The Federal Government had no credible science to support a sudden increase in their Victorian Koala population estimate in 2011, while considering whether to protect the species nation-wide.
To be eligible for a Vulnerable listing under the federal laws, specifically the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, Koalas had to have undergone a 30 per cent decline in numbers over 20 years. AKF is confident the Victorian and South Australian Koalas should have been included in a federal listing.
During the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) deliberations following the 2011 Senate Inquiry into the Status, health and sustainability of Koala populations, the Federal Government’s 2010 estimate of 73,000 Koalas in Victoria was suddenly boosted to 200,000, with no supporting science.
The consequences of tripling the number to 200,000 was that the national decline was only 29 per cent - below the 30 per cent needed to secure a listing.
If the 73,000 estimate had been maintained, the national Koala population decline would have been 36 per cent, making the Koala eligible for listing across the country.
Deborah Tabart OAM, CEO of the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) believes the “numbers game” was done deliberately to avoid a national Vulnerable listing for the Koala.
"I saw this fudging first hand in a Senate hearing in August 2011 in Melbourne, bureaucrats were counting on their fingers and scribbling on the back of envelopes to come up with magic numbers. It was clear to me that something was wrong then and time has proven me right," Ms Tabart said.
“It’s all on the transcript, and there’s absolutely no science to support the 200,000 estimate,” she said.
“Why shouldn’t Victorian Koalas receive the same protection as Koalas elsewhere, particularly now as we see them being moved, translocation and sterilized,” she said
Ms Tabart said that AKF’s concerns are validated in the report from the TSSC, where it states that that ‘no formal estimate was provided (to the Federal Government) and thus the Committee has had to consider a broad range of estimates as plausible and to consider the influence of those values on the determination of the national trend’. (Read it here, page 28)
“In plain speak that means the Federal Government didn’t have any data available to support increasing Koala population estimates in Victoria, so deliberately selected a number to ensure the pre-determined outcome they were looking for.
“That is, Victorian Koalas missing out on being listed,” she said.
Ms Tabart also said that Government Koala population estimates in Victoria have fluctuated multiple times over the past two decades, with little consistency and no evidence to support the numbers.
“In 1995 a figure of 180,000 Koalas in the Strathbogie Ranges in Central Victoria was used to deny better protection for Koalas.
“It was acknowledged at the time that this figure was not based on any actual research, but simply the opinion of a Government researcher, but that figure was cited when declining to list the Koala in that year.
“Fast forward to 2010, and then this this figure was ignored when a 73,000 State-wide estimate was released,” she said.
AKF’s Koala population estimates, which Ms Tabart said is based on millions of dollars worth of self-funded research, put Victoria’s Koala numbers somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000.
Ms Tabart also believes that the recent Victorian Koala Count should cause a great deal of concern.
“The Victorian Environment Minister has called it a ‘successful Koalas count’, but sighting 313 Koalas should be a sign that all is not well.
“Sadly, the historic obsession of the Victorian Government on Koala isolates like French Island, Mt. Eccles and Cape Otway, fragmented areas where Koala do appear to be in abundance, has blinded them.
“While the focus has been so heavy on these areas, Koalas are slipping away across the rest of the State.
“I call on Minister Hunt to immediately ask Minister Neville to re-evaluate Koala numbers and prove that the Victorian Koalas do not need Federal Protection," she said.
**Please note: Although AKF thinks that the EPBC Act is flawed, we believe all Koalas deserve equal protection **