'We have to act': Luke Foley promises Australia's first koala national park on NSW north coast


Originally published: The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 January 2015.

By Sean Nicholls

Australia's first "koala national park" would be established on the NSW north coast by a state Labor government in a bid to protect the endangered local population and open up tourism possibilities.

The plan, to be announced by opposition leader Luke Foley on Monday, is modelled on China's panda reserves which span one million hectares of bamboo forest.

The proposal includes a promise to develop infrastructure for local and international "koala tourism" including a koala trail and possibly a visitor centre and koala hospital if Labor wins the March 28 election.

The proposed 315,000-hectare national park would stretch inland from Coffs Harbour, from the Macleay River near Kempsey to Woolgoolga.

It would protect the Bellingen-Nambucca-Macleay and the Coffs Harbour-Guy Fawkes koala meta-populations. It is estimated the area outlined for protection contains 4500 – or 20 per cent – of NSW's remaining koalas.

Mr Foley said koala numbers in NSW have plummeted in recent years and populations were under serious threat from habitat loss, disease, dog attacks and cars.

"We've lost about 90 per cent of our koala population since white settlement and that's largely been driven by land clearing," he said.

"My view is that we've just got to act. If we're going to be fair dinkum about saving the koala in the wild, we have to protect the koala's habitat."

Labor expected to establish the Great Koala National Park within the first year of the next parliament, Mr Foley said.

The proposal would add about 176,000 hectares of state forest to the existing 140,000 hectare local national parks estate.

Some of the state forest earmarked for the koala national park is currently logged. Mr Foley said Labor was committed to "proper negotiations" with the forestry industry. If Labor had to buy back timber allocations and compensate companies like Boral, it would.

He noted last year the NSW government bought back 50,000 m3 of native forest timber allocation on the north coast which could be turned into reserves.

On the cost of the policy, Mr Foley said no expenditure was necessary to turn state forests into national park.

But the potential cost of buy backs as well as the visitor centre and hospital under consideration would be outlined later in the election campaign.

The announcement reflects Mr Foley's vow upon becoming opposition leader to make the environment one of his key priorities along with job creation and investment in health and education.

It is also reminiscent of former Premier Bob Carr's announcement in 1993 when as opposition leader he promised to create the Dharawal National Park, near Campbelltown, in his first year of office.

Mr Carr failed to keep his promise but Mr Foley said he was committed to creating the new national park. He noted the Labor party created three million hectares of new national park in its recent 16-year term of office.

Originally published as: 'We have to act': Luke Foley promises Australia's first koala national park on NSW north coast