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Monday, 22 February 2021
Page: 1069


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (10:32): I rise this morning to speak in favour of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Save the Koala) Bill 2021. This is an important piece of legislation which this chamber needs to consider, because for far too long the plight of Australia's iconic furry friend the koala has been ignored. Last summer's bushfires ripped through parts of the Australian bushland in a way that we'd never seen before. Sixty-one thousand koalas were killed and much of their habitat was destroyed. This piece of legislation seeks to stop the further destruction of the limited amount of koala habitat that is left. For far too long, precious koala habitat has been allowed to be destroyed due to mining, big property development, logging and other types destruction. Couple that with the destruction of last summer's bushfires, fuelled by the climate crisis, and Australian koalas now face extinction. It is just unthinkable that, on the east coast of New South Wales, Australia's koala could be extinct within the next 30 years. It is just unthinkable that this iconic creature, which right around the world is considered so emblematic of Australia's wildlife, bushland and environment, could be gone, to exist only in zoos as a reminder of what used to be. We need to act now and we need to act fast. The biggest threat to Australia's koalas is the destruction of their homes, their habitat. As less and less habitat is available we see the koalas moving closer and closer into urban areas. This puts them at further risk of harm and injury. When the bushfires ripped through the Australian forest, bushland and scrub this time last year, the images of burnt koalas, dead koalas and injured wildlife went around the world and shocked people right across the globe, because it was just such a fundamental destruction of what Australia is known for.

Under the 22-year-old environment laws currently in place in this country, under the EPBC Act, koalas have lost almost one million hectares of critical habitat. Overall at least 7.7 million hectares of critical habitat has been destroyed, specifically for mining and development, over the last two decades—enough is enough. There is not much home left for the koala. We need to protect that which exists. Of course, this is an important issue not just for the koala; this is important for the rest of Australia's wildlife and native species too, because if we are to protect koala habitat it protects the homes of many other animals as well. For far too long we have simply let rip, let log, let dig, let destroy Australia's precious places and our environment. If you destroy the bushland, if you log forests, you're taking away the very homes of these animals.

At present, despite how at risk these animals are, the government refuses to guarantee that not one more hectare of critical koala habitat will be lost, and that is shocking. When everybody knows—in the government, in the minister's office, in the department, amongst the experts and those who work carefully and considerably and hard every day to protect our wildlife—that koalas are facing extinction, how can the government continue to allow the destruction of habitat? This will fast-track the extinction of this iconic species.

Indeed, the government has done the exact opposite. Despite 61,000 koalas being killed last year, the environment minister has continued to sign off on, give approval to and give a green light to the destruction of even more koala habitat going forward—doing the exact opposite to what needs to be done. It is not good enough to want to stand and have a photo with the cute koala at Australia Zoo or at Taronga or a number of the other wildlife sanctuaries and then to turn around and to sign the death warrant of these creatures by allowing the destruction of their homes from big mining companies and developers.

The environment minister's job is to protect the environment, to make sure there is a check and a balance on those who just wish to just cut, dig and destroy senselessly. These koalas need the protection of this environment minister, and currently the environment minister has failed. The Threatened Species Commissioner, the expert and the key adviser to the minister herself, told this Senate in November last year that the biggest threat to koalas was habitat loss and the degradation and fragmentation of their homes.

The environment minister knows what she needs to do. The environment minister knows what needs to be done to save these koalas from extinction. The environment minister needs to stop approving the destruction of their habitat through mining, development and logging projects. The ongoing destruction of koala habitat through land clearing for agriculture, development, mining and forestry is currently unchecked and has been going on like this for decades and decades. And now we have a situation where, unless we act today, there will be no koalas in 30 years time. Perhaps there will be a few in zoos, perhaps there will still be an opportunity for a politician to have their photo shoot with a cute and cuddly koala, but there won't be any living in the wild and there won't be any in our Australian bushland.

The New South Wales parliament last year was so exercised by this issue that they conducted their own inquiry. They found evidence, time and time again, that, unless koala habitat was protected, these animals will become extinct. It just beggars belief that no-one in this place, no-one in the government, is seizing the opportunity to do the right thing. Saving Australia's koalas is not just important for protecting our wildlife. It is important in our further challenge in tackling climate change—because, as more and more koala habitat is destroyed, less and less forest and bushland is protected, thus making climate change even worse.

Last summer's 'climate fires' were a wake-up call to the Australian community. They were a wake-up call for all of us. We were pretending climate change is something out there in the distant future, but it was right here on our doorstep. Canberra itself was engulfed in hazardous smoke for weeks and weeks on end. Sydney, Australia's biggest city, was engulfed in toxic smoke for weeks and weeks on end. Towns and communities throughout the eastern seaboard, southern Victoria, the Gippsland region and my home state of South Australia were devastated by the fury of the flames. And while we might be able to rebuild, reconstruct our homes and put our communities back together—although that takes time—our native animals are gone forever. The three billion native animals destroyed in this fury of fire destruction are gone forever.

There is very little Australian koala habitat left. All this bill is seeking to do is put in place a moratorium to stop the minister from being able to approve any more destruction of it. There should be no more bulldozing of the trees that koalas live in, no more logging of the trees and the bushland that koalas and their fellow species rely on, no more destruction of koala habitat for the sake of a quick buck for the mining industry and big property developers. For far too long, these big corporations have brushed away the long-term impact of destroying these important pockets of bushland. 'Oh, koalas can go and live somewhere else,' they say. As the minister signs on the dotted line, she says: 'Yes, you beauty, you can log there; you can mine there; you can bulldoze there,' expecting that the koalas will simply be able to pack up their bags and move next door. We need this country to get serious about protecting our environment and what is left of it.

We lead the world, shamefully, when it comes to our list of threatened species and those that are already on the extinct list. That's not a league table I want Australia on and neither do most Australians. The Australian people ask us to debate a lot of complex issues in this place. This isn't one of them; this is not a complex issue. This makes perfect sense. There's very little habitat left. If we want to save Australia's koalas from extinction, we need to protect their homes. We need to stop the chainsaws and stop the bulldozers. We need to protect our iconic species not just for their sake but for the sake of every other species that relies on native bushland, native scrub and protection from destruction. I commend the bill to the Senate.