The NSW government says that by cutting red tape to help homeowners affected by the devastating 2019-20 bushfire season, will help them to get back on their feet by allowing them to clear land and rebuild without doing koala habitat surveys.
The minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes says the changes to the Koala SEPP have been shaped by feedback from councils and fire-affected local communities and were necessary to facilitate the safe and timely rebuilding and repair of homes.
“What we have done is include a provision in the Koala SEPP to allow homeowners impacted by the bushfires to clear the land around where their home previously stood in order to rebuild more quickly,” he says.
“It’s the role of government to change things for the better when and where we can and there is a clear need to support these people right now. By allowing them to clear and develop their land without considering these requirements, it will save them much-needed money and time.”
According to the NSW government, the amendment will enable an Asset Protection Zone to be created around the damaged or destroyed home and any clearing and development within this area will not need to consider the Koala SEPP, saving applicants time and money in the development application process.
At the same time, a report released recently shows a 71 percent decline in koala populations across six locations in northern NSW, burned in last season's bushfires.
The study commissioned by the WWF for Nature Australia and chief executive Dermot O'Gorman says the findings are devastating.
"Seventy-one percent is a massive figure; three-quarters of the population in these areas have been hit by the fires and lost," he says.
At the same time, two NSW Nationals MPs threatened to quit the government and move to the crossbench if new koala protection regulations were not altered.
Speaking to The Guardian,Nationals MP Chris Gulaptis and the Member for Clarence, says he would move to the crossbench if the government doesn’t review the Koala Habitat Protection State Environmental Planning Policy, which came into effect in March this year.
Gulaptis says the policy was ill-founded, harmed regional communities and “essentially determines every part of NSW is koala habitat”.
Stokes has gone on the record saying that: “The change is supported by a number of checks and balances to ensure development does not impact koalas, including requiring any rebuilding of homes destroyed by fire in the last five years to occur on the same site.”
This view is challenged by the WWF report, with O'Gorman telling the ABC that this move would "fast-track extinction".
"The chance to put strong environmental laws when Parliament resumes in October is going to be a critical part to saving these koala populations and others as well," he says.
The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment says that it is now "carefully reviewing" the 2,200 submissions made to the Koala SEPP.
Image: NSW government