Opinion | State Gov’t koala strategy is a con

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Koala protesters on Sunday, a koala found by Pat Durman in a tree near the Gilead development site, koala veterans Dr Robert Close and Julie Sheppard, and one of the poor road kills of recent weeks.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Koala protesters on Sunday, a koala found by Pat Durman in a tree near the Gilead development site, koala veterans Dr Robert Close and Julie Sheppard, and one of the poor road kills of recent weeks.

Koalas snooze 18-22 hours a day, but they’re not dumb.

On the contrary…

In places where wildlife tunnels/bridges have been built, particularly in Queensland, the wily marsupials have surprised experts by how quickly they have taken to using them. Far better than being squished under a car tyre; like the nine koalas killed on Appin Road in the past two months.

But our local koalas can’t be too smart because they live here – not on Sydney’s north shore.

Because that seems to be the only place in Sydney the Berejiklian state government thinks is worthy of wildlife crossings; such as the one just approved for Mona Vale Road West.

North shore koalas matter. Ours don’t.

Which is rather puzzling given that Macarthur has the largest and healthiest (chlamydia-free) population near Sydney. But alas, the wrong side of Sydney.

A recent study into our local animals recommended at least three wide bush corridors linking the Georges and Nepean rivers, and the urgent provision of three koala overpasses across Appin Road. The government’s response to this urgent plea? Tumbleweeds.

No crossings, but plenty more cars for busy Appin Road as the government rams through more crammed-up housing estates on areas supposed to be retained as scenic protection.

And now they’re planning the same thing for Wilton’s koala habitats. 

Some of you might be scratching your heads at this point and asking: ‘But hang on, didn't the government just announce a big new NSW koala strategy to save their habitats?

Um, yes, but it’s a con.

Barely two per cent of the land included is high-quality koala habitat (according to the government’s own modelling) and none of it local.

NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton gave us the quote: "It is absolutely vital that we protect land where koalas currently live – and secure land where new koala colonies may exist in the future”. Except in Macarthur, of course. Developers are the only creatures considered “absolutely vital” here.

I say it again: Campbelltown has done its bit!

The government’s response to urgent local pleas? Tumbleweeds.

I’m not anti-development, but I’m pro-good planning – and that means a good mix of housing and nature.

Areas set aside as scenic protection by planning experts in the 1970s (such as Gilead) should be left scenic protection, as vital breathing spaces in a gridlocked Campbelltown.

Camden and Wollondilly should also have a right to protect key natural landscapes that have long defined those areas. But dumping grounds don't have rights.

On Sunday, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the big koala rally at Oswald Reserve, Rosemeadow.

Local identities such as Uncle Ivan Wellington, Ricardo Lonza, Nea Makowski, Pat Durman, Matt Deeth, Greg Warren and Ben Moroney were among the passionate speakers – but the crowd was loaded with hundreds of other campaigners, from M9 Orbital opponents to the amazing Sue Gay, who is spearheading the fight to save Gilead. Well done also to Wollondilly Council, which sent a large contingent.

But in the crowd I also spotted a few old faces – Dr Robert Close and Julie Sheppard, two of the great heroes of the original fight to save the Wedderburn koalas three decades ago.

That’s when it really hit me. Because in 1988 little did we know that we would still be standing here, at similar koala rallies, in 2018.

Don’t talk to me about deja vu, I’ve heard it all before.

WILL THE PREMIER CARE OR ACT?

The Berejiklian government controls the development consents, the roads and the land clearing, so it’s time for someone in that government to take responsibility to save our koalas.

On Sunday, local campaigner Nea Makowski said: “We hope to send our message today loud and clear to Macquarie St from Macarthur”.

Dunno if they’re listening. I fear this Liberal government is now every bit as arrogant and developer-driven as the previous Labor one. Not deaf, but wearing earmuffs.

Ricardo Lonza, the koala rally organiser, said the koalas in Campbelltown need protection from new housing developments. AND they need multiple wildlife overpasses and underpasses. AND exclusion fencing along both sides of Appin Road.

The government only wants wildlife fencing along one side of Appin Road, but Ricardo says this would place koalas on both sides of Appin Road at greater risk in the event of bushfire, and also cut colonies off from one another when they need genetic diversity to survive. Makes sense.

Local pollies should listen to Ricardo because as a WIRES volunteer he’s one of the dedicated people cleaning up dead animals. “It’s heartbreaking and it doesn’t get any easier.”

Premier, Macarthur needs biodiversity and breathing spaces, not just endless heat islands. This disease-free koala colony needs to be recognised as the treasure it is.

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