In 2011, when the Liberal National Coalition was voted into power, the koala was not listed as endangered.
Twelve years on, the marsupial is on track to be extinct in the wild in NSW by 2050. The Liberal Party was unwilling to stand up to its smaller Coalition partner, the Nationals on issues such as land clearing. One-time Nationals Leader John Barilaro is alleged to have described the animals as “tree rats”. Even more perverse, while Mr Barilaro was happy to see native marsupials vanish from the state forever, he went to great lengths to ensure feral horses destroying alpine country were protected.
During the Coalition’s three terms in power, land clearing increased threefold. According to the 2021 State of the Environment report, the number of species in NSW threatened with extinction grew by 18 to 1,043 since the previous report in 2018. Sixty-four per cent of mammals in NSW were found to have suffered long-term reductions in their habitat range.
The election of the Minns Labor Government gave the Environment portfolio a higher priority, with the party’s Leader in the Legislative Council, Penny Sharpe, taking on the role.
During the 2023 election campaign, the NSW Labor Party promised $80 million to establish a new national park to help conserve koala habitat in the Mid North Coast.
The Government has started implementing the plan, with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) purchasing bushland covering 4500 hectares near Port Macquarie.
Since the Government was elected, Ms Sharpe has also honoured a pledge to connect wildlife corridors through Heathcote National Park and Royal National Park to help preserve the species.
The Minister ended plans to build new housing on land owned by Sydney Water, protecting the koala colony living there.
“The creation of these parks is great news for koalas and the future generations of people in NSW who will be able to see the animals in the wild,” said PSA Industrial Officer Michael Sinclair. “However, any extension of national park lands needs more staff on the ground.
“The previous government pretty much declared war on NPWS staff, with 1700 positions restructured.
“Senior Ranger numbers were decimated. Fire Management was severely cut back with all senior positions gone and Pest Management staff halved.
“One bright point under the Coalition was the creation of the Koala Management Strategy, which had about 30 staff moved from temporary to full-time roles thanks to advocacy by the PSA.
“The new Labor Minister has committed to continuing this body.
“Judging by the Minister’s early days in the role, we are confident that the species’ decline can be reversed. It is vital, though, that the huge cuts to staff numbers be fixed and that any new parks have enough boots on the ground to perform this vital job for the future of NSW.”