Sun, 20 Sep 2020

Barilaro's gift to the koala

Independent Australia
15 Sep 2020, 16:52 GMT+10

The NSW Government's record on koala protection is as appalling as Barilaro's threats, writes Sue Arnold.

NEWS SOUTH WALES Deputy Premier and National Party Leader John Barilaro has done the koala a massive favour.

Barilaro's latest threat to take National Party ministers and members to the crossbench over the Koala Habitat Protection (SEPP 2019) legislation has the beleaguered marsupial gracing the front pages and news bulletins of the mainstream media. And there's no doubt about the extent of public anger over the National Party's anti-koala, anti-environmental platforms.

With NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her ministers now crowing over their "victory", along with mainstream media compliments on "standing firm" and "staring down" Barilaro, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Liberals are the koalas' staunchest allies.

Gloves come off between Berejiklian and Barilaro over 'koala war'

The future of Australia's wildlife is at the mercy of political gamesmanship and politicians who don't understand its importance.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Mainstream media has, as usual, omitted some key facts which are entirely relevant to this latest political reality show.

The new SEPP habitat legislation came into effect from 1 March 2020. This is an important date as NSW was in the midst of catastrophic bushfires. In January, Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley stated her concern that over 8,000 koalas had been incinerated on the mid-north coast.

By March, it was unclear how many koalas had died, how many remained but that the extent of koala habitat loss was at least 24 per cent, according to a report by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

Has the koala mapping on which the new SEPP policy relies been updated?

The new SEPP is even weaker than the previous SEPP 44. Neither planning policy document is mandatory. This is an important point. The Coalition leaders in NSW are arguing over a policy which has no legal mandatory status, no compliance, no monitoring and highly questionable public interest standing in any legal challenges.

When the new SEPP was put out for public comment by the Department of Planning last year, Independent Australia went through every submission on the departmental website. Not one submission supported the changes.

The new SEPP koala map:

A key issue in the old and new SEPPs is the "koala plan of management" (KPoM). A number of councils who have submitted plans under the old SEPP 44 can demonstrate the failure of the Department of Planning to approve the KPoMs years later.

Nor is there any mandatory obligation for councils to prepare KPoMs. And if a developer breaches a KPoM, the record demonstrates few, if any, legal actions on the part of councils.

The new SEPP relies on a different definition of core koala habitat.

The legal firm, Holding Redlich, provides an excellent analysis of the latest SEPP definition:

IA notes that this would require a major environmental assessment of remaining populations surviving the catastrophic bushfires, together with a current, independent post-bushfire assessment of any mapping by the NSW State Government of known koala habitat.

Given that the Berejiklian Government has consistently refused to undertake any population assessments of remaining populations, the new definition can hardly be described as a "simplification".

As well, a recent study by WWF demonstrates that 71 per cent of the state's koalas have perished since the bushfires, combined with three years of drought.

The yet to be adopted Koala Habitat Protection SEPP, according to the Holding Redlich analysis,

(*IA notes this Guideline is only available in draft form and has not been formally adopted.)

The introduction of two new maps means councils and landholders are no longer required to identify potential koala habitat and this definition has been removed.

Exempt and complying development, as well as State significant development and State significant infrastructure, continue to be exempt from the Koala SEPP.

Forestry on private land is a big issue for the Nationals.

Under frequently asked questions, this departmental response raises important concerns:

The NSW Audit office released a report last year on vegetation clearing, which has profound implications for the latest Berejiklian/Barilaro koala stoush:

The NSW Coalition Government's record on koala protection is as appalling as the threats by Barilaro and his national cronies.

The main game is political expediency and public perception. Koalas have zero priority except as political spin.

On the plus side, the extent of public concern for koalas is significant. Politicians who ignore this reality will surely pay at the polls.

Sue Arnold is an IA columnist and freelance investigative journalist. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis.

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