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Barilaro failed to respond to koala protection concessions from Stokes

Despite the assurances, Mr Barilaro decided to press his cause publicly, culminating in last Thursday’s threat to move the Nationals to the crossbench because the policy was “a nail into the coffin of regional Australia”. He then backed down a day later after Premier Gladys Berejiklian issued an ultimatum to retract the threat.

In the letter, Mr Stokes said the planning policy had involved “extensive consultation” and the draft had “undergone significant change” since March.

Even so, Mr Stokes offered to make seven “further significant changes”, including offering pathways for farmers to avoid having to conduct koala surveys if the proposed developments had low or no impact on habitat, and extending the time landowners had to challenge any core koala habitat designation placed on their land.

To address “recent representations” – believed to relate to a letter from Mr Barilaro sent on August 12 – Mr Stokes also explained 11 issues. These included why the government would lift the number of tree species deemed koala-favoured to 123 from 10. No single region of NSW would have more than about half that number.

Despite the offer, Mr Stokes did not get a response from Mr Barilaro’s office.

A spokesman for Mr Barilaro declined to say why the Deputy Premier decided not to respond to Mr Stokes’s concessions. “This is not something we will provide comment on at this stage,” he said.

Steve Douglas, an ecologist who has worked with landholders to implement the new plans, said identifying priority habitat to preserve had been made more difficult by “chronic underfunding” of everything from research and mapping of threatened species to the enforcement of often inadequate laws.

Ecologist Steve Douglas says there are key issues that will be remain unresolved with the koala planning policy even before any concessions are made to appease the Nationals.

Ecologist Steve Douglas says there are key issues that will be remain unresolved with the koala planning policy even before any concessions are made to appease the Nationals.Credit:Wolter Peeters

For instance, the maps meant to guide development applications were “substantially influenced by the Office of Environment and Heritage’s Koala Feed Tree report [from 2018] which is little more than an amalgam of evidence as to which species of trees koala have been observed to use across the state,” Dr Douglas said.

“This can mean that the list of tree species used by koalas may be incomplete, and the rankings of their significance for koalas may also be skewed,” he said.

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Similarly, Mr Stokes’s recommendation to encourage landholders to tap shire council advice could be a problem as local capacity was often poor. “Some employ a single junior ecologist and largely ignore their advice,” Dr Douglas said.

The Nationals, meanwhile, have begun sending emails from NSW Nationals Chairman Andrew Fraser aimed in part at minimising political damage from last Friday’s backdown.

“Regardless of what you may have read, seen or heard in the last 24 hours, the Nationals have now negotiated with our Coalition partners to take the matter to the NSW Cabinet,” the email sent out late on Friday night reads.

The email calls on recipients to click on a link to the government’s koala mapping website to see if they are affected. “If you are, I would also encourage you to find out what this means for your property and your rights,” Mr Fraser said.

Farmland cleared north of Warren in north-western NSW. Habitat loss is the major threat to the koala and many other native species.

Farmland cleared north of Warren in north-western NSW. Habitat loss is the major threat to the koala and many other native species.Credit:Wolter Peeters

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