Speech on Protecting our Koalas

11.00am | October 08, 2018

On a very lovely winter afternoon back in July this year, while the sun went down, I stood in Bangalow next to a stand of eucalypts and tallowwoods. I listened to Linda Sparrow as she explained the challenges she faced in her work as president of Bangalow Koalas. The community on the New South Wales North Coast want to protect local koalas and their habitat from development, but the New South Wales government has done absolutely nothing to protect these iconic Australian animals.

Earlier this year, 70 volunteers from Linda's organisation, Bangalow Koalas, planted over a thousand trees to generate koala corridors to compensate for key koala habitat lost to highways and land clearing on the New South Wales North Coast. The trees were planted on private land with the support of local landholders wanting to see koalas protected. Publicity from the event has led to additional landholders requesting to become part of the program. This is an amazing example of a community taking steps and taking matters into their own hands to support these beautiful animals. But I tell you what, they don't receive any support whatsoever from the New South Wales Liberal government.

Koala's are facing extinction in New South Wales as their numbers rapidly decrease. New South Wales has less than 10 per cent of the nation's koalas and it is genuinely harrowing to hear the koalas in the Pilliga have declined by 80 per cent since the 1980s. I worked for four terrific years with Bob Debus, the trailblazing Labor Minister for the Environment in New South Wales. During that time, Bob worked on legislation to protect thousands of hectares of woodland for conservation in Brigalow and Nandewar.

It is disappointing indeed to watch as the New South Wales coalition government fails to take any commensurate or similar action to protect a koala population that is seriously in danger. In fact, all of their actions lean in the other direction. Their agenda of increased land clearing and building highways through key koala habitat has been a key contributor to their decline. A recent report released by the Nature Conservation Council and the World Wide Fund for Nature found that koalas are on track to be extinct by 2050 in New South Wales if current land-clearing rates continue. What does it say about us if we knowingly drive one of our national icons into extinction?

We can and we must do better. Last week in parliament senators and MPs had the opportunity to meet Gizmo the koala here at Parliament House. It was part of Threatened Species Day, and Gizmo was a lovely, lovely little animal. But it is one thing to pat a koala at an event here at parliament and it is another thing to do something about it. Neither the government here nor the government in New South Wales—in both cases led by Liberals—has any solution whatsoever to protect animals like Gizmo, because, apparently, they simply do not care about preserving native species or their habitats. Unlike New South Wales Labor, the New South Wales Liberals refuse to produce a koala protection strategy. In fact, there has been no plan in place for koala protection for the last half decade since the New South Wales koala recovery plan, which was developed by the last New South Wales Labor government.

Unlike New South Wales Labor, the coalition government refuses to commit to conservations' calls for a koala national park that would see the state forests that presently provide habitat in the mid-North Coast around Coffs Harbour and Bellingen incorporated to provide better protection for these beautiful animals. The federal government is absolutely no better. They have sat on their hands as their Liberal colleagues in both Queensland and New South Wales have trashed Labor's historic land-clearing protections. Labor in government will step in and put this right, because the situation is untenable.

Members of our community have played a key role in bringing this issue to light. I spent a day up in the forests around Bellingen with volunteers from the NPA, including an old colleague from the New South environment department, Ashley Love. It's vital that we elect representatives who care about the environment and protect koalas—people like Andrew Woodward, our candidate for Cowper, who has a strong background in environmental advocacy, and people like Asren Pugh, our candidate in Ballina, who worked with me to initiate the Labor Environment Activist Network many years ago, and has been out planting trees with Linda from Bangalow Koalas. I look forward to 2019, when conservationists like Asren can continue this invaluable work as part of a New South Wales Labor government that is actually committed to ensuring that koalas will thrive. It's time for the New South Wales coalition government and this government to step up before it's too late.