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Monday, 22 February 2021
Page: 1077


Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (11:13): I rise to speak to the bill introduced by Senator Hanson-Young to save the koala and to put a moratorium on clearing of koala habitat. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Save the Koala) Bill 2021 is an urgently needed bill. Our koalas face extinction by 2050. Make no mistake; it is the Liberals and Nationals sitting opposite us here, and the ones that sat opposite me in New South Wales, who are killing our koalas. It is your hands that have the blood of koalas on them.

I remember the joy of seeing my first koala in natural habitat. We used to frequently see these amazing and unique animals in our front yard in Port Macquarie during the day and hear them loudly grunting at night. But those days, sadly, are long gone. And this is a town which used to be the koala capital of New South Wales, if not Australia. If governments continue to make reckless, irresponsible and greedy decisions that keep pushing koalas to the brink of wipe-out, our future generations will only see them in museums, and that is an absolute tragedy.

Koalas across the state are being driven to extinction not by some natural phenomenon or some evolutionary phenomenon; they are being driven to extinction by rampant land clearing. They are being driven to extinction by human-made global warming. They are being driven to extinction by ecocide. The terrible reality is that where I see magnificent trees and beautiful bush with glossy black cockatoos, powerful owls, eastern water dragons and koalas, all the Liberals and Nationals and their political donors—big mining, big development and big agriculture—see are dollar signs and a commodity to be ruthlessly used and abused. You are all environmental vandals.

The climate-induced bushfires of 2019 and 2020 destroyed more than 12 million hectares and killed more than a billion animals and devastated communities. The loss of koalas during and after New South Wales bushfires is one of the most significant biodiversity disasters in our history. Now, even when we have lost so much habitat and wildlife, even when swathes of our bushland and millions of animals have been destroyed, forests are being opened up for logging. This loss is made much worse, because of the disastrous New South Wales land clearing laws pushed by the Liberals to appease the Nationals that I and many others fought hard against. It's under these laws that 99 per cent of koala habitat can be chopped down. They have already resulted in a massive 13-fold increase in approvals and land clearing.

We already know that koala habitat is badly fragmented, making it even harder for the species to migrate and survive. New South Wales is leaving no stone unturned in making this even worse. They recently fast tracked the approval of the Brandy Hill quarry expansion, knowing full well that it will affect koalas and other endangered species such as the grey-headed flying fox. We know the Port Stephens koalas are at high risk of local extinction, yet they gave a green light for their destruction.

If you come further south, the Campbelltown local government area in south-western Sydney is unique as it supports a growing and chlamydia-free koala population in the Sydney Basin. But does the Liberal-National government give a damn? Of course they don't. Communities in south-west Sydney who care about these koalas are fighting the Lendlease Mount Gilead development in the Campbelltown LGA, which will destroy the current transit points of koalas between the Georges River and the Nepean River, and make it near impossible for koalas to travel between these river corridors.

The federal government has not lifted a finger to stop the destruction of koala habitat. In fact, you facilitated it. We know that only 10 per cent of the koala habitat cleared in New South Wales and Queensland between 2012 and 2017 was assessed by the federal government, despite national environmental laws requiring the protection of threatened species. Habitat clearing was again and again approved by states, and developers were not referred for assessment to any level of government. Surely these facts point to better and stronger oversight by the federal government, but, in the parallel universe that the Liberals and Nationals live in, they are doing the exact opposite. You want to hand over even more power to states. Your solution to this reckless destruction of the environment is the streamlining environmental approvals bill, which is much better described as the let's-kill-the-koalas-quickly bill. You want a one-stop-shop. You just want to fast track land clearing. You just want to fast track extinctions. I hope that the opposition and the crossbenchers care about these national treasures enough to support Senator Hanson-Young's bill to stop this major threat of land clearing and fragmentation facing koalas by putting a moratorium on clearing koala habitat. We will not be giving up our fight to save the planet or for all creatures, big and small, that call it home. I commend the bill to the Senate.