Hello Koala lovers,
If I was the Prime Minister, what I would do first is enact the Koala Protection Act (KPA). The AKF has written this legislation in consultation with the finest legal minds in the country and also from the United States. It is based on the Bald Eagle Act. We have tested the logic of the legislation against every circumstance that has hurt Koalas I have seen over my 31 year career. What is so logical about the KPA is that it places the onus of proof on the proponent who wishes to clear Koala habitat. It is my personal view that companies that have sustainability at the forefront of their business should not fear new legislation. Currently it is our communities who have to fight to prove that a project is unsustainable. Farmers having to prove that industry will not contaminate their food production or make it unviable. Communities downstream of irrigators that are growing crops that may not now be sustainable (and probably never were) in this changing world face huge uncertainty.
Roads and housing developments are built in an unsustainable fashion. What is the most galling about the fires is that developers have built in Koala habitat, and as a result Koalas have been taken into hospital. Some of the Koalas may visit a hospital three times before finally dying in landscapes that are now dangerous to them. So, what happens next is the caring individuals in the hospitals return Koalas to safe bush landscapes that are now burnt. At the latest count approximately 1,650,000 hectares has been burnt in New South Wales alone. Not all of that will be Koala habitat and it could take months before we know the true extent of what has happened in those landscapes. I fear for the winds and the heat that is coming as this is now only our third day of summer.
Healthy river systems are absolutely synonymous with healthy Koala populations. If I was the Prime Minister, I would understand that everything is inter-related and that unless the Murray Darling Basin and all other rivers are allowed to do their work in the ecological landscape, then Australia’s food and future is scarily at risk. These fires are just a pre-cursor of what is to come. Let me paint a picture of Australia before white settlement. Fires at that time were in an Australia that had more forest, which meant more canopy (nice word for shade) which had decades/centuries of leaf litter that stayed moist. There were also no European weeds which these days have become some of the "fuel loads". Fire that traversed the landscape in forests of the east coast of Australia (of which only 20% is left) met rivers, creeks and floodplains which stopped them becoming the firestorms of today. Australia has never seen fires like these and there are more to come.
If I was the Prime Minister, I would send marketing teams into communities to work out how our country towns and communities can rebuild their futures. I would understand that times have changed and that historical thinking about Australia’s riches need to be re-thought.
I think I would also like to remind the Prime Minister that in 2012, the Koala was listed as Vulnerable to extinction under the EPBC Act. What should have happened is that a Recovery Plan should have been written. It was supposed to be finalised by 2014 and still has not even been started. I am sad to say that 14 Environment Ministers over my tenure at AKF have met with me or ignored me; heard our story and done nothing. I say to the current Environment Minister Sussan Ley who says she wants "rapid koala mapping" that the Koala Habitat Atlas maps I sent her when she first took office are that already and her Department (and all the same Departments in the States too) continue to ignore them because they are too accurate. Like all politicians she is looking for a quick fix that will make everything look like it is ok. Spending money on band aid solutions, even good band aids (because the hospitals and clinics need the support) is not going to change the systemic problems which has caused these fires in the first place.
What I want you to know, our proud supporters, is that I am more determined than ever to get on with my job and that is to speak out. Over the last few weeks as the fires raged, I got a lot of opportunities to say what I think and the key message is “the Koala is in trouble”. It was interesting to see who opposed what I said and honestly, they have the right to say their piece.
So, I am looking forward to next year when the Koala Manifesto will be published. It has taken longer than we thought because it is so hard to condense 31 years into a few pages. I want the book to be about solutions and I think the Koala Manifesto will help to change the narrative. I am so tired of the “same old same old” things being said in the media. The solutions for Koala management and protection are simple really; don’t cut down the trees and ensure that those trees have plenty of water. That of course is the hard part because there are a lot of people who want to take that water and also cut the trees down.
Thank you for your continued support. My team and I are very proud to have you as our great inspirations. I feel I speak for you all.