Koala Populations and Habitat

Koala Populations and Habitat

(Private Members Statement, Thursday 13 May, Legislative Assembly NSW Parliament) 

On Thursday, I delivered a Private Members Statement about Koala Populations and Habitat. I also recognised Les Gonye's service to NSW Parliament as the Legislative Assembly Deputy Clerk. 

At the outset I thank Les Gonye for his amazing service to the Parliament. The former member for Sydney, Lord Mayor Clover Moore, and I are both privileged to have been able to work with Les. Les, you will be sadly missed. It is an honour to make a private member's statement with you in the Chamber this evening.

The future of the koala in this State is a great concern to my constituents. They regularly ask me to work to protect koalas in the wild for future generations. The New South Wales koala is at risk of extinction. Between 1990 and 2010 their numbers dropped by one-third. The following decade saw rapid habitat destruction and the erosion of koala protections. Their numbers were further decimated by the devastating Black Summer bushfires that killed at least 5,000. Those fires burned 28 per cent of koala habitat in northern New South Wales and 21 per cent in southern New South Wales. Last year a parliamentary inquiry found that without serious intervention koalas could become extinct in this State by 2050. All experts agree that the key intervention that is needed is habitat protection, yet threats to koala habitat have intensified. The logging of koala habitat proceeds on plans and approvals that were made before the fires and despite the profound changes to the landscape. Protections against deforestation are being eroded, including through the watering down of the koala State environmental planning policy and with the introduction of integrated forestry operations approvals.

Alarmingly, the logging of 140,000 hectares of forest along the North Coast, which comprises 33 per cent of koala hubs, is now subject to large-scale clear-felling under an intensive harvesting zone. Almost all of the trees in the region will be cut down. I have repeatedly called for a pause on native forest logging to allow for an independent and comprehensive scientific assessment across the entire network of native forests so that science can drive all future native forest decisions.

Work to map koala hubs does not appear to be informing the State's approach to koala conservation. Few koalas live in protected reserves. On the North Coast only 14 per cent live in national parks, with the majority—66 per cent—on private land where there are few and diminishing protections. Some 20 per cent of North Coast koalas live in State forest and 76 per cent of identified koala hubs in the State are in the north‑east of New South Wales. Koala habitat in the State's north is especially important because it is resilient to climate change, giving koalas a great chance of survival. State forests in the north must be the focus of any strategy to save the koala. I strongly support the Great Koala National Park, first conceived of in 2015 to address declining numbers.

It would add 175,000 hectares of State forest to existing protected areas to form a 315,000‑hectare reserve in the Coffs Harbour hinterland. The proposed park contains 44 per cent of all koala hubs in State forests and would link fragmented forests with high biodiversity hotspots, including World Heritage‑listed rainforests. That would have flow‑on benefits for other species, including platypuses and aquatic organisms. The Great Koala National Park would bring significant economic benefit to the region. Forestry jobs are declining due to mechanisation and market forces, and forestry workers could be transferred into park worker roles. The wider community would benefit from increased tourism from campers, bushwalkers, bird watchers, mountain bikers and nature enthusiasts; I know that many of my constituents would be keen to visit and proud to have such a reserve in their State.

A University of Newcastle economic analysis from February identified that the economic output in the region from the park would be worth over $1.2 billion, with an additional 9,800 jobs. With proper planning, the transition would gain strong local support. Native forestry is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable. Felling our biodiverse, rich forests erodes soil and water, produces greenhouse gas emissions and puts our native flora and fauna at risk from extinction. The State logs its forests at a loss, with the activity heavily subsidised by government. The Great Koala National Park provides immense opportunity to transfer unsustainable logging practices into a sustainable biodiversity hub and carbon sink that contributes to the wider community and ensures the survival of the koala and other vulnerable and threatened species into the future.

The New South Wales Government has a target to double the number of koalas in the state by 2050. That will not be possible without protecting their habitat; the Great Koala National Park will ensure that occurs. National parks are the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation, and creating new parks is one of the most important actions we can take to save our rapidly eroding biodiversity. National park and wilderness declarations have stalled under the Government and we are far from achieving our Aichi Biodiversity Targets of protecting 17 per cent of land. The time for a bold new national park is overdue.

View the full PMS and Response HERE

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