Nationals Retreat In Koala Wars

THE NSW Forestry Minister, Nationals MP Dugald Saunders, dismayed conservationists across the state when he tabled a bill in State Parliament on November 9 that would have removed the role of local councils in permitting and prescribing rules for logging on private land.

The legislation would also have extended private logging approvals from fifteen to 30 years.

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Independent upper house MP Justin Field said the proposed changes included a core element of laws brought to Parliament in 2020 which were defeated when former Liberal MP Catherine Cusack crossed the floor to vote against the Government.

At the time, Mr Field said, “It’s crazy for Premier Perrottet and the so-called moderate liberals to capitulate again to the Nationals on koala protections so close to an election.

“Putting aside that it is terrible policy and further undermines koala protections, it’s crazy politics.”

Mr Field said passing the laws would open the door to “teal” independents in seats across the Northern Beaches and North Shore and also provide powerful campaign opportunities in key regional seats on the North coast.

Closer to the Coffs Coast, a spokesperson for local group, ‘Friends of Pine Creek’ said, “This is not about good farmers taking the odd tree.

“Corporations will fell large, forested areas at a time when we cannot afford to increase the loss of habitat.

“This Bill would allow logging within the ‘Bellingen Shire Koala Management Plan’ or locally designated conservation areas.”

Dalian Pugh, spokesperson for the North East Forest Alliance told News Of The Area, “Any existing identified core koala habitat is protected.”

“However, Coffs Harbour has an updated koala habitat management plan but it has not been approved, so additional areas will not be protected.”

Mr Pugh said councils currently have some control over logging but this would disappear if such laws were passed.

He said that concerns were not just about koalas, but also about whether councils and residents will have any information or control over issues such as noise and suitability of local infrastructure.

As pushback against the legislation increased, the peak body for councils, Local Government NSW (LGNSW), also weighed in on Monday, November 14.

LGNSW President Darriea Turley said despite the Bill’s damaging implications, it had been rushed into parliament without any consultation with local government.

“This Bill undermines the crucial role councils play in the regulation of private forestry operations,” said Cr Turley.

“It will have devastating impacts on important native habitats, particularly for koalas and many of the state’s other threatened species.

“In addition, it removes the ability of councils to consider the broader impacts of forestry operations on their communities, such as noise, traffic, amenity and infrastructure impacts.”

Greens upper house MP Sue Higginson became involved as well, telling News Of The Area, “Nobody saw the government’s legislation coming.”

Ms Higginson said the changes were unnecessary and believes the push came from timber industry sources who are running out of public forest timber.

She foreshadowed the possibility of some government members not supporting the legislation, and, she said, even if it was to pass the lower house, it would probably not pass the upper house.

Ms Higginson was proved correct, and, with at least two lower house government members threatening to cross the floor and Fred Nile refusing to support the legislation in the upper house, by the end of Monday, Mr Saunders had issued a statement pulling the bill.

“The NSW Government will not proceed with the Environmental Protection and Assessment legislation (Private Native Forestry) Bill,” Mr Saunders said.

“While this Bill upholds all existing protections for the environment, we will continue to have further conversations with local councils to progress legislation that unites communities and industry.

“There is significant public interest in this Bill that warrants further consultation.”

Coincidentally, the Greens had given notice of a bill in the Legislative Council that would prohibit forestry operations in areas that have been identified as koala habitat.

The bill would make it an offence to carry out forestry operations in areas of regional koala significance or in areas that have been assessed as koala habitat by a suitably qualified person.

Ms Higginson said, “This bill is a signal to the Government that this is an essential step to saving koalas from extinction and is as simple as an amendment to the Forestry Act.

“We could save money, protect jobs and stimulate the economy while also taking immediate action to slow the extinction crisis in NSW.

“This move would mean upwards of $1 billion going back into the economy from nature based tourism and community investment.”

By Andrew VIVIAN

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