This koala isn’t a fan of new legislation, to be debated in parliament next week, which will change laws governing protection of its species. Photo: Tim Jarrett
This koala isn’t a fan of new legislation, to be debated in parliament next week, which will change laws governing protection of its species. Photo: Tim Jarrett

’False premise’: MP disappointed in Koala SEPP pushback

THE NSW Nationals have made their position on koala protection legislation clear, and now the community is sending their message.

People from around the region gathered at Coffs Harbour MP Gurmesh Singh's office on Friday as part of co-ordinated action against new laws which North East Forest Alliance and other conservation groups have said could set koala protection back years.

The Local Land Services Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill includes amendments to the State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection 2019) - referred to as the Koala SEPP - forced by NSW Nationals unhappy with its potential effect on farmers and the timber industry.

Bellingen Mayor Dominic King addresses community members who gathered outside Coffs Harbour MP Gurmesh Singh's office. Photo: Tim Jarrett
Bellingen Mayor Dominic King addresses community members who gathered outside Coffs Harbour MP Gurmesh Singh's office. Photo: Tim Jarrett

Bellingen Mayor Dominic King said the changes - which included exemptions for agriculture and private native forestry (PNF) from the Koala SEPP - were all about "weakening koala protection across the state".

Mr King said he was most concerned about PNF ramping up across the region, now the state's timber supply had been significantly affected by the summer bushfires.

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"We lost so much habitat … but what it has also meant is there is less timber around," Mr King said.

"The big game now is to go after those big trees on private land - and we are already seeing that happen."

Koalas make the trip to Coffs Harbour to protest against legislation that some say will help their ensure their potential extinction by 2050. Photo: Tim Jarrett
Koalas make the trip to Coffs Harbour to protest against legislation that some say will help their ensure their potential extinction by 2050. Photo: Tim Jarrett

The new Koala SEPP was introduced in March and is triggered when landholders seek to undertake significant development on their property.

It was designed to better protect the species by increasing the number of koala feed trees species and ensuring more landowners undertake koala assessments before developing land.

However, there was significant pushback from the NSW Nationals, initiated by Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis and supported by Mr Singh, who threatened to sit on the crossbench if some of the measures were not wound back.

That led to a compromise from the Liberal Party and the creation of the new LLS Amendment Bill.

Demonstrators outside Mr Singh’s office. Photo: Tim Jarrett
Demonstrators outside Mr Singh’s office. Photo: Tim Jarrett

Discussing the demonstration, Mr Singh said it was "disappointing" to see people protesting based on a "false premise" there were sweeping changes that would lead to a worse outcome for koalas.

"People need to understand what the proposed changes are before jumping to conclusions," he said.

"The changes preserve the status quo for agriculture and PNF and the SEPP will still apply to all other lands.

"This is actually maintaining the status quo for koala habitat and other species protections under the Local Land Services Act."

Gurmesh Singh says new legislation will not lead to a worse outcome for koalas.
Gurmesh Singh says new legislation will not lead to a worse outcome for koalas.

When asked whether he agreed with concerns the "status quo" had not been doing koalas much good, Mr Singh said the SEPP sought to address some of those issues on the urban fringes.

"Privately owned agricultural land is managed by the Local Land Services Act which looks at many threatened species, not just one, and has quite strong provisions for the preservation of those species," he said.

Coffs Coast National Parks Association president Kevin Evans disagreed, and said the bill undermined existing protections.

The bill includes a doubling of the allowable duration of PNF plans to 30 years and will prevent local councils from requiring development consent for PNF through local environment plans.

President of the Coffs Coast branch of the National Parks Association, Kevin Evans. Photo: Tim Jarrett
President of the Coffs Coast branch of the National Parks Association, Kevin Evans. Photo: Tim Jarrett

It also changes the definition of core koala habitat in the SEPP.

"All habitat is now vitally important whether it is on public or private land and local government efforts to protect koala habitat are being undermined by this government just because it is politically appropriate for them to maintain their Coalition relationship," Mr Evans said.

"This is devastating for koalas and other species."

NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh went further saying the Bill represented a "total capitulation" to loggers and developers". 

"These proposed changes are clearly intended to make the Koala SEPP ineffective and remove most of the hard won gains made over the past 25 years," he said.

"This is a despicable act from a Government hell-bent on halving our rapidly diminishing populations of Koalas, not doubling them."


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