Motion to protect koalas

By Terri Butler MP

30 November 2020

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the koala is an iconic Australian species;

(b) the Queensland, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory koala populations have been listed as vulnerable under national environment law;

(c) vast numbers of koalas were killed in last summer's national bushfire crisis, including an estimated third of the New South Wales population;

(d) in the wake of the fires the koala is being considered for up-listing (an increased threatened listing status);

(e) habitat loss is among the most significant threats to koalas;

(f) the Government is years overdue in making a Threatened Species Recovery Plan for the koala, which was initially due by 2015; and

(g) the National Koala Conservation Strategy ran until 2014 and has yet to be replaced by this Government; and

(2) therefore calls on the Government to prevent further habitat loss through yet-to-commence development in areas in which the koala is listed as vulnerable, pending the completion of the formal assessment for up listing, the making of a Threatened Species Recovery Plan, and the making of a new National Koala Conservation Strategy.

This motion calls on the Morrison Liberal-National government to prevent further habitat loss through yet-to-commence development in areas in which the koala is listed as vulnerable, pending the completion of the formal assessment for up-listing and the making of a threatened species recovery plan and a new koala conversation strategy.

Australia's environment is in decline. Today, as we're about to head into summer, Australians are anxiously following the news of some of the first of the season's bushfires. They're looking to the nation's government to take a stand for wildlife, but national icons like the koala have died in record numbers and environment department funding has been slashed by 40 per cent. Successive ministers have run the department into the ground, and the Morrison government, frankly, has very little idea what has happened to our threatened species.

The motion I've moved today calls for new developments in koala habitat areas to be stopped unless and until the government gets its act together on koala conservation. There's no national koala conservation strategy. In fact there hasn't been since the last one ran out, in 2014. There are 171 outstanding threatened species recovery plans, of which 170 are overdue. The koala is among the species for which a threatened species recovery plan is well overdue. It was originally due to be created by 2015. It's now 2020, and still there's no sign of a recovery plan from this government. There's also no threat abatement plan that is relevant to the koala, despite the threats to this iconic native species. Koala populations in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT were listed as vulnerable in 2012. In 2019 and 2020, the national bushfire crisis raged throughout the land, burning millions of hectares of land and killing or displacing three billion animals, tens of thousands of koalas among them. Yet the government waited until the September just gone—a year after the national bushfire crisis kicked off—to formally request that the koala be considered for up-listing to a higher conservation status. A New South Wales inquiry found that the koala is heading for extinction in that state by 2050.

None of this is good enough. This passed 'good enough' a long time ago. I don't want future generations to have to learn about koalas in the history books, but that's the path that we're on right now. I don't want to lose this national iconic species, and I don't want to lose all of our other threatened species either. The government should put the brakes on any yet-to-commence development in koala habitat areas. Loss of habitat is a key threat to the koala, and that was true even before the national bushfire crisis burnt so much of Australia's land. The government should get the up-listing sorted out and put the threatened species recovery plan in place. This should be done urgently. And, of course, they should finally get around to replacing the National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy. It expired six years ago. It's time the government got their act together on this.

Once these instruments exist, they can assist the government, along with scientific and other expert advice, in understanding how best to conserve the koala. The government should listen to the science. The parliament shouldn't have to step in and say, 'We better put a stop on development because you haven't got your act together.' Actually, the government should be listening to science and getting the instruments in place that can conserve the koala. The fact is that right now we are in a policy vacuum. Parliament shouldn't have to do it, but we do because the government has been so poor at taking action to support and conserve the koala. Until the instruments that are informed by that science exist, we are in a policy vacuum and new development shouldn't go ahead.

I put this motion on the Notice Paper back in early November. Since then, the government has come up with a hastily cobbled together package of reannounced funding to support koalas. In it is a $2 million koala census. Labor has been calling for a national ecological audit since the height of the fires, when we made the call in January 2020. It should not have taken the Morrison government until November 2020 to undertake an audit, albeit only of the Koala population. The bushfire crisis was quickly followed by the pandemic and the recession, but neither of those crises is an excuse for failing to deal with the consequences of the bushfires, and neither is an excuse for being slow to act on the urgent priority that is saving Australia's koalas. One of this government's big problems is that it is always there for the photo-op and never there for the follow-up. We're certainly seeing that in relation to koalas. At the May 2019 election they promised up to $6 million for a major koala initiative. We're still waiting for that to be continued to roll out. The government must do better at protecting this national icon.