stand up to the logging industry”.

“This is also a huge kick in the guts for local councils, with a lot of their powers to protect koala habitat taken away.”

Meanwhile, Extinction Rebellion Sydney, Save Sydney’s Koalas, the Bob Brown Foundation and the Animal Justice Party held a Koala Funeral Procession on March 3 to protest construction giant Lendlease’s planned Mount Gilead development south of Campbelltown which would wipe out the last healthy koala population in the city.

The NCC has launched its Koalas Need Trees campaign, with a comprehensive plan to protect koala habitat.

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