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Government, policy & community

Saving our national icon: An ecological analysis of the 2011 Australian Senate inquiry into status of the koala

Shumway, N, Lunney, D, Seabrook, L & McAlpine, C 2015, Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 54, pp. 297-303.

In 2010, an inquiry into the status, health and sustainability of Australia’s koala population was referred to the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee (hereafter referred to as the Committee). The following year the Committee released their findings in a report called ‘The koala – saving our national icon’ (hereafter referred to as the report). Following the release of this report, a group of wildlife ecologists examined the Committee’s findings from an ecological perspective and reported several issues.

  The Committee received 101 public submissions to their inquiry, all of which came from koala range states (Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and South Australia) with the exception of a single submission from the United States. Private citizens and conservation organisations provided the majority of submissions. Habitat clearing, ineffective policy and urban development were the most common concerns detailed in the public submissions, and improved policy and habitat protection were the most commonly offered solutions. The recommendations outlined in the report aligned with the most common concerns raised in the submissions. It appeared that the Committee based their report on these submissions only and, consequently, is biased towards local issues.

  The Committee identified that the national koala population overall is declining; however, as some subpopulations are increasing and population monitoring is inconsistent nationally, it conceded that overarching conclusions about the koala population are difficult to make. The Committee made two recommendations in this regard; an extensive, properly designed and funded national koala monitoring programme, and standardisation of koala monitoring methods. The report also identified the need for important koala habitat to be mapped and protected, recommending that the National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy 2009-14 be reviewed and adequately resourced and funded. Importantly, many issues pertinent to koala conservation were absent from the report. No recommendations were made regarding the emerging issues of climate change, fire, drought and mining development. This appeared to be because the senate inquiry did not look beyond the issues raised in public hearings and submissions. Additionally, the report only detailed how the federal government can protect koalas, without acknowledging the considerable influence of and necessity for both state and local government involvement in koala conservation. 

  Despite several koala conservation reports and plans being produced, such as ‘The koala – saving our national icon’, the Australian koala population continues to decline, particularly in the northern part of its range. The 2011 report is a valuable contribution to koala conservation, particularly as it received submissions from a variety of stakeholders and takes an Australia-wide perspective. What is required now, however, is a conservation framework that is long-term, evidence-based, aligned with ecological principles, and includes managements strategies for the major threats of urban development, drought and climate change.


Summarised by Alexander Hendry


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