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Speech: Koalas & the Brandy Hill Quarry

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 6 Oct 2020

Last week I visited Port Stephens to meet with community members who have been raising the plight of koalas in the area, in particular the destruction of 52 hectares of prime koala habitat for expanding the Brandy Hill quarry. Thank you to Brandy Hill & Seaham Action Group, Port Stephens Koalas, EcoNetwork and countless people who have been campaigning with passion, with commitment and with resilience to save our irreplaceable wildlife. They are rightly concerned about the irreversible loss of koala habitat and koalas in this area if this mine expansion is allowed to go ahead.

In New South Wales, at least 5,000 koalas died in the climate-induced bushfires earlier this year. Since the Liberal-National government in New South Wales introduced their land-clearing laws, under which 99 per cent of koala habitat can be chopped down, we have seen a 13-fold increase in land-clearing approvals. Even before these disastrous laws, koala populations had already shrunk by one-quarter over 20 years, according to the New South Wales chief scientist. We are sitting on a time bomb here. Koalas are facing extinction by 2050 if we don't take urgent action.

My fear is that, if we continue on this trajectory, our next generation will not see any koalas in the wild, in the bush, in our national parks. The only koalas that they might see will be in a zoo or a museum. That would be devastating. An Australia without koalas; that doesn't even bear thinking about. But not only must we think about it, we must do everything possible to prevent it. That's why it is crucial that the federal Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, rejects the proposal to expand the Brandy Hill Quarry. She has the power to do something good here. This is the time to stand up for the environment, not against it, in contrast to the reckless, irresponsible New South Wales government, which fast-tracked the approval of the quarry expansion a couple of months ago, knowing full well that it will affect koalas and other endangered species such as the grey-headed flying fox.

The Port Stephens koalas are at high risk of local extinction. The koala survey report completed on behalf of the developer found that the project would result in a significant impact to the koalas. A recent assessment of the impact of the quarry expansion on the koala and its habitat, undertaken by experts from the University of Newcastle, found koalas breeding within one kilometre of the current quarry boundary. Expansion of the site will be a disaster for koalas, as it will destroy critical habitat. No amount of biodiversity offsetting can bring back habitat that has been destroyed. Offsetting is a total and complete scam. Once a critical habitat is gone, it's gone forever. We also know that there's no quality assurance process and no appropriate system to map offsets and that offsets for some matters of national environmental significance are increasingly not possible due to lack of suitable locations.

You can't say koalas are a national treasure and then green-light their destruction. It was so hypocritical of the New South Wales environment minister, whose government fast-tracked koala destruction, to then turn around and effectively ask Minister Ley to stop it. It's also an admission of wilful wrongdoing, and that's exactly what the New South Wales government do again and again, egged on and held to ransom by their junior partners, the koala-hating, anti-environment Nationals. I note the recent revelations that New South Wales Nationals leader John Barilaro insisted that logging continue in state forests after the devastation of the bushfires and against the pleas of the New South Wales EPA. The koala implosion they had a few weeks ago shows us the rot that is at the heart of the National Party when it comes to the environment. They don't even pretend to care anymore. They are completely disconnected from the people they represent. They are nothing but greedy, hollow men.

Luckily, we still have laws under the EPBC Act that are a line of defence against weak state environmental protections. The fate of the Port Stephens koalas is now in the hands of Minister Ley. You have the power, Minister, to save these iconic koalas. I know you care for animals. As the environment minister, you have an obligation to stop the decline and demise of koalas. There is only one decision that you should make: reject the Brandy Hill quarry. The koalas and future generations will be forever grateful.

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