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Private Members Statement - Koala Habitat Protection

In the lead-up to the March election, I made it clear that protecting koalas and their habitat was a statewide policy priority for me. Like so many in the community, I am disturbed by the evidence showing that koalas are on track for extinction. I am disappointed and frustrated that the previous New South Wales Government had for so many years failed to listen to experts and scientists and take the steps necessary to protect this much-loved Australian icon. 

The koala wars of 2019 and 2020 were a particularly disgraceful chapter as the Liberal-Nationals Coalition nearly split over sensible measures to protect koala habitat on private land. Even more disappointing was that after the horrendous Black Summer fires that wrought an enormous ecological toll, including on koala populations, the New South Wales Government ignored expert advice commissioned by the Natural Resources Commission and instead continued to log and degrade public native forests.

Since my election I have received a significant amount of correspondence from my own constituents about the need to protect koalas and their habitat and, in particular, the importance of stopping industrial logging in public native forests. People in Wakehurst care a great deal about the natural environment. They care about it locally, as evidenced by the steadfast and widespread opposition to the clearing of over 45 football fields of native vegetation in a bushfire zone for the proposed residential development at Lizard Rock. They care about how we look after our shared natural heritage across the State. The recent World Wildlife Fund [WWF] Trees Scorecard delivered a shameful last place for New South Wales out of all Australian jurisdictions. For the first time, the WWF Trees Scorecard provided a snapshot of how State, Territory and Federal governments are performing in tree protection. The scorecard assesses each jurisdiction's performance in ending both native forest logging and land clearing, as these are the main drivers of forest loss. New South Wales and Queensland sit at the bottom of the leaderboard, both with a score of "very poor".

It is in this context that many, including me, are looking to the new Labor Government for leadership in turning around our State's record on biodiversity conservation. NSW Labor's promise to establish the Great Koala National Park is historic and has broad community support. I also look forward to seeing the broader agenda for reforming the land management and biodiversity conservation framework across both public and private land. However, in the months since the election, I have been very concerned by reports from residents and groups on the ground that, in anticipation of the creation of the Great Koala National Park, Forestry Corporation is accelerating logging in a last-ditch attempt to exploit forests in the region while it can.

I was grateful to be able to visit Coffs Harbour earlier this month with WWF Australia and Federal Independent member for Mackellar Dr Sophie Scamps to get a better understanding of the impacts of native forest logging and the opportunities for sustainable timber production in the future. I was shocked and disappointed to see the degradation and devastation that industrial native forest logging leaves behind. The decision this week by the Government to stop logging of public native forests in high-value koala hubs in the proposed Great Koala National Park is a logical and very welcome step. However, these hubs cover only 5 per cent of the Great Koala National Park assessment area, which is a relatively small footprint.

I call on the Government to implement further interim protections ahead of the full establishment of the Great Koala National Park. My understanding is that koala hubs are based on records of koala sightings rather than habitat features. We also need a habitat-based protection layer that protects koala feed tree species as soon as possible. The forests in the Kalang Headwaters, in particular Oakes State Forest where logging operations are progressing, are sensitive areas with exceptional values and should be protected as a priority.

New South Wales must transition to a sustainable plantation-based sector that supports jobs in regional New South Wales. We must ensure that the timber products we all rely on in construction and other sectors of our economy can be produced sustainably. Right now, logging of our public native forests is loss making. A report by the Blueprint Institute published last April reached the clear conclusion that there is no economic case for continued logging of native forests on the North Coast of New South Wales. Modelling in the report found that ending native forest logging in 2023-24 and instead utilising the land for carbon sequestration and tourism will deliver a net benefit valued at $45 million.

Protecting public land from the destructive activities of a publicly owned corporation to achieve a public interest outcome should be a core business for any government. I will continue to call on the New South Wales Government to follow Western Australia and Victoria and end public native forest logging so that the people of our State and future generations can enjoy the many benefits of protecting and restoring our native forests—for koalas and healthy ecosystems, for carbon storage, for recreation and tourism to name a few, but also for good economic management.

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