THe announcement was made in a manner Australians have grown to expect from election years. Scott Morrison, the prime Minister, snuggled up to a furry marsupial while promising record-breaking investment.
It was a plan by the Australian government to spend $50 million to improve the protection of and recovery of the koala, one of Australia’s most beloved animals.
It is significant to have fifty million for one species, especially when you think about $10m in grantsThis will be shared among 100 animals and plants that the government has identified as priorities in a new threatened-species strategy.
However, whether it makes a difference in turning around an animal’s fortunes that a New South Wales Parliamentary inquiry found could die in that state by 2050 is dependent on a number of outstanding policies and decisions due to be made in 2022.
Alexia Wellbelove (HSI Senior Campaign Manager) says money alone is not the answer to saving the koala.
A strong conservation framework is essential.
Plugging holes in sinking ships
Much has been written about the recovery of the Koala after bushfires destroyed millions of hectares of land in Australia’s black fires in 2019-20.
The koala was already a prominent species in conservation campaigns for stronger environmental protections. However, their plight was made more urgent after images of starving and burned animals were shown around the globe.
HSI, WWF Australia, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare all argue that the species is rapidly approaching extinction due to the combination of multiple ongoing threats, global warming, disease, and habitat destruction.
They submitted a nomination to federal government asking it to urgently evaluate the koala population of Queensland, NSW, and the Australian Capital Territory in order to be upgraded under national environmental laws.
They stated that the koala, which has been listed as vulnerable since 2012 is now facing the more serious threat of being endangered because of continued declines in habitat and population numbers.
They also called upon the Morrison government for a recovery plan, which had been required by Australian laws since 2012, but has not been delivered by successive Australian governments.
The nomination was accepted for evaluation and the threatened species committee, an independent body that advises government on conservation listings, recommended that the koala is officially listed as endangered to Sussan Leey, federal environment minister.
Ley received the final version of a recovery plan proposal around the same time for ministerial approval.
Ley, unlike other past ministers in the portfolio has shown willingness to accept deadlines and the recommendations of the scientific body. Her decision regarding the endangered listing, which must be made by mid March, is expected to be made soon.
A spokesperson stated that Ley was reviewing the advice from the committee and would make a decision in accordance her statutory obligations. They claimed that the minister was also reviewing the final draft for the recovery plan.
Rebecca Keeble, IFAWs regional Director, said that conservationists have lost patience nearly ten years after a national strategy for saving the koala was abandoned.
We need to understand the strategy to save this species, and what it will cost. $50m is just one drop in the ocean.
We are just plugging holes in the sinking ship without addressing the root cause of their decline which is habitat loss, climate change.
No new steps taken to protect koalas
All levels of Australian government have recognized the need to change the trajectory of koalas.
However, destruction of koala habitats is not stopping and development in key areas like Campbelltown in Sydney’s south west continues to be approved.
Data from the Queensland Government and NSW Government shows that land-clearing continues to rise in both states.
Matt Kean was the NSW Environment Minister in the past. He declared that he wanted the state to have twice the number of koalas by 2050. This came shortly after a parliamentary inquiry revealed that they were on course for extinction.
He also stated last year that the government would Spend $193mOver a five-year period, a statewide plan was developed for koala conservation.
Despite the fact that a previous strategy was abandoned in the middle of 2021, this plan, also known as the NSW Koala Strategy, is still to be seen.
Nearly 18 months after the NSW Coalition was nearly split by koala habitat management, new codes for land management were promised.
These policies will be addressed by the new ministerial team of James Griffin (environment, agriculture minister, Dugald Sunders, and Paul Toole, deputy premier.
Jacqui Mumford (acting chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW) says that the NSW government has not taken any real steps to protect koala habitat.
The council brought together a group wildlife carers, who called upon the Perrottet government last year to increase habitat protections in order to reduce the number animals ending up in hospital, sometimes for life. Repeat visits.
Jacqui says that we really want to see the release of the long overdue koala strategies.
Griffin spokesperson said that detailed targets for koala population and expenditure would be part of a new strategy for koalas, but did not give a date.
They stated that the government was also reviewing PNF (private natural forest) codes of practice to ensure strong protection for koalas.
All species require more
The Morrison government announced $50m last week. It includes $20m for habitat protection and health projects, $10m to support community activities like habitat restoration, $2m for koala health, $1m koala care, treatment, and $10m to fund a national monitoring program for koalas.
This monitoring program is an extension to a koala auditor it announced in 2020 with funding of $2m.
Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns caused delays in surveys for the koala count. The government then gave the program to CSIRO last year.
It anticipates that the audit will be completed by late 2022.
The overarching protections for koalas and all Australian wildlife at a national scale are still to be resolved.
In 2020, Graeme Samuel, former head of competition watchdog, conducted a once-in-a decade review of federal environment laws and found that successive Australian governments had failed to fulfill their duty to protect Australia’s environment.
Samuel made 38 recommendations to reform the act, including a proposal to establish new national environmental standards that will ensure clear outcomes for Australia’s animals and plants.
The government has not yet responded to any of those suggestions. Instead, they drafted a bill to reduce its role in environmental decision-making by allowing state governments to carry decisions under the national law. Unfortunately, the bill has been stalled in Senate.
Samuel had in mind the better protections in the draft set national standards that was presented by the government last January.
Wellbelove states that if there were good national environmental standards that focused on environmental outcomes, it would be possible to stop the destruction of koala habitat.
Jess Abrahams is a national nature campaigner with the Australian Conservation Foundation. She says the $50 million was welcome and a sign that the government recognizes the seriousness of the decline in koalas.
He says that the task for all threatened animals in Australia is much greater.
The December edition of International Union for the Conservation of NatureIt added 124 new Australian species to its red-list of threatened species. This includes spiders on Kangaroo Island, which were severely affected by the summer fires.
Australian environmental laws list almost 2,000 threatened species and habitats.
The government’s state of the environmental report, which is produced every five years, is due in early 2012. It is expected to show that the declines have continued.
Abrahams states that the PM took a photo with a Koala, which is a cute and cuddly animal.
But there are many species out there that aren’t charismatic like the Kangaroo Island spiders. I don’t see how that money could be going to them or any other species on our endangered species list.
We must do so much more.