Koala populations are under threat in NSW. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi
Koala populations are under threat in NSW. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi

VOICES FOR THE EARTH: Political furore over koalas

LAST week I received an email with the attention-grabbing opening line: “The future of koalas is being decided NOW”. The author of that line, Dailan Pugh OAM, spokesman for the North East Forests Alliance, was referring to the political ‘spat’ sparked by our own state government representative, Chris Gulaptis, who threatened to plunge the coalition government into crisis by quitting over proposed legislation to protect Australia’s koalas. Other National Party members have vowed to follow his lead. So what is this about?

The legislation in question involves changes to the 20-year-old State Environmental Planning Policy 44 (SEPP 44), where a large number of tree species have been added to the description of what constitutes core koala habitat.

Since its inception, the SEPP has been roundly criticised for its overly simplistic and narrow definition of core habitat. It has never properly protected koalas, and their numbers were already in free-fall even before last year’s bushfires decimated populations across the state. Therefore, if Koalas are to survive in Australia, the strengthening of legislation to protect habitat is absolutely imperative.

So why the political furore? Surely nobody wants koalas to disappear from the landscape. The problem stems from the fact that almost all the remaining koala habitat lies in State Forests and privately owned land, and farmers and loggers are up in arms because the government has dared to place some restrictions on what they see as their inalienable right to chop down or bulldoze whatever they want. That doctrine has always been strongly supported by the National Party, hence the current stand.

I believe an overwhelming number of country NSW residents would prefer less land clearing, and certainly a very high proportion of them want koalas to thrive. Therefore, Mr Gulaptis was way off the mark when announcing that, by taking the stand against koala protection, he was representing his community.

These changes should have happened years ago, and finally the NSW Government has acted, so Mr Gulaptis’ suggestion that the changes are “a knee-jerk reaction”, is ridiculous.

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