Premier and Ministers visit Coffs Harbour

Dr. Adam Roff explains his team’s work with drones to Premier Chris Minns and Ministers Penny Sharpe and Tara Moriarty

NSW PREMIER Chris Minns, Environment Minister Penny Sharpe, and Agriculture and Regional NSW Minister Tara Moriarty visited Coffs Harbour last Friday, November 3.

They were initially at Bongil Bongil National Park to announce the establishment of three advisory panels to provide input to the creation of the Great Koala National Park (GKNP).

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Before addressing media representatives, they were given a briefing from Dr Adam Roff, one of the senior research scientists with the Department of Planning and Environment, about how sophisticated drones are being used to monitor koalas in forests.

The koala-seeking drones have been used in more than 800 surveys covering more than 50,000 hectares in NSW and have been a huge success.

Dr Roff said it has dramatically increased the efficiency of locating koalas.

He and his team have developed a drone-pilot training program and 45 ecologists are now qualified to use the technology.

Artificial intelligence engineers have also helped train the drones to distinguish between the heat signal of a koala and ground species such as wombats.

The Premier and Ministers faced the media to announce the establishment of panels – representing the views of industry, the community and Aboriginal groups – that will give feedback on the process of assessing land for inclusion in the national park as well as information on economic, social, ecological and cultural matters.

“The Industry, Community and Aboriginal Advisory Panels will ensure we consult with all stakeholders, to create a park that will both protect our native animals and create job, tourism and other economic opportunities on the Mid North Coast of NSW,” Premier Minns said.

Minister Moriarty said the NSW Government was working hard “to deliver our commitment to establish the Great Koala National Park and a sustainable timber industry for mid and northern NSW”.

Minister Sharpe discussed the importance of protecting koalas and acknowledged the work of National Parks and Wildlife Service staff in caring for native animals.

The Government has classified ‘koala hubs’ as areas where there is strong evidence of multi-generational, high-density populations and says they account for 42 percent of recorded koala sightings in state forests in the assessment area since 2000.

It said timber harvesting operations have stopped in 106 koala hubs within the areas being assessed for inclusion in the park.

Minister Sharpe said consultation is planned to take about twelve months involving an economic assessment, that includes carbon, and that scientific and cultural considerations are also essential when creating a national park.

“We’ve been waiting a very long time to even consider a koala national park and we want to do it right,” Sharpe said,
reaffirming that determining factors include existing timber contracts and protecting jobs.

“If I could do it tomorrow I would,” Minister Sharpe said.

During the afternoon, in Coffs Harbour, the trio announced the ‘Destination Charging Program’ which opens applications by small to medium regional tourism businesses and councils to install Electric Vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure.

Successful applicants will receive 75 percent of the cost of purchasing and installing up to four charge points at each site.

Approximately 3,000 EV chargers will be installed at tourism destinations under the $10 million allocated for round two of the Program.

“Providing EV charging plugs at regional destinations across our state will help make ‘range anxiety’ a concern of the past and give more drivers confidence to make EV purchases,” Minister Sharpe said.

Destinations could include motels, wineries, cafes, restaurants, natural attractions, visitor information centres, museums, zoos and local government facilities.

Following the successful rollout of the chargers, a series of EV tourist drives will be developed to promote EV travel across NSW.

The Destination Charging Program is part of a $209 million investment in charging infrastructure which also includes $10 million in grants to retrofit apartments with EV chargers, $10 million for more kerbside charging and $149 million for ultra-fast charging infrastructure.

“Regional residents, as well as tourists, deserve to have the confidence to be able to purchase EVs knowing the required charging infrastructure is available to them locally,” Minister Moriarty said.

By Andrew VIVIAN

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