Human Interest

Koala policy threatens to topple govt in Australia’s New South Wales

By Rocío Otoya

Sydney, Australia, Sep 11 (efe-epa).- The protection of koalas, endangered in eastern Australia, has become the epicenter of a crisis within the government of New South Wales, the country’s most populous state.

Disagreements over a plan, approved after the fires that ravaged much of the country last year, to protect this threatened species in this state, whose capital is Sydney, is shaking the coalition between the Liberal Party and the National Party of New South Wales.

The latter represents the interests of the agro-farming sector, annoyed by the restrictions on logging trees to protect koalas, and threatened on Thursday to withdraw its unconditional support to liberal head of government Gladys Berijiklian in the state parliament if she does not repeal the plan.

At first, Berijiklian gave an ultimatum to her allies of the National Party to decide their future in the coalition, but on Friday she issued, in extremis, a statement announcing that the dispute will be “addressed” at a future cabinet meeting, which has saved the government, at least for the time being.

Last year, the devastating “black summer” bushfires, among the worst in Australia in several decades, wiped out between 30 and 70 percent of the koala population of New South Wales despite the painstaking efforts of firefighters and volunteers to rescue them, one by one, from the flames.

The fires, which killed 34 people and some 3 billion animals and destroyed 18.6 million hectares of land, added to the destruction of the koala habitat in New South Wales caused by decades of logging of trees.

“Protecting koalas should be above politics. Koalas were already on a path to extinction in Eastern Australia by 2050 before the bushfires, now the situation is worse,” Stuart Blanch of WWF Australia told EFE.

In March, shortly after the summer fire crisis of 2019-2020, the state government began to roll out the controversial State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) Koala Habitat Protection

SEPP facilitates the designation of the areas with koala populations and extends the protection from 10 to 65 tree species in nine regions of New South Wales, given that these animals, whose name in the Aboriginal language means “no drink”, lives on trees and gains the moisture content they need from the leaves.

When it was made public last year, the plan was criticized by WWF Australia, which argued that it did not go far enough by not curbing the logging of trees, but other sectors have criticized it for the opposite reasons.

The plan has angered state farmers because it limits the decisions they can make within their properties, forces them to engage in more bureaucratic paperwork, and reduces their chances of cutting trees.

The SEPP “jeopardises landholders’ ability to prepare for the bushfire season as it makes it illegal for farmers to maintain fire breaks that are effective in fire resistance and prevents clearing of regrowth that fuels fire spread,” the New South Wales Farmers Association said in a statement on Friday.

“NSW Farmers is not opposed to koala conservation. In fact it’s farmers that are doing more than their fair share of amazing conservation work protecting koalas across NSW,” it added. EFE-EPA


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