03 August 2011

I am starting to lose faith in the Senate Inquiry process after Monday’s hearing and I believe all the koala people in the gallery feel the same.

Senator Doug Cameron who attended the two previous hearings, was ill on Monday so he joined the inquiry via telephone for the morning.  As usual he asked innovative and probing questions of those present.  Senator Fisher was not there and two new recently elected Senators, Senator Bridget McKenzie and Senator Richard di Natale, have now been allocated to the process.  Senator Brown chaired for Senator Cameron, who did not return after lunch.

Over the three hearings I think you could say that all those “in favour” of protecting the koala were articulate, modest, respectful and have shown the Senators the gravity of the koala situation Australia wide.  That was certainly the case this time.  And just like the previous speakers from the “other side” -  those wanting business as usual appeared to be ill prepared and lacking in information, other than their usual “I want things to stay the same”.  

I pre-empted in my previous diary that Victoria would be different and it was.  Not only because of the fact the Victorian Government feel the koala is a pest and should be removed from forests, but that Minister Burke’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee appeared before the Senators.  Only four of them and to respect their privacy I am not going to name them.

After hearing their responses about why the koala should not be listed and why they have recommended to the Minister on several occasions that it shouldn’t be, I really feel there is no hope of getting the koala listed under this process.  The EPBC Act is broken and doesn’t work.  Basically the koala doesn’t fit the boxes.  It would fit the box if there were only 100 left.  It would fit the box if every one of them had been counted, and it would particularly fit in the box if we had the mitochondrial DNA from thousands of koalas, so that we know if they are genetically identical or not.

As I sat there listening and feeling the unrest of the koala gallery who have, for years, picked up thousands of dead koala bodies, I had to wonder why these scientists who have such power in their hands had not gone out and taken the samples from those thousands of dead koalas.  Why haven’t they?  Because they sit in an office somewhere thinking about boxes they have to tick and their lack of reality is so overwhelming to me right now that I can only dwell, deep in the night, on the koalas dire future under their regime.
Not one piece of evidence has been given to the Senators that has not said the koala is in trouble.  As I watched one of these scientists bandy around koala numbers like chess pieces (he came up with 73,000 in Victoria alone), I also had to listen to the Minister’s Committee say “there is no scientific information or mapping to give any indication of koala numbers in Australia”.  So this map of ours, costing $8m funded by you, was completely ignored.  Why?  I think I could live with them saying they do not agree with what we have produced, but to ignore it completely galls me beyond belief.

You may remember that some years ago we made public an email showing the Australian Government had no data to counter AKF, and Minister Garrett at the time had to endure great worldwide embarrassment over it.  Here is the email again.

Minister Burke, your Threatened Species Scientific Committee at the Senate Hearing were beyond the pale, and in due course we will link their responses from the Hansard so the whole world can see they “fiddle while Rome burns”.
It is time for a National Koala Act.  Even if the Senators recommend a listing, I am confident Minister Burke will ask this Committee to advise him again, and they will say no.  Every Senator on this Committee needs to hear that this is a serious issue, and one that Australians and koala supporters worldwide will not tolerate any further.  Write to them on the links above.

On a very positive note, when I went to the Otway Forest I got to see what I regard as a beautiful healthy koala population.  During my spotlighting at night, I saw mums, joeys, and heard the joyous sound of large male koalas bellowing in the night while we camped under the gum trees.  It reminded me of my childhood.  Around 5 a.m. I went out again and there, sitting in the tree about one metre from my cabin, sat two little koalas huddled together.  I wondered whether they sat there thinking of their fate with those big fellows around in breeding season or they just love to hang out together.  Both I suppose.  It was so dark so I couldn’t photograph them, but I will never forget it and it will drive me even further to show that the koala is more important than just filling in the right boxes.   I have never seen this in my lifetime, but May Gibbs, a famous Australian painter, writer and poet, obviously had when she drew this image in the early 1900's:

I also saw dead trees in the Otway Forest - I have seen dead trees all over this planet.  If fire destroys these dead trees, and if our Governments do not grapple with the complexities of why our bush is dying, then it will be many generations before our children will see koalas like this again.  Instead of demonizing the koala, we have to look at the root cause of these tree deaths.

Please make your feelings known to our government.

Regards, Deborah