How koalas threaten to split the Berejiklian government

 

A Nationals MP has threatened to quit the ­coalition and throw Gladys Berejiklian's government into turmoil over proposed green tape that risks strangling drought-recovering farmers with arduous "koala checks".

A six month behind-closed-doors fight between the Liberal and National arms of Ms Berejiklian's cabinet is erupting into a full-blown brawl with Nationals leader John Barilaro also investigating parliamentary options to bring a bill to counteract new koala-saving regulations from Liberal Planning Minister Rob Stokes.

The Koala Habitat Protection State Environment Planning Policy (known as a SEPP) has increased the number of species that trigger koala checks and ­restrictions on land use activities from 10 to 123, and ­expands the responsibility of landholders to conduct time- consuming and costly koala assessments on private land.

 

Protection for koalas after the bushfires of last summer has divided the state government. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
Protection for koalas after the bushfires of last summer has divided the state government. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images


The Nationals and farming lobby groups believe the regulations limit the ability of farmers to build, subdivide land and clear trees for farming work, with even in some cases silos being included in draft koala habitat maps.

Minister Stokes has ­already made some concessions, and said last night he was open to further negotiations if they were based on science, however the Nat­ionals say the regulations will kill farming communities.

"This is such a significant issue for my electorate I have to draw a line in the sand; I won't stand by and see ­regional communities and livelihoods decimated over something that won't save ­koalas anyway," Nationals MP for Clarence Chris Gulaptis said. "My position is I would not be part of the government if this goes ahead - I would still be a member of the Nationals and I would sit on the cross bench."

Mr Gulaptis, whose Clarence electorate is home to forestry, farming and timber industries, said they were "the best custodians of the land" and "loved koalas while ­people in the city had decimated the population".

 

Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis says he would quit the government if the koala plan goes ahead.
Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis says he would quit the government if the koala plan goes ahead.

 

Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Nationals Minister Adam Marshall have lobbied Ms Berejiklian and Mr Stokes for six months on the matter, but Mr Barilaro yesterday said the Nationals feared it had "fallen on deaf ears".

Mr Barilaro said he had "huge concerns" about property rights and farmers. Mr Marshall last night described the SEPP as a "gross overreach" which would "mean the end of NSW farming".

Mr Stokes said he was seeking to strike a balance ­between conserving koala populations and the rights of landholders, and that he was willing to make amendments based feedback when it supported by science.

 

Grazier Kim Fenley on a wooded area of his property, on which he says he has never seen a koala. Picture: Liam Driver
Grazier Kim Fenley on a wooded area of his property, on which he says he has never seen a koala. Picture: Liam Driver

 

"Striking a balance is rarely as easy as we would like it to be, especially with an emotive issue such as this one," the Minister said. "The fact is our treasured koala population is in decline and we needed to take action to address this."

Upper Hunter grazier Kim Fenley said he has worked on his land for two decades and never seen a koala, but now every tree was covered by new koala habitat maps and regulations.

"There is a lot of uncertainty, we don't know what it will cost. These government workers are sitting in offices and no one is doing a proper on the ground assessment of the land," he said.

The issue was raised at The Daily Telegraph's Bush Summit by NSW Farmer's Association CEO Pete Arkle.

Originally published as How koalas threaten to split the Berejiklian government


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