After being quite bemused at receiving an invitation from Thomas George MP to attend a meeting concerning Lismore City Council's Koala Plan of Management , I decided to go along and see why our local State MP was involving himself in local government matters by chairing a meeting that was clearly intended to be critical of Council. It was obvious from the list of speakers that this was not intended to represent a range of interest as there were no speakers with expertise in relation to um, actual koala management. Not that I have a problem with landholders getting together to complain about incursions on their property rights, I just wish that Mr George was as keen to support landholders' rights when it comes to coal seam gas exploration.
There was a fantastic turn out of people, most of whom, by the show of hands, hadn't read the plan. As the meeting progressed it was clear that the main strategy of the speakers was to make the plan appear overly complex, intrusive, unworkable, flawed and oppressive. Anyone who suggested otherwise had to speak from the floor as there was no-one (I gather Lismore City Council representatives declined the invite) on the panel to state a different opinion. That was the right of those who organised the meeting and I have no objection to that, but given that my invitation came on official letterhead from my local member, I did find the partisan nature of the meeting quite confronting. The one good thing that can be said is that all the speakers were at pains to point out that they were not anti-koala and that koala conservation was important. I only heard one joke about dead koalas the whole evening, and I think it is a credit to the environmental movement that species conservation is now a mainstream value, even if we are not yet in agreement about what that means.
I will state my vested interest. I have spent the last twenty years revegetating my marginal agricultural land (mostly steep slopes and gullies) to provide habitat for wildlife. I strongly believe that high value agricultural land needs to be preserved and protected to provide local food security. I'm sure this can be done whilst also providing wildlife corridors and food trees but when I see large corporations buying out our family farms, I worry that there is less commitment to local populations of both humans and animals! There has certainly been a significant loss of koala food trees here in Dorroughby as several of the large macadamia plantations have felled dozens of tallow wood trees that our local koala populations were very dependant upon for food, shelter and corridor protection. As was noted at the meeting, cars and dogs take their toll on the koala populations as habitat is reduced and koalas travel without the protection of tree cover.
I am saddened that the Koala Plan of Management has become such a partisan issue, with many landholders falling prey to paranoia. I hope that for the sake of the koalas, Lismore City Council makes more of an effort to explain the plan, and that those landholders who are fearful of their property rights re-read the plan and reflect on whether there is really anything in it to worry about. Eternal vigilance is a good thing when it comes to incursions by government but this is not the issue to run with - coal seam gas is a much greater threat to our region.