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Rallies across NSW on World Environment Day demand action to save koalas

People have rallied across the state today, calling on the NSW Government to strengthen protections for koalas and their habitat. 

More than 500 people gathered in Hyde Park, Sydney, and were addressed by a range of speakers, including:  

  • Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian, 
  • Animal Justice Party MLC Mark Pearson, 
  • Greens MLC David Shoebridge,
  • Muruwari and Budjiti man Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth, and
  • Bob Brown Foundation Campaign Organiser Doro Babeck. 

Rallies were also held at Lismore, Bowral, Coolongolook (Port Stephens), Hornsby, Ku-ring-gai Chase and Tahmoor.   

Mr Gambian said: “Koalas in NSW are on death row. Business as usual is simply no longer an option – this is an emergency that requires drastic action. Their numbers were plummeting before the Black Summer bushfires killed thousands of koalas and incinerated millions of hectares of forest. We need a step-change in our conservation efforts or koalas will join the Tasmanian Tiger as an emblem of our failure as ecological stewards.  

“Any credible strategy for the species’ long-term future must include a strict ban on the destruction of koala forests and significant investment in new nature reserves, habitat restoration and ecological research. This issue is above politics – it is now time all parties worked together to implement the solutions we need.” 

Doro Babeck from Bob Brown Foundation said: “We must do all to protect this iconic species from extinction. The world is looking at us and what we do to protect them. We must stop logging their habitat, whether it is on private land or public. If we can’t even stop koalas from becoming extinct, what hope do we have?   

“People love koalas all over the world, yet, here, we have a government that sits on its hands and does nothing to protect them. Koalas are dying the death of a thousand cuts, as development after development gets approved and each time we say ‘oh, it’s just a few hectares lost here and there, it won’t affect the koala population overall’. But it does affect the koala population as we need to look at their cumulative effect.”   

Muruwari and Budjiti man Bruce Shillingsworth said: “Koala’s are First Nations totems that need to be protected. Our totem’s die, we die.”  

Alea Babeck, SS4C youth activist: “This has become the most urgent issue. Land clearing and logging are huge contributors to the climate emergency we are facing. We need our forests as vital carbon sinks and as habitat for our wildlife, like koalas. We are logging more forests than any other developed country. We should be doing all we can to protect the remaining wild places, not cut them down for woodchips. We can’t afford to do this anymore.”  

THE KOALAS NEED TREES CAMPAIGN 

The Nature Conservation Council in March launched its Koalas Need Trees campaign, which is underpinned by a policy agenda that includes: 

  • Adding of 200,000 hectares of koala forest to the national parks estate; 
  • Banning the destruction of koala habitat, on both public and private land; 
  • Setting up a $1 billion koala conservation and restoration fund; and 
  • Ending native forest logging.   

BACKGROUND  

Koala populations in NSW have plummeted in the past 30 years - estimated to be fewer than 20,000 before the Black Summer Bushfires that destroyed almost 25% of koala habitat on public land. 

In late 2019, the NSW Government introduced a new Koala State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala SEPP 2019) that marginally increased legal protections for koalas. 

In late 2020, the National Party threatened to “blow up” the Coalition if the SEPP was not scrapped. The Nationals objected to the policy controlling logging on private land (private native forestry) and land clearing for farming and property development.   

To end the war, the Coalition partners agreed to: 

  • Limit the application of the new Koala SEPP to  Sydney, the Central Coast and Blue Mountains;  
  • Exclude rural areas from the new Koala SEPP; and   
  • “Protect” koalas in rural areas through amended land-clearing and logging codes. 

Conservation groups and environmental lawyers have grave concerns the new codes will weaken rather than strengthen protections. 

The process for developing those new codes, a new Koala Strategy, and the timing for the release of both, have still not been made public. 

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