Revised State policy puts Koalas at further risk amidst ongoing bushfire devastation.
In the midst of the climate emergency and some of the most devastating bushfires in living memory, the NSW Government’s new policy on Koala protection has left wildlife advocates outraged, arguing that the move is irresponsible and puts the already vulnerable iconic native animal at ever greater risk and on a path to extinction.
Australia’s leading animal rights organisation, Animal Liberation, has condemned the revised NSW koala policy, arguing that it places vulnerable iconic animals at unconscionable and avoidable risk. The group has asked the Australian people to remember the recent heartache and hope the nation demonstrated after the daring rescue of Lewis, a survivor of the recent bushfires who subsequently succumbed to his injuries, reminding State officials that the destruction the fires will continue to cause requires the urgent application of additional legal protection for remaining Koala habitat.
Following a review of an existing State Environmental Planning Policy (“SEPP 44”), the NSW Government has expunged any legal requirement for aspiring developers to undertake important and potentially life-preserving surveys of core Koala habitat, asking them instead to follow a series of as-yet unpublished guidelines. Advocates say the removal of survey requirements places an increasingly vulnerable community of animals at ever greater risk, amplified by the growing percentage of mapped habitat being burnt by the ongoing bushfires.
“It’s simply not good enough,” said Animal Liberation spokesperson and campaign co-ordinator, Alex Vince. “The entire nation has watched on in shock and horror as the growing bushfire inferno has engulfed houses and habitats in its path. Australian hearts have gone out to all those who have lost their homes in this unfolding devastation, human and animal alike. Our nation has been left leaderless in the midst of this ecological disaster once already; we can’t let our Koalas be let down as well”.
SEPPs are environmental planning instruments that deal with matters of State or Regional environmental significance. Importantly, the intended effect of a SEPP is that it can override Council-administered legislation, such as Local Environment Plans, and may make provision for legal prohibitions on certain types of development or development in specified “no-go” zones. The new SEPP replaces the 1995 version and includes a number of concerning new additions and omissions. These concerns are amplified by the scale and ongoing ecological impacts recent and emerging bushfires are having on the State of NSW.
“It was only earlier this month that the Queensland Government announced plans to protect Koala habitat. That Government acknowledged that Koalas are under threat and need legal protection of their core habitats,” confimed Lisa Ryan, Animal Liberation’s regional campaigns coordinator. “In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need laws that threaten penalties on developers for destroying the homes of an animal we all consider such an integral and important part of Australian culture; but, we do. Now, we need our Government to take a look at the destruction circling around it and impose a strict and strongly enforced moratorium on any development that could cause further harm to key Koala habitats. And we need them to do it now“.
The previous SEPP had been criticised as a toothless tiger by many concerned about the plight of NSW Koalas. Unfortunately, the new document doesn’t appear to offer any improvements; the newly released SEPP has received similarly scathing reviews. The 2019 document allows Councils to consent to developments if the land under question is not covered by an approved and current “koala plan of management”. Despite a small number of Councils creating and submitting such plans since 2015, the State Government is yet to ratify them. Under the policy, the plans have “no effect” unless they are approved. In some regions populations have plummeted by a shocking 50% even after the SEPP was established and in force. Any winding back of these already poorly executed attempts at protection in the current climate poses an unacceptable risk.
“The new SEPP, in addition to the State Government’s ongoing political agenda and blatant support for logging, including ties and vested commercial interests in mining and water extraction activities, confirms how compromised our animal protection laws are when welfare mechanisms can be obliterated as quickly as a burning eucalyptus tree in a bushfire, as it by the stroke of a pen,” concluded Lisa Ryan.