This season’s significant bushfires have resulted in devastating losses to koala numbers across NSW, so it is imperative that remaining populations and habitat are protected.NSW Environment Minister matt kean
This inquiry was established because of significant concern in the community about the future of Australia’s most loved animal, the Koala. Even before the devastating 2019-2020 bushfires it was clear that the koala in NSW, already a threatened species, was in significant trouble, with the committee finding that the official government estimate of 36,000 koalas contained in the NSW Koala Strategy is outdated and unreliable.
Then came the fires. With at least 5,000 koalas lost in the fires, potentially many more, it was deeply distressing but extremely important for committee members to agree to the finding that koalas will become extinct in NSW before 2050 without urgent government intervention.
Important because during the inquiry it was frustrating to hear from government witnesses that the policies and laws in place to protect koalas and their habitat are adequate.
What became increasingly apparent as the committee held hearings around the state is that they’re not.
The ongoing destruction of koala habitat through the clearing of land for agriculture, development, mining and forestry has severely impacted most koala populations in the state over many decades.
The committee found that this fragmentation and loss of habitat poses the most serious threat to koala populations and made a number of key recommendations that stronger action must be taken by government to protect and restore koala habitat on both public and private land. I particularly encourage the government
to investigate the establishment of the Great Koala National Park on the NSW Mid North Coast without delay.
Many koala populations were suffering terribly through drought conditions that had plagued NSW for years, exacerbated by climate change. The committee heard stories from wildlife carers about high numbers of koalas being brought into their care that were malnourished and dehydrated. Similarly the committee received images of koalas, no longer able to get adequate hydration from the leaves they eat, descending from trees to drink from garden hoses and water bowls.
The committee found that climate change is having a severe impact on koalas, not only by affecting the quality of their food and habitat, but also by compounding the severity and threats of other impacts, such as drought and bushfires
A few months after the inquiry commenced the devastating bushfires hit. Huge swathes of koala habitat were significantly impacted. While the fires were still burning the koala emerged as an international icon for the wildlife lost – feared to be over 1 billion animals. This was perhaps best demonstrated by Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, which, initially seeking to raise $25,000 to their bushfire appeal, received almost $8 million in donations from both Australians and the global community.
The high level of engagement with this inquiry by individuals and stakeholders, the overwhelming majority of which expressed concern for the future of the koala, shows how widespread support is for government action to protect koalas.
The committee has made 42 recommendations to help ensure the future of the koala. I urge the government to implement them without delay. There were a number of draft recommendations that unfortunately did not receive majority support from committee members, such as the need for a moratorium on logging in public native forests. However, it was extremely encouraging that the vast majority of recommendations were supported by all committee members.
Following the disastrous 2019-20 bushfire season, it is undoubtable that the game has changed dramatically for koalas. The evidence could not be more stark. The only way our children’s grandchildren will see a koala in the wild in NSW will be if the government acts upon the committee’s recommendations.
On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank all participants for their contribution to this important inquiry, including the large number of individuals who took the time to contribute. I would also like to thank both the individuals and community groups who welcomed the committee during its site visits throughout the inquiry. Finally, I extend my thanks to my fellow committee members for their hard work and determination to ensure this report had teeth, as well as to the committee secretariat for their excellent and extremely professional support during this inquiry.