To be eligible for a Vulnerable listing under the federal laws, specifically the EPBC Act, Koalas had to have undergone a 30 per cent decline in numbers over 20 years. The Australian Government found they had declined nationally by 29%. Victorian and South Australian Koalas missed a federal listing by 1%. Where is the science to support that 1%?
Government estimates of Koala numbers in Victoria – indeed nationally - have waxed and waned as it suited the politics. In 1995, a figure of 180,000 was bandied around for one area of the State, the Strathbogie Ranges in Central Victoria. It was acknowledged at the time that this figure was not based on any research, but simply the opinion of a Government researcher (the science apparently suggested a figure closer to 50,000), but the Government of the day accepted 180,000, citing that figure when declining to list the Koala that year.
Then in 2010 numbers changed again, perhaps on a politic whim… There was international pressure to protect the Koala, and given that a Vulnerable listing would be dependent on population estimates from 1995, Koala estimates in the Strathbogie Ranges suddenly became a problem for those in Canberra. The Government realised that the 1995 figure of 180,000 was far more than their 2010 state-wide figure of 73,000 Koalas.
So what did they do? Simply pretend that the 180,000 figure had never existed. All of a sudden it became >100,000, with caveats.
And that would have been the end of things, if not for the 2011 Senate Inquiry into the Status of the Koala.
New research presented to the Senate Inquiry highlighted significantly lower Koala numbers in Western Queensland. As a result, Koala declines would be greater than 30 per cent nationally, and the Koala seemed eligible for a national listing.
But that wouldn’t work for the Federal Government… And so a new figure was plucked out of the air - the Victorian Koala population was not 73,000, but suddenly 200,000.
Why then was 200,000 chosen as the new estimate?
If 73,500 had been used, national declines would have been 36 per cent, and the Koala would be eligible for listing nationally. The Victorian Koala population had to be boosted all the way to 200,000 to offset the declines in Western Queensland. With this new figure, national declines over 20 years fell back to 29 per cent, meaning the Koala was no longer eligible for protection in Victoria (and as a consequence, South Australia). You then have to ask: Why the Government did not want that listing?