Port Stephens Koalas has revealed a glimpse of what a hospital and tourism facility could be if the state government chooses to back them and partners Port Stephens Council with more funds.
With a modest $124,000 state grant the volunteers have established four rehabilitation pens to prepare the koalas for release back into the wild after treatment.
The volunteers opened the gate to media and elected representatives on Tuesday – just hours after the ink was dry on an application to the state government to complete the project.
“We have made an application to the state government for $3 million to ensure the future of this facility and our koala population, so we will have to put all the pressure we can on the state government to come good on that,” Port Stephens Council general manager Wayne Wallis said.
“We will really have to work hand in glove with Port Stephens Koalas, the state member and the rest of the community to make sure that happens.”
The application was made to the Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund. The Examiner understands the Department of Premier and Cabinet, which administers the grants, was in touch with the council upon receipt of the application – a “positive sign”, sources have said.
The Premier Gladys Berejiklian on the weekend made her first visit to Port Stephens since she became leader in January. It was for a Liberal Party function.
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said funding the hospital would be a good start since Ms Berejiklian had “snubbed the community”.
“It’s the first time she’s come here as premier that we know about and we didn’t hear any announcements – she spoke to no one but her Liberal mates,” Ms Washington said.
“It’s even more disgusting for Red Zone residents when she drove past there to get to Nelson Bay. With the hospital, we hear all this rhetoric about saving threatened species, this is the ideal project.”
The pens were built with the $124,000 Community Building Partnerships grant. But the hospital, once established, would be “self sufficient”, council’s corporate services group manager Carmel Foster said.
“These pens are a very good start but we really have to secure the funding to build the hospital and tourism facility,” Ms Foster said.
“We’re trying to encourage more overnight stays and attracting that international tourism will help this facility achieve self-sustainability in the long run. This way it won’t be reliant on ongoing grants, or vulnerable to changes of government, it will be self-sustainable.”
The new pens have already enthused carers. Recently appointed hospital coordinator Kate King even said the facilities were “brilliant, fantastic”.
“It really proves how much we do need this hospital,” Miss King said. “A central location like this even helps with the little things like providing a centralised point to coordinate the volunteers.”
There’s also been some unexpected benefits.
“We initially put these security cameras in to keep people out but it’s proven really useful to monitor the koalas,” Miss King said.
The first koalas came into the pens three weeks ago. One of those koalas went back to intensive care.
“Without these cameras we would miss these things.”
Within each pen are trees and a shelter to support the koalas while they feed from fresh collected leaf.
“This is just the first stage of a sanctuary that people will come from around the world to see,” the mayor Ryan Palmer said. “The council is proud to be part of this project, this is an amazing facility.”
Cr Jaimie Abbott spoke to Ms Berejiklian at the conference about Mambo Wetlands and the Fingal Bay bypass. “Kate Washington will criticise when we don’t get visits like this… yet when the Premier calls in and shows interest and concern about some of the major issues affecting local residents Kate criticises them for coming.”