Nature NSW Winter 2022

Gary Dunnett, Chief Executive Officer NPA 

In this edition of Nature NSW our newly appointed Conservation Campaigners, Danielle Ryan and James Sherwood, describe a forum NPA hosted in Coffs Harbour that asked Federal candidates about their views on the Great Koala National Park (GKNP) proposal.  The forum took place the night before a site visit to the GKNP by the NSW parliamentary inquiry into the future of the forest products industry. 

I was lucky enough to attend both the candidates’ forum and the Upper House committee’s field trip.  Now, acknowledging that comparing other peoples’ reaction to any situation is always problematic, I must say that the two experiences offered a fascinating insight into the realities of the political process.

The candidates’ forum had a simple objective – to extract a clear statement from each federal candidate about whether they were prepared to actively support the establishment of the GKNP. The sitting Nationals’ MP declined the invitation to attend and didn’t provide a statement.  Of the remaining candidates, Labor, Greens and One Nation offered strong support for the GKNP, while the independent and Liberal Democrats gave conditional support.  The only real surprise from a policy perspective was the supportive statement by the One Nation candidate. 

So, no real surprises on a policy front, but what was really pleasing was the way in which the candidates approached the issue of the GKNP.  Even those who wouldn’t offer outright support were remarkably positive about the concept, acknowledging and even welcoming the growing grass roots support for the proposal.  Now of course part of being a candidate is doing your best to secure the endorsement of your electorate, and we shouldn’t be surprised that they were sensitive to the mood of the audience.  Even so, I found myself very heartened that, at least amongst this group of aspiring parliamentarians, the merits of the GKNP concept are cutting through.

The field inspection the following day was very different. Rather than a community hall in the Coffs CBD, we met in the decidedly ‘leechy’ Pine Creek State Forest:  listen, offer a brief comment or observation then back to pulling the blood suckers off your lower limbs was the order of the day. 

I’m sure the leeches weren’t the only reason why the mood of the meeting was so different to the night before.  These weren’t candidates, but seasoned parliamentarians, well versed in their party’s respective platforms and engaged on one of the more challenging policy questions confronting NSW, the future of the forestry industry, and most particularly, the future of our public native forests.  Far more reserved, their questions focused on the nature of current forestry activities across the region (and how this might differ from what they’d been told by Forestry Corporation), the environmental impacts of forestry, especially in relation to koalas, and what would be involved in managing the region under a national parks model. 

All very serious, but on reflection I realised it was even more encouraging than the previous evening’s forum.  Why?  Because this diverse group of parliamentarians was not just asking questions about whether logging or conservation would be the future of the GKNP, but what would be involved in the transition from unsustainable levels of logging to the protection of koalas and their forests.  Whatever this particular committee ends up recommending to government, the discussions make it clear that the debate is finally shifting from the polar question of alternative futures, to asking what has to happen to make the change towards conservation. 

This may be an overly optimistic interpretation of the other’s intent, but it does leave us with a question we must ask of all political aspirants, whether in preparation for the ballot box or in their role as our representatives – what practical steps are you going to take to give nature a chance?

In this edition