A new plan announced by Sussan Ley indicates the Morrison Government’s refusal to protect koalas and drive them to extinction, writes Sue Arnold.
WITH THE ANNOUNCEMENT of her latest plan to “save koalas”, Federal Minister Sussan Ley has confirmed she lives in a different reality. One that is focused on ensuring the only koalas people see, in the looming future, will be in zoos.
In fact, the plan is so deficient that it can only be described as a national disaster. Doling out more taxpayer dollars, Ley announced an $18 million policy — $2 million for a census to establish “baseline” population data, $2 million for koala health research and $14 million for habitat restoration.
Ms Ley declared:
“This is a line in the sand, we’re ruling a line under where we are on koalas right now. We are doing this because it needs to happen. I’ve been so frustrated that no one could give me the data I needed… it’s just not there — only in patches.”
Unfortunately, the Minister is not alone in her frustration. Ley’s complete and abject failure to take any emergency action to protect a rapidly disappearing beloved species should be grounds to sack the Minister. Except, in reality, she’s just doing Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s bidding.
You know, the PM who famously said at the G20 meeting that world leaders must “safeguard the planet” for the generations to come.
How much spin can the public stand?
Ley went further with the latest effort:
Launching the initiative at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, Minister Ley said the koala audit would help direct Commonwealth, state and private funding to where it will achieve the most good for the species.
“For all our focus on koalas, scientists are telling us that there is a serious lack of data about where populations actually are, how they are faring and the best ways to help them recover after the devastating bushfires,” Minister Ley said.
“$2 million from this package will be devoted to filling those gaps, identifying where koala habitat areas can be expanded and establishing an annual monitoring program.
“Taronga Zoo is a shining example of what can be achieved, where staff are utilising Australian Government funding to identify emerging risks following the fires, develop captive breeding programs and build future bushfire response capacity from animal collection to the upskilling of veterinary teams.”
In April, Ley provided Australia’s zoos and aquariums with a $94.6 million support package:
While COVID-19 may be keeping visitors away, zookeepers, aquarium owners and veterinarians continue to play a lead role in wildlife recovery after the bushfires, from treatment and rehabilitation to the development of insurance populations.
At the same time, they are caring for millions of animals who live permanently within their network and this is critical funding to support the welfare of those animals along with the vital ongoing role zoos play in conserving our environment and protecting native species.
Imagine how much habitat $94.6 million would have acquired.
But let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
No information has been provided on where any $2 million census will be carried out. Given that koalas are found in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, $2 million will not cut the mustard. Nor do we know who will be in charge or how such a census would be undertaken.
$2 million for koala research? Millions and millions of dollars have been granted to various scientists and institutions to find a cure for chlamydia, a disease caused by stress, resulting in a diminished immune system and high mortality.
No cure has been found. The cause is clear — the destruction of habitat.
$18 million for habitat restoration? Where? Is this a tree-planting exercise? Koala tree seedlings take seven years to be suitable for feed and shelter needs.
If the $18 million is to acquire habitat, the amount is insignificant.
What’s happened to the National Koala Recovery Plan which was required after NSW, Queensland and A.C.T. koalas were designated as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act in 2012.
The Recovery Plan is now eight years overdue.
Ley doesn’t have the data to inform the location of koalas, yet every state government with koalas has mapping, extensive studies pre and post the catastrophic bushfires.
A quick check of her approvals given to development projects which destroy koala habitat would provide excellent baseline data.
Ley could review the various roundtable meetings she set up post the bushfires which provided exquisite detail of where the worst damage occurred.
Climate change impacts have, as usual, been ignored in spite of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature designating the koala as one of ten global species most vulnerable to climate change.
In NSW, unburned forests which are the remaining koala hubs (identified by the NSW Government) are being bulldozed. Perhaps Ley has forgotten that under the Regional Forest Agreements, no legal challenges are permitted so koalas and wildlife just keeping dying.
Has the Minister not been advised that developers can self refer their projects to the Federal Government? Or that the federal koala referral guidelines are not mandatory?
Has the amendment legislation to the EPBC Act – soon to be voted on in the Senate – handing over approval for major projects to the states slipped her mind?
What about the Common Assessment Method which prohibits any regional protection of listed wildlife species?
Can she explain why the wildlife and habitat bushfire recovery program grants of $12 million were not allocated to koala conservation?
How about an explanation as to why a scientific submission currently being assessed by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee to upgrade koalas to endangered status in NSW, Queensland and A.C.T. will not be decided until October 2021?
How about the recommendations by the interim report on the independent review of the EPBC Act by Professor Graeme Samuel? Can Ley explain why the recommendations have been completely ignored?
Of course, it would be nice to know how Ley managed to approve the Brandy Hill Quarry extension, which will see 52 hectares of koala habitat eradicated, a couple of weeks before her koala plan announcement.
And to top it all off, the Chair of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, Professor Helene Marsh, is reported in the press saying:
‘…there are “lots of places where koalas occur where we know very, very little” about the species and the census was a “very significant move by the Minister”.’
Actually, the scientific community, conservation organisations, wildlife shelters and governments know exactly where koalas are located. Baseline data is also available on the Federal Government’s Species Profile and Threats Database.
There is a number of reports available which detail the extent of damage to koalas and their habitats provided by the independent expert panel on bushfire recovery convened by Ley in January. The reports stress the importance of emergency action.
Unfortunately, there are no emergency provisions in the EPBC Act or any state legislation.
Sussan Ley’s koala plan is a sick joke. The plan is an indication of the Morrison Government’s ongoing refusal to protect Australia’s iconic, irreplaceable species.
By far the worst outcome of this latest propaganda is an obvious conclusion.
There’s no end to this obscene game plan other than extinction.
Sue Arnold is an IA columnist and freelance investigative journalist. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis.
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