Singh keeps powder dry over koala crossbench threat
THE political destiny of two North Coast MPs remains delicately poised after a dramatic few days in NSW politics.
Coffs Harbour MP Gurmesh Singh stayed tight-lipped on this morning's events which saw the deputy-Premier John Barilaro back down from his threat to lead almost the entire National Party to the crossbench.
It came after the Premier Gladys Berejiklian made it clear National Party members would lose their ministerial portfolios if they followed through with the threat - brought on by concerns over a new koala State Environmental Planning Policy.
"I am a member of the National Party and a member of the Government at this time and I don't want to add anything further to that," Mr Singh said.
Last week, Mr Singh backed his North Coast Nationals counterpart Chris Gulaptis who said he would consider moving to the crossbench over concerns he had with the koala SEPP.
When asked about Planning Minister Rob Stokes' claim in a Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece there were a series of "mistruths being pushed out there" about the SEPP, Mr Singh said the issue was one of 'fixing loopholes".
Mr Stokes said suggestions that farmers could not build feed sheds or driveways on their farm without a koala study were untrue and they could continue with routine agricultural practices without the need for development consent or a koala study.
"If the SEPP is used the way it is intended to be used, then the Minister is right, but what the guidelines and the SEPP do is leave open loopholes and possibilities for the SEPP to be used differently," Mr Singh said.
"We want to close those loopholes so only core koala habitat is mapped as core koala habitat. "Because at the moment the guidelines allow for other land that is not core koala habitat to be mapped as such.
"We are not against the SEPP … it is about clearing up that grey area."
As to why the National Party had taken such a dramatic approach to the policy which had only been in effect for six months, Mr Singh said they had been trying to "clear this up behind closed doors" for many months.
"The effects of this may not be felt for another decade, but nonetheless it is a policy we think needs tightening up."
The issue of the koala maps has been a sticking point for the National Party and many in the timber industry, who say the maps are unclear and so broad they cover areas like jacaranda-lined streets of Grafton and the Coffs Harbour CBD.
"These maps are just so wrong even in these well defined public areas," Mr Singh said. "And if they are so wrong there, how wrong are they going to be over the rest of the electorate and the state?"
However, when asked about the confusion in March, the Department of Planning Industry and Environment said areas like CBDs would not be affected.
"The Koala Habitat Protection SEPP is only triggered when the pink map captures land one hectare or more. Smaller lots, such as those in CBDs, will not be affected," a spokesperson said.
"The Site Investigation Area for Koala Plan of Management Map (blue map) assists councils by identifying where councils should look for core koala habitat in their LGA's while preparing their Koala Plans of Management."
Meanwhile, the Chair of the recent Koala Inquiry, Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said it was reassuring to see the NSW Premier and her Planning and Environment Ministers taking the findings and recommendations from the inquiry seriously.
That included not giving in to an ultimatum to weaken koala habitat protection laws by the Nationals.
The Koala Inquiry reported in June with the key finding, supported by all members of the Committee including government members, that koalas will be extinct by 2050 unless the government takes urgent action.
"The Inquiry found that the ongoing loss and fragmentation of koala habitat poses the most serious threat to koala populations and that koalas in the wild in NSW cannot be guaranteed unless the government takes further action to protect their habitat," she said.
"It's extremely reassuring to see that the Premier has listened to the sobering findings from the Inquiry and is beginning to act upon the recommendations which were supported by all sides of politics.
"The updated Koala SEPP doesn't impact farmers that much. Farmers will still be able to clear koala habitat on their land under the Native Vegetation laws which have already been wound back to please the National Party."