Dr Oisín Sweeney
Senior Ecologist, National Parks Association of NSW

As the dust settles after the NSW election, NPA is taking stock of what the result means for forests and the Great Koala National Park.

Unfortunately, new logging laws, underpinned by new Regional Forest Agreements that were signed by the Prime Minister and Premier in late 2018, are now governing the management of public native forests, despite broad opposition to both throughout the consultation processes. As covered on many occasions in Nature, NPA considers these new laws to be extremely regressive, and the dual commitment upon which they were founded (no reduction in wood supply and no erosion of environmental values) appears to be unachievable. In the end, wood supply was clearly prioritised and environmental values compromised. However, the reality is that the NSW government is unlikely to change direction on forests, so NPA will seek to use other avenues to protect forests and achieve conservation outcomes. These potentially include exposing the old-growth ‘remapping and rezoning’ program, visually documenting forest destruction, progressing the long-awaited Federal koala recovery plan, highlighting the damaging impact of logging to timber markets and legal challenges. On the positive side, recent months have seen repeated demonstrations (via an industry survey and public polling) that public opinion is strongly in favour of protecting forests over logging. This suggests that an end to logging would be broadly welcomed. As the need to act on global heating becomes ever more urgent, protecting forests for their carbon stores as well as their wildlife values will surely be an option that becomes irresistible.

The latter stages of the election campaign were very interesting from the point of view of the Great Koala National Park. NPA, along with other conservation groups, successfully extracted a renewed commitment from NSW Labor to deliver the Great Koala National Park if elected. Shortly after, the Australian Forests Products Association – a well-resourced and politically connected timber lobby group – released a report analysing the impact of the Great Koala National Park on the north coast timber industry that received enthusiastic coverage in the Daily Telegraph. Despite the Great Koala National Park only seeking to protect 175,000 hectares of north coast forests (approximately one third of the total loggable area), the report assessed the impact of retiring the entire Wood Supply Agreement for north-east NSW. Although designed to stoke fear, the report in fact is a remarkable own goal for the industry: it details that there are just 566 direct timber jobs in the north coast forestry region and 652 across NSW.

Add indirect jobs (like milling, processing and retail – not all of which are 100% associated with native forest logging alone) and the totals become 1,395 (north coast) and 1,871 (NSW). These figures resemble previous work done by NPA and we can take great pride in our role forcing industry to abandon its oft-repeated ‘22,000 jobs’ mantra. In light of this report, the protection of a species that the NSW government states supports 9,000 Australian jobs and pulls in up to $2.5 billion every year to the economy looks like even better value! In a really positive step, the Bellingen Shire Council has committed $25,000 to help fund a cost-benefit analysis of the Great Koala National Park. It is hoped that Coffs Harbour Council will match the amount to enable a more thorough analysis. Watch this space for more updates!

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