Jenny Leong speaks in support of the petition to protect koala habitat in Port Macquarie

Jenny Leong MP, Member for Newtown spoke in support of a petition signed by 24,970 people who have raised their voices in support of greater protections for koala habitat, and led to the joint purchase by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Koala Conservation Australia of 194 hectares of prime koala habitat in Port Macquarie.



Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (16:22): People may be forgiven for wondering whether that was really a contribution from a National Party member. I welcome this amazing support from across the Chamber. I congratulate the amazing residents and First Nations custodians who initiated this petition to save this critical piece of koala habitat from being sold. I congratulate the member for Ballina and thank her for her advocacy in sponsoring the petition and bringing it to this place so we can debate it. Almost 25,000 people signed the electronic petition in support of this issue. How wonderful to see that community actions and advocacy and grassroots support have seen the last piece of privately owned, unburnt core koala habitat east of the Pacific Highway purchased jointly by the Australian Koala Foundation and the New South Wales Government.

It is rare for the Liberal-Nationals Government to heed and respond to the overwhelming calls of the community. Today is a special occasion. The community has called for action—everybody knows that it is absolutely essential to act—and the Government has responded. If only that happened more often with other petitions members bring to this Chamber. After much of the koala habitat was burnt in 2019, only small patches of land remain to support their populations, and most of this is on private land. The devastating cumulative impacts of bushfires, land clearing, disease, animal attacks and encroachment from residential development were brought into stark relief this month when koalas were officially listed as an endangered species in New South Wales.

This petition rightly stirred the passions of tens of thousands of people, who do not want to stand by and watch as we drive one of our most loved and iconic native animals to extinction. They spoke up and they won. Of course, the campaign to save the koala is not over. As we have heard, so much more needs to be done. I know the member for Ballina has been working with her community and pushing to save this habitat. I acknowledge the advocates from the northern part of the State who have come together and who recognise the absolute importance of this change. The campaign to save the koala must continue. TheState of the Environment 2021 report painted a grim picture of environmental degradation in New South Wales. Land clearing has tripled in the past three years and over 1,000 species are now threatened with extinction.

We can and must do more. As we have heard today in the contributions of members from all sides of the Chamber, we can do more because the problems are ones we can solve. We know that there are solutions; we know what needs to be done. The Government must have the will to invest in the necessary legislative changes that are needed to protect endangered koalas. As the member for Balmain said in his contribution, koalas are not endangered because of something that is out of our control; it is absolutely controllable. Koalas are at risk of becoming extinct as a result of actions taken by successive New South Wales governments that failed to prioritise nature and the need to protect endangered species.

I had the joy of spending the summer holidays driving from my electorate of Newtown through all of the electorates of the members who have contributed to this discussion. I acknowledge the member for Port Macquarie's contribution in which she mentioned primary schoolchildren talking about the importance of protecting koalas. Every time we saw a yellow sign that had a koala on it, my daughter felt certain that at any moment a koala would appear. She got very excited, squealed with enthusiasm and kept her eyes peeled for koalas on the side of the road as we were driving. It was the middle of the day so it was unlikely that she would see one.

Her enthusiasm and excitement from knowing koalas were around immediately made me realise the risks we are taking by clearing that land. If we do not protect the koala habitat for future generations, the joy, excitement and love for koalas that people feel, particularly young people, will never be experienced in nature because we failed to act. This petition and the actions of the community of stepping up and speaking out on this crucial issue should be commended. The Greens 100 per cent support the petition and the amazing community that brought it to the Chamber today.

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