Farmers important in govt koala rescue bid

Farmers are needed to help save the NSW koala population

Opinion
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Promoting koala populations requires cooperation, not command-and-control governance, writes Mal Peters.

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THE heavy hand of big brother government is alive and kicking in NSW.

If the government wants to increase the number of koalas an intelligent and successful approach would be to embrace farmers, who own 82 per cent of the land mass of NSW.

Activating farmers in protecting and planting new habitat would deliver huge results.

The NSW government's approach of belting farmers with a big stick called a State Environmental Planning Policy would be the last tool to use, because as SEPP 46 demonstrated in 1994, it simply did not work.

The three coastal koala management areas may well be justified because of the massive impact of urbanisation on koala habitat.

West of the Great Divide, where koala numbers are sparse, a smarter approach would be to engage farmers with ecosystem services where farmers are very keen to preserve natural capital in balance with economic sustainability.

Environmental preservation is important but must be in balance with food production, particularly in times of Covid, where food security is increasingly important.

Working in a dingy Sydney office where your horizon is football fields rather than broad-acre farms you might kid yourself command-and-control works, but history has shown all it does is get under the skin of those who own 82pc of the land, and you need them on side.

The National Party voted in support of the changes, then months later when its members woke up to what they had done, threatened to leave the coalition over the issue.

But the lure of ministerial white cars was too strong, and all they achieved was letting the premier know she can call their bluff.

The problem is SEPP policies in time will override all environmental legislation, so it will rapidly become the standard for all farmland management in NSW.

This issue arose when the World Wildlife Fund released a report stating koalas would be extinct by 2050, partly because of the bushfires that burned about 7pc of the state's land mass.

Perhaps we should be guarded about the WWF study without peer review?

The WWF is an environmental lobby group whose very existence is to tell everyone the sky is falling in.

I have no problems with that role, however caution should be exercised as such groups tend to overreach in many of their statements.

Farmers will get a good laugh as cypress pine is posted as one of the trees to protect koalas.

It would be a bloody hungry koala chewing on cypress needles.

Perhaps the time has come to review how incompetent public land management is, given 37pc of our national parks were recently burnt out, killing thousands of koalas.

I am not aware of any farmers who were approached when these surveys were done. Excluding most of the state's landholders may mean this work is badly flawed.

Farmers strongly support protection of koalas and with encouragement would plant millions of trees to aid their preservation.

But if governments are going to fall back into the command-and-control model that history has proven does not work then koalas may remain threatened.

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