An international koala conservation group plans to take the Palaszczuk government to court for being too slow to protect the koala and for what it describes as “politically sanctioned extinction”.
Sue Arnold, from the conservation group Australians for Animals, which also works extensively in the United States, said they planned to use environmental law barrister Dr Chris McGrath, who has worked with the Environmental Defenders Office and provided evidence in the 2015-16 Carmichael coal mine court cases.
Ms Arnold said neither the Queensland nor New South Wales governments set up koala protection zones “as promised” and neither set aside land for koala habitat “as promised”.
“This should have been the primary recommendation of the Queensland governments response to the koala expert panel and the New South Wales koala strategy,” Ms Arnold said.
Queensland plans to set up another koala advisory committee and receive recommendations on where the koala conservation zones would eventually be placed. No timelines are in place.
Ms Arnold said state and federal governments were now dragging their feet in protecting koalas.
“So you have a species that has basically been abandoned by governments and their politics are politically sanctioned extinction,” she said.
Ms Arnold said they were in the early stages of arguing the Queensland government was failing in “its mandatory duties” to protect the koala.
“We are not quite there yet, but this is the logical legal action.”
The group also opposes the strategy of translocating koalas, except in very strict conservation sense as described by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
The Queensland government-supported Koala Expert Panel report, released May 2018, supports a tougher interpretation of koala “translocation” in line with the ICUN recommendations (recommendation 4).
However, Ms Arnold said in reality at koalas near Petrie, at Coomera and near Ballina were all shifted from their “home” bushland – which needed to be cleared for homes, highways or other infrastructure – to unfamiliar bushland, where they slowly died.
Ms Arnold recently on Facebook exposed a rarely discussed Queensland koala translocation experiment between 2008 and 2014 near Coomera where 260 wild koalas were shifted 35 kilometres from bush at Coomera to let the Coomera Town Centre construction proceed.
Her Koala Crisis Facebook page has had more than 1.5 million hits in two months.
“People are absolutely furious over the way koalas are being treated,” Ms Arnold said.
Coomera was Queenslands largest koala translocation experiment but the results have never been released, she said.
More than 900 hectares of bushland were allowed to be cleared or “fragmented” by the Queensland government and the Gold Coast City Council.
“At Coomera they took half of the (koala) population away, they took them 40 kilometres away in distance, none of the studies were done to see if the genetic pool was damaged, 25 koalas were killed in the first five months by dogs and we are having to go through Right To Information applications to get any of the reports, or any of the data.”
In October 2017, Fairfax Media reported only about 20 Coomera koalas from a population of 180 were still alive.
Although not widely reported, 281 koalas were also killed a result of clearing, disease and dog attacks linked to “translocation” for Brisbanes Moreton Bay Rail Link between Kippa Ring and Petrie by 2016. The final number of koala deaths is disputed.
One of Queenslands most experienced koala experts, University of Queensland Professor Frank Carrick, also disagrees with relying on translocating koalas.
“Look translocation can have a role in wildlife management, but not to facilitate development and habitat destruction,” Professor Carrick said.
He said translocation of koalas was too often presented in different guises; “Oh, for the benefit of the animals,” he said.
“Well often be told, 'If you dont translocate them, they will die.'
"Well too right they will. Its a zero-sum game.”
Professor Carrick agreed with Ms Arnold that the bottom line was protecting koala habitat.
Professor Carrick said he had no faith that tougher koala translocation practices could be applied in Queensland, despite their inclusion in the koala expert panel report.
“No. Not if the fundamental purpose of the translocation is to foster this myth that we can chop down this koala habitat, we just shift the koalas and nobody loses. It is just wrong.”
Ms Arnold is worried previous standards will mean translocation simply shifts koalas out of the way of residential growth.
“The most alarming part of all of this is that if Queensland adopts this as a policy, which is purely to facilitate development but disguised as a scientific purpose, then you are going to see the same thing happen in New South Wales,” she said.
Queensland Environment Minister Leanne Enoch said she will wait on advice from the new Koala Advisory Council to be formed within “six to 12 months” when asked about koala protection in Queensland.