EDO Qld is concerned the process being undertaken by the government is not sufficiently strong to bring about strong protections for our koala populations, following the release of an interim report by the Koala Expert Panel on 10 March 2017.
The Koala Expert Panel was set up in late 2015 by Minister Miles through the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection with the purpose of providing ‘expert advice on the most appropriate and realistic actions to reverse the decline in koala population sizes and ensure the long-term persistence of koala populations in the wild within south east Queensland’.
The creation of the Panel was spurred by the findings by the Uniquest report ‘South East Queensland Koala Population Study’ which demonstrated significant declines in koala populations in the Koala Coast area (80%) and Pine Rivers (54%) between 1996 and 2014.
The Koala Expert Panel consists of the following people:
- Associate Professor Jonathan Rhodes from the University of Queensland
- Dr Alistair Melzer from the Central Queensland University’s Koala Research Centre
- Mr Al Mucci, Director, Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation.
- Ms Antra Hood, Partner, Minter Ellison.
Outcomes of the Interim Report
The Interim Report is intended to identify the key issues which have been threatening koala populations, including mapping and monitoring, planning laws, strategic policy settings and the management of threats. Failures are reported in the following areas:
- ‘Overarching policy and management issues include: lack of a strategic regional vision; an over-reliance on the planning regulation as the sole solution; inadequate resources for management of existing threats and recovery.
- Planning issues include: existing planning and vegetation management legislation is only capable, at best, of slowing habitat loss and impacts on koala populations; the complexity of the regulatory framework; inability of the legislation to address cumulative impacts; the SPRP being too limited in scope; and problematic implementation of the offsets framework.
- Mapping, monitoring and research issues include: existing habitat mapping is inadequate and inconsistent; monitoring and evaluation is inadequate; there is lack of understanding of the distribution and dynamics of rural koala populations and their habitat.
- Governance issues include: inadequate coordination; limited acknowledgment of variation in institutional arrangements and koala conservation needs across SEQ; regulation, education and extension has failed to modify community and institutional behaviour’ (Interim Report p4);
The Expert Panel were first tasked with reviewing and reporting on a number of immediate actions development by the Queensland Government before the Panel was established, being:
- a habitat mapping project with the aim of improving koala habitat mapping in SEQ;
- a revised ongoing monitoring program; and
- the creation of two koala precincts in SEQ.
The Interim Report provides the recommendations of the Panel, which broadly support these initiatives, however making additional recommendations. One recommendation includes the creation of Koala Conservation Landscapes at a landscape scale (e.g. thousands of hectares) that include legislative protections and direct reduction of threats, rather than koala ‘precincts’, which are considered smaller areas less able to ensure the long term persistence of the koala in South East Queensland.
More work needed by the Expert Panel for this process to be fruitful
EDO Qld is concerned that the process being undertaken by the government is not sufficiently strong to bring about strong protections for our koala populations. For example, a moratorium on the clearing of koala populations in South East Queensland would assist in ensuring what little koala habitat that remains is protected while the Expert Panel and the Department finalise their work, particularly in improving the mapping.
The work of the Expert Panel is regrettably not occurring at a pace such that it can feed usefully into the current planning reform process, including particularly the draft State Planning Policy, draft State Development Assessment Provisions and draft South East Queensland Regional Plan. The Panel acknowledges in the Interim Report that the timing of their work does not coincide with the public consultation already undertaken for the new draft State Planning Policy and draft South East Queensland Regional Plan. The Report states that the Panel has focused their comments on the planning framework that is already in place; stating ‘broader comments about the suitability of this [new planning] framework will therefore form part of the Panel’s final report, rather than being contained within the specific comments on the existing SEQRP and the SPP frameworks that will be provided in February 2017.
Also, as the report acknowledges but does not yet address, the failings of the environmental offsets framework must be addressed by the Expert Panel through clear recommendations for the strengthening in the reliability and transparency from assessment to outcomes of offsets allowed through this framework. Much of our environment and planning assessment and approval system in Queensland now relies on the functioning of the environmental offsets framework, which includes the ability to offset impacts to koalas. This framework therefore must be greatly improved to ensure beneficial results for koalas.
The final report is due by 30 June 2017.