The draft SEQ Koala Conservation Strategy 2019 – 2024 is open for comment until 31 January 2020.

The Draft South East Queensland (SEQ) Koala Conservation Strategy 2019 – 2024 was released by the Queensland Government on 8 December 2019. The Strategy is intended to deliver on the government-commissioned Koala Expert Panel’s six overarching areas relevant to their recommendations for improving koala conservation measures.

Four key targets of the draft Strategy:

  • No decline in total area of core koala habitat in SEQ from 2017 levels.
  • Commence rehabilitation to restore 1000ha of cleared habitat.
  • No long-term decline in koala population numbers in SEQ.
  • 25% reduction of injury and mortality across ten sites.

Draft koala habitat mapping

The draft mapping is open for comment until 22 December 2019.

Draft mapping to support the Strategy has also been released for comment. This map is intended to act as a single koala habitat map for SEQ. The map provides for koala priority areas (KPAs), Core Koala Habitat Areas and Locally Refined Koala Habitat Areas across SEQ urban footprint and non-urban footprint. KPAs are considered the best habitat suitable for sustaining populations of koalas; intended to be large, connected areas with both existing habitat and potential for restoration with highest likelihood to have conservation outcomes for koalas. Core Koala Habitat Areas have been mapped by the Queensland Government, whereas Locally Refined Koala Habitat Areas have been nominated by local governments to be added to the state level map.

Local government mapping of koala habitat is being rolled into the single state government map. Local governments will no longer be able to map koala habitat at a local level. This means that there will be more consistency in the application of the koala protection laws. One downside is that the local government mapped areas will be subject to the exemptions that apply to the state mapped areas, which normally don’t apply to local government mapped areas; the exemptions are listed below.  

Feedback is only sought by the government on areas that should not have been included in the mapping, for example where the area has been developed. However, you could still use this opportunity to highlight any discrepancies in the mapping, i.e. where you feel koala habitat exists and has not been represented in the mapping.

The map is intended to be reviewed and updated annually.

The new proposed development laws to protect koala habitat have not yet been released.

Changes are proposed to development laws to better protect koala habitat as part of the draft strategy. The proposed changes are broadly described in the Draft Strategy, from page 17. The Queensland Government will not introduce the proposed changes to development laws until the mapping is finalised. We understand there will be no public consultation on the draft regulatory amendments themselves, but you can put in comments on the proposed law changes in your submission to the draft Strategy.

EDO has written to the Queensland Government seeking a moratorium on clearing of mapped koala habitat until the new laws are in place – to avoid panic clearing that may be occurring while the map has been released in draft form without the laws in place.

What changes are proposed to development laws to improve protections to koala habitat?

  • Koala habitat inside a KPA:
    • Clearing in a KPA is to be prohibited, unless an exemption applies – exemptions include: clearing for an area of 500m2, firebreaks, extractive industry in a key resource area. It may also include other areas, such as clearing for a priority development area, state development area, state infrastructure and potentially area subject to a property map of assessable vegetation under the Vegetation Management Act 1999, but this has not yet been clarified. The current exemption allowing significant clearing for an ‘urban purpose, urban area’ is intended to be repealed.
    • Applications for development on koala habitat areas within a KPA, where clearing is not proposed will be assessed by the local government under consistent assessment benchmarks to be developed by the State Government. The intention of the assessment benchmarks is that they ensure:
      • ‘development does not result in fragmentation of koala habitat (this may mean that the placement of buildings, structures or works is at least 50 m from the edge of koala habitat)
      • the condition of koala habitat is not impacted by factors such as changes to soil condition, or the introduction of weeds of pests
      • the development allows safe movement of koalas.’ (draft Strategy p18)
  • Koala habitat outside a KPA:
    • State government (the State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA)) will be triggered for any clearing applications on mapped koala habitat outside a KPA. This is a substantial change, where currently only clearing of 5ha or more triggers SARA oversight. SARAwill assess the clearing against a new State Development and Assessment Provision code for koala habitat intended to deliver no net loss of koala habitat.
    • Development not involving clearing in koala habitat outside a KPA will be assessed by local government using new assessment benchmarks – to ensure development doesn’t result in fragmentation of habitat, condition of habitat isn’t impacted; safe movement is ensured etc
  • Areas not included in the draft map: these areas will be regulated under the normal local, state and federal laws that otherwise apply to the location and proposed activity.

What’s good:

  • A clear prohibition on clearing koala habitat in the KPA and the removal of the exemption of clearing for an ‘urban purpose, urban area’, replaced with a specified exemption to clear 500m2. This will hopefully lead to reduced clearing of koala habitat in KPAs than is allowed currently under our planning laws.
  • State government oversight of clearing and development in koala habitat areas, where any clearing of koala habitat will be subject to SARA oversight. This is a big improvement on the current trigger of 5ha for clearing and will hopefully ensure more consistent application of laws.

What could be better:

  • The Strategy and new laws must provide a requirement for a net GAIN in koala habitat – koala populations are dropping due to exposure to significant stress from their current diminished habitat, which is diminishing by the day due to bushfires and continued clearing.As stated by the Expert Panel, we must aim for net gain in koala habitat, not ‘no net loss’. Under the current and proposed laws an aim of ‘no net loss’ will inevitably lead to diminishing koala populations through continued clearing loopholes and ineffective offsets. Increasing the amount of connected habitat, and requirements on infrastructure to ensure safe passage across roads, are essential if we are to have any chance of ensuring the survival of koalas into the future.
  • Exemptions may still be extensive: While the full detail of the proposed exemptions to the clearing in KPA has not been publicly released, there may be significant exemptions proposed, such as for state infrastructure, priority development areas, state development areas, areas subject to property maps of assessable vegetation etc. These exemptions may significantly weaken the proposed prohibitions on clearing by allowing clearing which may not be offset. Further, significant clearing may still occur via non-assessable activities such as via accepted development codes.
  • No reforms have yet been made to strengthen the offsets framework: This framework is likely to rely on the Environmental Offsets Act framework, which has been found by the Expert Panel to be significant flawed and in need of strong reforms. While the offsets framework has been opened for review this year, no reforms have yet been made nor is there any commitment by the government to reform the Act this term of government. This Act must be reformed to ensure that it is no longer used to justify impacts to koala habitat without any assurance that an offset will successfully be provided.

Government’s consultation process:

The government is accepting submissions on the draft mapping until 22 December 2019, and on the draft Strategy until 31 January 2020.

You can see the government’s information on the consultation here on the draft Strategy.

For information on the mapping, please see here.  You can apply for a review of the mapping, particularly if you think that the Koala Habitat Areas shown on your property include an area that has already been developed (i.e. it is covered by a building, structure, sealed surface or artificial waterbody). You may also provide submission on areas that should be included but these comments are not sought by government at this time: click here to apply for a review by Sunday 22 December 2019.

To provide a submission:

The government is providing the following opportunities to talk to departmental officers:

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the EDO in Brisbane if you would like to discuss this information.