A dispute over protection measures for Australia’s endangered koalas yesterday threatened to topple the government of the country’s biggest state.
Angered by a new koala conservation law, the rural-based National Party withdrew its support for New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s governing Liberal Party, saying that the law comes at the expense of farmers.
The move left Berejiklian with a minority government, unable to pass legislation.
The dispute comes months after bushfires destroyed vast swathes of koala habitat, prompting fears for the species’ survival.
In a coalition with the Nationals, Berejiklian’s Liberals have governed the state that runs from populous coastal areas that include Sydney to a rural outback.
In a statement, the Nationals decried the koala bill as “a blunt instrument to make city-centric law makers feel good about themselves,” claiming it prevents farmers from clearing their own land.
Environmental groups criticized the stance, saying koalas might be on track for extinction in the state by 2050.
“Wanting to retain the right to kill koalas is an extraordinary hill for the Nationals to want to die on, but here we are,” Nature Conservation Council chief executive Chris Gambian said.
Corey Bradshaw, a professor of global ecology at Flinders University, said the legislation was “a mere band-aid in the fight to stem further deforestation.”
New South Wales has some of the weakest anti-land clearing laws in Australia, he said, adding that poor enforcement and low penalties exacerbate the problem.
“With increasing mega bushfires, the legacy and persistence of broad-scale deforestation, and weak laws, koalas in New South Wales are effectively doomed,” he said. “Koalas live in and eat trees — you don’t need a university degree to predict what will happen.”
Berejiklian gave National members of the state Cabinet until this morning to decide whether they wished to stay in her Cabinet or quit the coalition.
Additional reporting by Reuters.
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