Adjournment speech, 20 November 2012
The following video and text is the second part of an adjournment speech. The first section dealt with the issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the blockade of Gaza.
Back in Australia, on a critical local issue, last week I found myself asking the question: which is more precious, a koala colony or a new coalmine? In New South Wales the state government's Planning Assessment Commission has given the go-ahead for the new Maules Creek coalmine. In doing so it has approved the destruction of large tracts of valuable koala habitat in north-west New South Wales from a massive open-cut coalmine proposal that would destroy 2,000 hectares or around 2,800 football fields of forest, even though the area is mapped as tier 1 biodiversity land in the New South Wales 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. It has given the mine the go-ahead. The Leard forest is the largest remaining biodiversity refuge on the already heavily cleared Liverpool Plains. It is home to a koala population that will have nowhere else to go if the proposed Maules Creek coalmine 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 pressure from logging, mining and developments that are destroying koala habitat piece by precious piece. They need stronger federal protection than ever before. Koalas in New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT have been listed as a vulnerable species. They are under threat because their habitat is fast diminishing. Each new development and mine on or near koala habitat threatens the future of the species. My colleague Greens New South Wales MP Cate Faehrmann recently visited the Leard forest and saw firsthand just why this forest is too precious to lose when she spotted a koala sitting low in a tree. Ms Faehrmann said despite overwhelming health and environmental arguments against it, the New South Wales Planning Assessment Commission approved the mine on 25 October. This disgraceful decision demonstrates the New South Wales planning system is weighted heavily in favour of big mining.
This represents a serious test for Mr Burke, the federal environment minister.
These koalas deserve our care and 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 preparing to trash most of his own powers at a Council of Australian Governments meeting on 7 December.
Big business and mining giants think it should be easier for them to dig, chop down and build whatever they want wherever they want, and sadly it looks like Minister Burke and the Labor party agree. 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 felled 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, the states can continue to approve logging in forests that provide precious koala habitat. The recent listing of the koala in New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT as a vulnerable species does not give them protection from logging. We need people in power to push koalas to the top of the government's agenda. I am sure there are senators in both Labor and the coalition parties who care deeply about the future survival of the koala. I believe saving koalas can be an issue for cross-party action. I hope we can work together for better protection for koalas and their habitat, for nationwide listing of koalas as a vulnerable species, for ending native forest logging in state forests where koalas live and for providing federal funding to better monitor koala habitat and populations to ensure their long-term survival.