“The Liberal-National government’s ridiculous rules are standing in the way of our scientists exposing the dire situation facing endangered animals,” Ms Washington said. “Not only is the public being misled, but endangered koalas are missing out on extra funding and support.”
She called on Environment Minister Matt Kean to “get rid of this absurd green tape”, adding that, rather than simplifying the system, it was “destroying it”.
A spokesperson for the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said koalas were listed as vulnerable under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 “which means they are facing a high risk of extinction in NSW in the medium-term future”.
The uniform state-wide treatment of the threat “aligns with the international standard set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)”, the spokesperson said. “If a development project is likely to have a significant impact on important koala populations in these jurisdictions, then they must seek approval under that Act.”
The NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee is considering whether the conservation status of the koala and other species should be reviewed following the 2019-20 bushfires, the spokesperson said.
James Trezise, a policy analyst with the Australian Conservation Foundation, said “these NSW loopholes highlight that we need effective federal protections for nationally threatened species like the koala”.
“There has been a focus on harmonising listing across NSW and federal law under what is known as the Common Assessment Method. However there hasn’t been a corresponding focus on ensuring protection for this iconic species,” he said. “If we want the next generation to be able to see koalas in the wild, we need to prioritise the protection of their habitat, first and foremost.”
Labor leader Jodi McKay plans to ramp up the call for a Georges River National Park this week, arguing the north-south corridor, mostly on government land, will help conserve koala colonies. These populations, unusually for NSW, are both growing and free of the chlamydia disease that is depleting other groups.
“If the Berejiklian government is serious about protecting koalas along this beautiful stretch of river, then it should implement the inquiry’s findings,” she said. “There is no more excuse for delay and this can’t wait until [the next elections in] 2023.”
The department spokesperson said the government had “committed to create a koala reserve along the Georges River in Sydney’s south-west to help ensure the survival of this iconic species”.
A new national park on the Georges River is also the top priority of the Total Environment Centre’s Protecting Sydney’s Macarthur Koala Colony report, which highlights the threats to the region’s marsupials.
“Koalas living in or close to the urban environment have particular planning issues as destruction of habitat is often complete,” Jeff Angel, the centre’s executive director, said. “So the need for stronger protections is extremely important.”
The report said the government should require 425-metre wide wildlife corridors to allow healthy koalas and other species to move between populations, with requisite over- or underpasses for main roads.
It also took aim at the use by developers of so-called biobanking or offsetting that allowed them to clear habitat in exchange for preserving land elsewhere.
The report noted the Campbelltown Council’s Noorumba Reserve was chosen as an offset but it was already a state biobank, a council site and bush reserve maintained by volunteers.
“It provides no additional koala habitat protection to replace impacted koala habitat,” it said.
The offset habitat is often distant from the project site, because “it’s bloody hard to find one”, Mr Angel said.
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Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.