Koala Conference brings the community one step closer towards the creation of the Great Koala National Park

James Sherwood and Danielle Ryan, NPA Conservation Campaigners

NPA NSW played a key role in organising the Koala Conference (29 October 2022) in Coffs Harbour last month, including organising two special side events for the community. On Friday 28 October, we hosted a meet and greet for local businesses and private landholders with politicians, and on Sunday 30 October, we hosted a Koala Family Picnic in the Botanical Gardens. These events featured in all the main local media platforms, taking up four pages of the local paper, including the front page. 

A momentous occasion

Community groups and politicians came together to organise the Koala Conference to ensure the threat of extinction of the koala is front and centre of the NSW election this coming March 2023. This sell-out event has been hailed a success, with 180 scientists, conservationists, wildlife carers, and concerned citizens travelling from around the state of NSW to meet in Coffs Harbour.

The event took place in a region which has been in the media spotlight of late for serious illegal logging breaches by the public’s own Forestry Corporation. For example, Forestry Corporation was fined $285,000 for destroying koala habitat in Wild Cattle Creek State Forest in June 2022. Citizens, including NPA NSW members, have been documenting the horror of harm to NSW’s centuries-old trees in state forests — core habitat and food trees for koalas and other vulnerable wildlife.   

A unified voice

NPA NSW was a member of the Koala Conference Organising Committee, which included the Hon. Catherine Cusack (retired Liberal NSW MLC), Independent MLC Justin Field, WWF-Australia, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and the North East Forest Alliance. This unusual alliance of politicians and community groups shows that support is blossoming for the urgent action to save the koala. The call to action evolving from the conference centre included the urgent need to end logging in koala habitat, support for the creation of the Great Koala National Park, and stronger regulation and increased funding to protect koala habitat on private land. 

What was discussed at the conference?

Speakers at the conference made it clear the NSW state election in March 2023 will be a decisive moment for koala conservation. The focus was on the state government’s controlling land use policy, including forestry, national parks, development, and native vegetation on private land.

NPA NSW’s CEO Gary Dunnett and President Grahame Douglas where among high profile speakers, including renowned koala scientist Dr Steve Phillips, who has studied koalas across the state for over 40 years. Dr Phillips depicted a vivid picture of the devastating decline he has witnessed during his lifetime. He said our fluffy national icon is on a slippery slope to extinction. 

Ms Cusack, who convened the conference after leaving parliament in August over the issue of the koala, shared her experience in government which she argued had failed to protect the koala.

Ms Cusack told NPA NSW in an interview that the conference delegates would like the public, when engaging in conversations as a democracy with candidates, to ask the legitimate questions — “What are you going to do to save koalas? How are we going to improve our policies?”

“If we all ask this, we will see the wave in party policy that we need — all of the parties can improve their policies.”

She also said she is a big fan of NPA NSW’s Great Koala National Park.

“It is a very innovative idea,” said Ms Cusack.

“From Coffs Harbour’s point of view, it will be a massive economic boon in terms of marketing this as a place. Australians can go on a beautiful bushwalk in temperate rainforest and actually see koalas in the wild.”

The Hon. Penny Sharpe MLC, Labor Shadow Environment Minister, made a commitment to taking genuine action to save the koala. In addition, she made a commitment to the 30 by 30 target to protect a third of the land and the sea by 2030 and to tighten land clearing regulations — actions which could save the koala and a range of vulnerable native wildlife from extinction.

She told the conference Labor will prioritise the completion of the National Parks Establishment Plan.

“First cab off the rank of formalising that plan will be the creation of a Great Koala National Park,” said the Ms Sharpe.

Ms Sharpe told NPA NSW in an interview that koalas must be an important consideration at this year’s election.

“If we don’t take action very soon, koalas are on track for extinction in the wild in 2050. I don’t think there is one person in our community who thinks this is a good outcome,” said Ms Sharpe.

Cate Faehrmann, Greens MLC and Chair of the Parliamentary Inquiry into koalas and their habitat, announced to the conference that The Greens will bring a bill to parliament before the end of the year which would immediately halt logging in all koala habitat in native state forests and transfer these lands to the conservation estate.

Greens MLC Sue Higginson, who will bring the bill to parliament said that the current situation is ‘pretty shocking’.

“I’ve been working on the front lines in the legal system for some time, in our courts and now in our parliament, trying to protect threatened species, particularly the ones really at the edge of extinction. We have learned today the koala is in such a dire position. Extinction by 2050 is something we can’t allow.”

Environment Minister James Griffin sent a video message to the conference, highlighting the Government’s $190 million investment through the NSW Koala Strategy. 

Local business owner hands over letter by business to politicians

NPA NSW also organised a meet and greet for business with politicians at the local Surf Club and Bar in Coffs Harbour, which was attended by Ms Cusack, Ms Higginson, Coffs Harbour Deputy Mayor Sally Townley, and Labor NSW state candidate and local councillor Tony Judge. There were special addresses by tour operator Graham Tupper, General Store Emerald Beach Co-Owner Louis Riley, and by Rob Thomas, who owns a large estate with koalas residing on it in Valery.

Mr Riley handed over a letter from businesses in support of the Great Koala National Park — an incredible 65 local businesses have pledged their support for the park. Mr Riley said that his community wants to ensure politicians take adequate steps to protect the much-loved koala, which is iconic to the region.

“My business is dependent on a thriving and healthy natural landscape. I see the benefits that protected areas bring first-hand. I own a local café situated in a regional park — tourists from around the world stop by and buy food and coffee, while also asking the question ‘where can I find koalas and kangaroos?”

Families come together to support the Great Koala National Park

Families also gathered on a rare sunny Sunday in the Botanical Gardens to raise awareness about the need to protect koala habitat and create the Great Koala National Park. NPA NSW organised a Koala Family Challenge as a fun way to help educate and engage families on this issue, such as encouraging families to go on a hunt in the Botanical Gardens to find koala food trees and take photos. We also held a competition for the best koala poem or song. Two families shared two wonderful poems and were both crowned winners. Winners Makenna (aged 9) and Sahra (aged 10) would like to share their learnings from the day in a poem: 

“Koala so cute
They do not eat fruit
They sound like a pig
When they are males and big
Look out for their scats
You’ll not get a pat
They are not a bear
So please take care
Koala koala 
Let’s look after them.” 

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