NSW Labor and Coalition propose plans to save the state’s koala population

Australia’s iconic marsupial has become the latest political campaign football for New South Wales state.

Labor leader Chris Minns on Thursday called for an end to the so-called koala wars, which have divided the coalition, while pledging $80 million to investigate the creation of a large national koala park on the state’s north-central coast.

Environment Secretary James Griffin denied that there had been any koala wars.

“I think the only war going on is a war between the Labor Party and their thinking about how to support koalas,” he told reporters on Thursday.

In 2020, then Deputy Prime Minister John Barilaro threatened to withdraw citizens’ support from the coalition over a proposed bill that made it more difficult for landlords to clear land.

In 2021, tensions are reignited by a citizen-proposed bill, which once again threatens koala habitats. The bill was eventually given up.

Mr Means has announced funding to start an assessment of the Great Koala National Park which will set aside 300,000 hectares that could be home to 20 per cent of the population of wild koalas in New South Wales.

The park stretches for more than 100 kilometers from Kempsey to Coffs Harbour.

The funding will establish 176,000 hectares of state forest, with a working environment

Spokeswoman Penny Sharp called it a “complicated case”.

She said if Labor wins on March 25, work on the project will start from “day one”.

However, the Environment Secretary said Labor’s proposed $80 million consultation process was a “step backwards”.

Mr Griffin pointed to the $190m NSW Koala strategy that the coalition has put forward in 2021, which he described as “the largest single investment of any kind by any government”.

The five-year commitment aims to double the number of koalas in the state by 2050 and is based on four pillars to protect and restore koala habitat, improve koala health and safety, support local communities to conserve koalas and map the genetic diversity of koala populations.

Meanwhile, Ms Sharp said the coalition had allowed the species’ populations to be endangered during its 12 years in government.

Experts say that protecting the habitat from cash flow

Experts have called for an end to the koala policy, saying time is running out to save Australia’s symbol.

The president of the Australian Koala Foundation, Deborah Tappart, said politicians need action, not pledges.

A grim New South Wales parliamentary inquiry in 2020 found that koalas could become extinct by 2050, unless action is taken to protect wild habitats. However, the Aga Khan Foundation says that this species is “functionally extinct”.

“I don’t think there is a politician anywhere in the country who doesn’t politicize koalas,” she told NCA NewsWire.

“The Australian Koala Foundation doesn’t like to hear any politician say we’re going to throw money at a problem.

“The only thing that will protect the koalas is the fragmented habitats that are linked back together and protected so that we can no longer keep cutting trees.”

Instead, she said, protecting koala habitats needs to be reframed as being able to boost tourism to Australia. In turn, this would combat concerns that habitat preservation could threaten logging and forestry jobs.

Before devastating NSW bushfires 2019 to 2020 wiped out populations, a 2014 study by AFK thought koala tourism could reach an annual figure of $3.2 billion in international tourism to Australia, supporting up to 30,000 jobs.

Australian Global Fund conservation scientist Dr Stuart Blanche compared the situation around protecting koala habitat to commercial whaling.

“Until 1967, Australia harvested whales commercially. Now we make a lot of money from whale tourism. We need that key,” he said.

However, Dr Blanche said it was “encouraging” that protecting koalas has become a top priority for governments.

“I think it’s good that there is recognition that people in NSW want to save koalas and I feel good the message is getting through to decision makers and if we don’t do something completely different our great-grandchildren will never see them in the bush.”

Originally published as NSW Labor and Coalition propose plans to save the state’s koala population

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