THE NSW Government's strategy to protect koala populations in the Hunter region gives "a reasonable apprehension of being less than sincere", a parliamentary inquiry has been told.
National Parks Association Hunter branch president Ian Donovan president condemned new Hunter reserves announced under the government's 2018 Koala Strategy as "miniscule, scattered and inconsequential to securing long-term protection of koala populations and their habitats", in one of more than 200 submissions to a parliamentary inquiry into koala populations from environment and community groups strongly critical of government inaction.
The NSW Government announced three new Hunter koala reserves under the Koala Strategy which followed an independent report by the then chief scientist Professor Mary O'Kane in 2016 which found koalas had experienced "significant decline in numbers and distribution".
But the Barrington Tops, Watagan and Cessnock reserves fell largely outside known areas of regional and local koala significance, Mr Donovan said after his group obtained government documents under freedom of information legislation.
The group sought selection criteria to determine how the new koala reserves were determined, and concluded there was no correlation between areas identified as being significant for koala conservation, and those identified as reserves under the strategy.
"Whatever the selection criteria for new koala reserves might have been, they had absolutely nothing to do with koalas," Mr Donovan said.
Two of the proposed Hunter reserves fell outside already identified areas of regional koala significance, and important koala hubs in state forests north-west of Bulahdelah remained unprotected from logging.
The National Parks Association Hunter branch has an alternative proposal for securing more koala habitat to protect the iconic species by expanding the Barrington Tops National Park to include state forest land in the Upper Paterson and Allyn valleys north of Gresford.
After the Hunter branch conducted three spot assessment surveys in 2018 and April this year it "failed to reveal unequivocal evidence of recent koala presence within the Williams Ridge koala hub, possibly reflecting the significant time needed for populations to recover from logging".
In just one of many scathing public submissions to the parliamentary inquiry, established in June to investigate the effectiveness of government policies to halt the koala decline, Mr Donovan said the NSW Koala Strategy "might best be summed up as disingenuous".
"This is not only because the strategy lacks any intellectual foundation, but also because it is inconsistent with logging rules set down by the same government. These rules permit intensive logging of koala habitat within state forests and place little or no constraints on logging of koala habitat on private land," he said.
"In summary the proposals for the Hunter region are neither adequate, well located or evidence-based and give a reasonable apprehension of being less than sincere."
A Port Stephens Greens submission said it was clear that many of the recommendations of Professor O'Kane's report had not yet been accepted or implemented, "which is a serious indictment of government inaction over the last 3 years".
"Contrary to the recommendations, protections have gone backwards and the risk has increased."
The Port Stephens Greens urged the parliamentary committee, headed by NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann, to hold a public hearing in Port Stephens.
A NSW Government submission said the $44.7 million announced under the Koala Strategy was the biggest commitment by any state government to secure koalas in the wild, and included $20 million to acquire land to protect koala habitat.
The government defended its record and said more than 80 per cent of eight million hectares of native forest across all forest types under public management was protected for conservation purposes.
"The NSW Government's vision is that NSW will have a sustainably managed forest estate that underpins a dynamic, economically efficient forestry industry, which continues to support regional economies and delivers social and environmental benefits," the government submission said.
"The forest industries in NSW comprise a $2.5 billion sector with the native forestry industries valued at about $465 million. The sector employs more than 22,000 people, with a large proportion of these jobs being in rural areas.
"Forests are important, not only in providing habitat, but also in providing a wide range of other community values and opportunities. They contribute to vibrant rural and regional communities and the NSW economy in the sustainable provision of wood and other forest products."
Wildlife campaigner for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Josey Sharrad said the Koala Strategy treated the symptoms rather than the cause of declining koala populations.
"The government is effectively cutting down trees with one hand while picking up injured animals with another. We are literally paving the way for extinction of koalas," Ms Sharrad told the inquiry.
Volunteers and environment groups are "pretty much fed up with governments", she said.
"It's time for bold, transformative cross-party action."