How to fight a development in your local area
The Australian Koala Foundation is frequently contacted by members of the community concerned about developments taking place in their local area. And, like those that contact us, we want to see the trees and the Koala protected. But the sad truth is that the laws of this country do not protect Koalas. The AKF cannot help stop a development that will have a significant impact on Koalas because there is currently no law that will let us help. When people contact us about development, one of the first bits of advice we give is that, “the presence of Koalas will not stop this development.” That is why the AKF is committed to the Koala Protection Act, a simple piece of Federal legislation that will provide meaningful protection for Koalas across the country. If you want to help see this happen, please join the Koala Army.
The trees are coming down
If the trees are already being knocked down, it is likely too late to protect a site. The time to take action is before any approval to clear has been granted. Once a proponent has permission to clear trees from all the relevant agencies, there is little that can be done to stop the clearing.
Of course there is one caveat. If trees are being knocked down without the permission of Local Government (and in some instances State Government), then any clearing may be illegal.
Your first step should be to contact the Local Council to report the clearing and ask the clearing to be halted until Council have investigated. Sadly in numerous previous situations, Councils have been slow to react, and it is only because concerned residents have taken action that trees have been saved from clearing.
Some helpful suggestions
You need evidence that Koalas are using the site; take some photos of Koalas using the site, and any Koala scat you can find under trees. Register your sightings at KoalaMap.
In Australia, three levels of Government may have a role to play in protecting Koala habitat from development.
The Local Government Planning Scheme should be your first port of call. Is the land zoned for environmental purposes? What permissions are required before clearing can occur?
In New South Wales and Southeast Queensland, there are specific policies in place to protect Koalas.
The sad truth, however, is that if proponents play by the rules, and fill out the right forms, there is no legislation in Australia that will prevent tree clearing. Contact the relevant State environmental agency and ask them to check whether the clearing is in compliance with State Government requirements. Note though, that there have been over 10 Koala policy and guideline documents introduced in Queensland since 1995, and populations have still declines by as much as 75% in some parts of Southeast Queensland; these policies are often little more than window dressing, designed to give the impression of action, while imposing as few restrictions on development as possible.
The Federal Government listed the Koala in New South Wales, the ACT and Queensland as a threatened species under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This should have resulted in greater protection for Koalas in these states, but the general rule of thumb has been, if there is a loophole, the Government is happy to let development proceed.
Have a look here to see if the action has been referred. If it has, you can see the current status of the referral, and whether Federal approval has been granted. If not, and clearing/development is occurring, contact the Department’s Compliance area to report a potential breach. Note however that the Federal Government is not concerned with some instances of clearing, in particular areas of less than two hectares. You can get more information on what types of development the Government is concerned with here.
Current Koala legislation is focussed on attempting to protect large blocks of habitat. One consequence is that other threats to Koalas are largely ignored. For example, there is little legislation available for protect small patches of habitat or single trees from small development, such as mobile phone or NBN towers. There is also no legislation protecting Koalas from the flow-on effects of development on cleared land, such as increased traffic or dogs which may impact neighbouring Koalas. Only the Koala Protection Act will protect Koalas across the country.