1st November 2011

Yesterday, without much fanfare, Minister Burke announced that he would yet again delay the decision on whether to list the koala until 17th February 2012. I imagine he was hoping the Australian people and media will more interested in the Melbourne Cup – a famous horse race which runs today.

Minister Burke's press release:

Monday 31 October 2011
Decision date for koala threatened species listing extended

Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, today extended the due date for his decision on whether to add the koala to the list of nationally threatened species, following new information and the recommendations of the Senate inquiry.

Mr Burke’s decision was due at the end of October but he will now make his decision by 17 February 2012 to allow sufficient time to consider the new information and to seek further advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee in light of new population data.

'Significant new data was presented to the Senate inquiry in relation to koala populations in Australia’s north,' Mr Burke said.

'The Scientific Committee hasn’t had the opportunity to deal with this data. This provides the opportunity to keep the process moving'.

'The aim of the Senate inquiry was to fill some of the knowledge gaps and assess the threats to and management of koalas across the country.'

In September 2010, the scientific committee advised the Minister not to list the koala, due to insufficient data. In addition to the new findings in the Senate inquiry, new information has become available in the year since the Committee’s advice.

This includes evidence of more significant population declines than previously identified and more severe threats to the national koala population than those considered by the Committee, particularly in the koala’s northern range (Queensland and New South Wales).

'The results of this Senate inquiry have been valuable to inform this very important decision I have to make under national environment law,' said Mr Burke.

'I’m not going to rush such a crucial decision. There are ways of dealing with different Koala populations in different parts of the country'.

'I want the Committee to provide me with advice inside the new deadline.'

ENDS

If I get out my crystal ball for 2012 what I can predict is:

  1. that the Minister will announce the koala will be listed as Conservation Dependant under the EPBC Act – which sounds great, but means nothing, and puts us back where we started with Minister Garrett nearly two years ago.
  2. that a Workshop of some sort will be held to 'evaluate for the first time the numbers of koalas in Australia', rather than accept and acknowledge AKF’s assessment and years of work.
  3. that the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) says it has not had enough time to evaluate the problem and needs more money for endless research which could take years. And worst of all...
  4. that the Minister will announce the protection/listing of some small group of koalas and make it look like 'all is well' and ignore a national listing.

What the Minister has not said in his press release is that in the Senate Report, both his Committee and his Department were criticized strongly for not being thorough enough in their deliberations, and I know this to be true.

The words I have highlighted in red (above) are the words that warn AKF that the Minister has, in fact, already made up his mind about what to do, and that is to appease the Victorian Government to not list the koala because it will upset logging interests in that State. It is also interesting to note that the New South Wales State Minister has recently said that 'logging is good for koalas'.

I am also very concerned that Minister Burke is not going to accept AKF’s offer to help with mapping of koala habitat. I hear on good authority that within days of AKF sending that offer (see previous Diary), the Minister called a group together to discuss 'mapping'.

I wonder too whether this has something to do with my enquiry to the Minister’s Department about a 'mapping workshop' that should have been held in 2010 under the auspices of the National Koala Management Strategy. Who knows whether it was actually held, but I guess not; nothing else under that Strategy has happened except the shuffling of paper, and no leadership or action.

With the holiday season approaching us and on a happier note, the AKF was recently hosted by the Governor of Queensland to celebrate our 25th year anniversary. Her Excellency Ms Penny Wensley hosted a diverse group of koala supporters and her speech will ring long in our ears. She praised us for our incredible diligence and our commitment to the scientific process, and encouraged us to keep on with our endeavours into the future. We will, but as I write these words, I have completely lost faith in the 'political process'. I can confidently assure you, that even after thousands of dollars of tax payer funds have been spent on the Senate Report, the Minister is actually not listening. He is choosing the bits out of the report that will allow business as usual.

We should all be outraged and we are.

Deborah