Last week I found myself asking the question - Which is more precious: a koala colony or a new coal mine?
In NSW, the state government's Planning and Assessment Commission has given the go-ahead for the new Maules Creek Coal Mine. In doing so it has approved the destruction of large tracts of valuable koala habitat in North West NSW for a massive open-cut coal mine proposal that would destroy 2,000 hectares, or around 2,800 football fields, of forest.
Even though the area is mapped as 'tier one biodiversity land' in the NSW Government's own strategic regional land use policy, and the project's Ecological Impact Assessment states that the mine could have a substantial impact on local biodiversity and threatened species, they have given the mine the go ahead.
The Leard Forest is the largest remaining biodiversity refuge on the already heavily cleared Liverpool Plains. It's home to a koala population that will have nowhere else to go if the proposed Maules Creek coal mine goes ahead. Now only the federal government stands in the way of the bulldozers.
Across Australia koalas and the forests they call home face growing pressures from logging, mining and developments that are destroying koala habitat, piece by precious piece. They need stronger federal protection than ever before.
Koalas in NSW, Queensland and ACT have been listed as a vulnerable species. They are under threat because their habitat is fast diminishing. Each new development and mine threatens the future of the species.
My NSW colleague Cate Faehrmann recently visited the Leard Forest and saw first hand just why this forest is too precious to lose, when she spotted a koala sitting low in a tree.
These koalas deserve our care, our foresight to protect their habitat for the future survival of their species. Along with the koalas, 25 other threatened plant and animal species are also at serious risk of losing their habitat if the Maules Creek mine goes ahead, especially the critically endangered white box gum woodland.
Minister Burke could reject the proposed Maules Creek mine under our federal environment laws. But as we know he is actually preparing to trash most of his own powers at a Council of Australian Governments meeting on December 7.
Big business and mining giants think it should be easier for them to dig, chop down and build whatever and wherever and they want, and sadly it looks like Minister Burke and the Labor party agrees.
We need stronger federal environment laws to protect koalas and their precious native forest habitat.
Many koalas have the great misfortune to live in native state forests that are still being heavily logged to feed the dying woodchip industry. People are rightly horrified when they learn that vital koala habitat is still being clearfelled to create woodchips, even though the bottom has fallen out of the international woodchip market.
The native forest logging industry still holds extraordinary and undue influence over state governments. Because of the federal government's toothless Regional Forestry Agreements (RFAs) the states can continue to approve logging in forests that provide precious koala habitat. The recent listing of the koala in NSW, QLD and the ACT as a vulnerable species does not give them protection from logging.
We need people power to push koalas to the top of the government's agenda. I know the Members in both Labor and the Coalition parties in this chamber would care deeply about the future survival of the koala.
I urge you to work in your party to help build cross party support for better protection for koalas and their habitat, for nationwide listing of koalas as a vulnerable species, to end to native forest logging in state forests where koalas live, and for federal funding to better monitoring of koala habitat and populations to ensure their long term survival.