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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 26054

Senator CHERRY (7:56 PM) —I rise to bring the attention of the Senate to the plight of Australia's most famous icon, the koala, particularly in Queensland's south-east corner, where they are under increasing pressure from fast-paced and short-sighted development. Local, national and state authorities seem either unable or unwilling to ensure that new development within the koala habitat is progressed in an appropriate manner.

The koalas in Queensland's south-east corner are recognised as one of, if not the, most important remaining native population of koalas in Australia. Despite this recognition, the area of habitat suitable for these iconic animals continues to be degraded and fragmented, despite the high international profile and popularity of the species. It is almost a decade since the federal government's Threatened Species Scientific Committee recognised that the koala was clearly declining in parts of its range. At that time the scientific committee committed to reconsider the koala's status under federal law again in 2000.

On July 27, the federal Minister for Environment and Heritage received from the Koala Foundation a public nomination to list the koala as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. I urge the minister to ensure the current backlog of public nominations does not impede the progression of any species deserving federal protection, particularly koalas. The level of scientific and public concern about the koala's status continues to grow, as was evident in the national media a couple of weeks ago when the Australian Koala Foundation lodged its public nomination. The United States has already recognised the vulnerable status of the koala under its Endangered Species Act, and not without good reason.

In March, the Queensland government, acting on its scientific advisory committee's recommendation, upgraded the koala's conservation status to `regionally vulnerable' in the south-east corner. While the Democrats consider that the reclassification of the species, as advised by Queensland, must be recognised as a step forward for the species, we do not believe that destruction of precious habitat in the south-east Queensland bioregion has stopped as a result of the Premier's announcement of the reclassification.

The Democrats believe that the koala must be recognised as a matter of national environmental significance, if not because of its rapidly declining status, then because of its huge importance to Australian culture and tourism. We believe that, in light of the significant impact that the pace and scope of urban development is having in south-east Queensland and the effects of both land clearing and climate change in other important koala habitats such as the Pilliga Scrub, much more needs to be done to ensure the koala is adequately protected.

To illustrate the threat that habitat destruction currently poses to south-east Queensland's koala population, I point to the proposed development of an area abutting the Daisy Hill State Forest in Logan City, known as the Shailer property. This is an area of prime koala habitat—indeed, it is part of the state government's gazetted koala conservation area. In its original considerations, the Logan City Council recommended that any development should include construction of a detention basin, that food trees should be planted in an open space area for the koalas and that no dogs or cats should be kept without council approval. That development application has not been acted upon.

The Shailer area, now known as the Dennisvale estate, is one of very few substantial areas remaining that can provide a safe haven for these koalas. It is not the only area in south-east Queensland that is under threat. I also draw your attention to the work of Save Our Sunningdale Koalas, a small community group who are objecting to a subdivision of a number of housing blocks in their street. They believe that the planned subdivision will destroy natural gum trees on the site and will kill off the remaining koalas. The residents describe the area slated for subdivision as `a small island of tall trees in the middle of suburbia'.

On 20 July, the Logan City Council received two development applications for the two large chunks of rural land along Daisy Hill Road. The first application, by NCR Securities Pty Ltd, dealt with the Shailer property. It proposed turning a 48-hectare site into 180 residential lots, which would double the residential density allowed under the current town plan. The second application, by Venture 2 Pty Ltd, proposed 22 allotments on an adjoining lot, which would increase the density. This site is vitally important to koala populations in Logan City. It is bound by the Daisy Hill State Forest on two sides. At present, most of the land is bushland, with a small part cleared for the Shailer farm. The area is contained fully within the gazetted koala conservation area and is protected and gazetted under the Local Government (Planning and Environment) Act 1997. That planning policy sets as its objective:

Important koala habitat should be protected from inappropriate future developments and changes in land use, without affecting existing uses and development rights or removing development commitments.

Although the current Logan town plan has included some development on the site since 1993, the doubling of the density and the sites proposed under the two new applications run completely contrary to the provisions of the koala conservation area planning policy. If this policy is to have any meaning, not only should the application for increased density be refused but also the state government and the Logan City Council should take steps to ensure the full protection of this large and important site. The property borders the Daisy Hill State Forest on two sides and is the largest piece of freehold native vegetation in the Logan City area.

I have written to the state Premier and urged him to follow through on his government's commitment to ensure appropriate open space and to recognise that koala populations in southern Queensland are vulnerable. I have asked him to use the full powers of the state government to act and to prevent the very pro development forces on the Logan City Council from approving this development application. If the rezoning application is approved, the developers will receive a multimillion dollar windfall in increased land value, making it almost impossible for a future state or federal government to buy the land for conservation purposes.

While I note that the developers propose to hand over about a quarter of the land as an addition to the Daisy Hill forest, the development proposal includes a substantial increase in the amount of land that, according to the current town plan, can be developed. In the decade 1995 to 2004, there were 9,424 koalas admitted to the Moggill Koala Hospital in Brisbane for treatment. The majority of these koalas were injured on roads or by domestic animals such as dogs. Of those admissions, at least 6,000 were confirmed to have died. This is a species that is dying in significant numbers in habitat already fragmented and under challenge from urban development.

In June this year, the Queensland government estimated that there were about 25,000 koalas remaining in south-east Queensland. The Premier also recognised that the proximity of urban development to koalas and their habitats is of greatest danger to them. Injury to almost 10,000 of them in a decade and the deaths of the majority suggest a species in dire straits. If the koala conservation area and the reclassification of koalas as `regionally vulnerable' is to have any meaning, the state government needs to ensure that the full spirit of its planning policies is fully complied with by the Logan City Council. At the very least I believe that the state Environment Protection Agency should commission a fully independent environmental impact statement on the proposal, with full reference to the state and the national koala conservation plans.

If the National Koala Conservation Strategy, agreed to by the Commonwealth and state governments in 1998, is to have any meaning, then the federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage should be doing all he can to project the integrity of Australia's most important koala conservation area. Fast-tracking the `vulnerable' listing would be a major first step, and I urge the minister to do that. What cannot be tolerated is doing nothing while the developers in Logan City win a multimillion dollar windfall from a pro development city council providing a rezoning and development approval. The community and the koalas are the losers from doing nothing. If this application proceeds, Australia will see a significant chunk of the most important habitat of its most iconic marsupial destroyed. From that point of view, the Democrats are determined to assist the local residents in their efforts to make sure that Logan City Council, the Queensland state government and the national government do what needs to be done to protect the koalas of Logan City and south-east Queensland.