The New South Wales Labor party will establish a new national park stretching from Kempsey to Coffs Harbour in a bid to save the state’s endangered koala population.
On Thursday the opposition leader, Chris Minns, will announce that the party will re-commit to establishing the “great koala national park” on the NSW north coast, which could see an area of about 300,000 hectares of key habitat for the native species protected from logging.
The park, which Labor has promised in the past two state elections, is likely to anger the timber and logging industry, which has previously claimed it would cost the state thousands of jobs. Other estimates claim the park would add about $1bn to the state’s economy over 15 years.
Labor has sought to head off criticism by promising an initial $80m to first carry out consultation and an independent economic assessment of the park’s “impact on local jobs and communities”.
Environment groups have long called for the park, which would be created by linking about 140,000 hectares of existing national parks with about 170,000 hectares of state forest. The land is estimated to be home to about 20% of the state’s wild koala population.
Labor said it won’t commit to the size of the park immediately – nor the potential cost of compensation for the logging industry as a result of the transfer of state forest land – but will use “expert scientific advice” to guide its establishment.
In February last year Australia’s koala population was officially listed as endangered, a step environmental groups said came after a decade-long failure to address habitat destruction since the animal was first listed as threatened in 2012.
In 2020, a NSW parliamentary inquiry found the species would be extinct in the state by 2050 unless governments took urgent action to protect its habitat.
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Minns said he wanted to turn the animal’s “grim trajectory around”.
“I don’t accept that one of our most loved and iconic native species could become extinct here in just 28 years’ time,” he said.
“By protecting the places these koalas live, and by working closely with all stakeholders, we can ensure we bring these incredible creatures back from the brink.”
Labor will hope the announcement also shifts attention to the government’s record on the animal. The Coalition faced an existential threat in 2020 when former deputy premier John Barilaro threatened to move the Nationals to the crossbench over a land clearing bill.
That conflict threatened to rear itself again in November last year, when the Nationals proposed new legislation that would strip councils of their powers to regulate native forestry operations on private land. The bill was quickly dropped after a revolt from moderate Liberal party MPs.
The animosity resulting from the battle over land clearing within the Coalition led former MP Catherine Cusack to publish text messages from former premier Gladys Berejiklian which she said showed a “deal” had been done with the Nationals to allow for weaker land clearing laws.
“After 12 years, six environment ministers, the weakening of environmental protections and koala wars between the Liberals and Nationals, koalas are now listed as endangered,” Labor’s environment spokesperson Penny Sharpe said.
On Thursday Labor will also announce that it will transfer ownership of a series of wildlife corridors in Woronora Heights in Sydney’s south from Sydney Water to the National Parks and Wildlife Services.
The water authority caused local outrage in 2021 when it presented plans to subdivide the land for development despite evidence it contained koala habitat. Those plans were shelved late last year.