Opponents to the 2016 sale of Mambo Wetlands have blasted a state government initiative which allocates $20 million to buy privately-owned koala habitat, but excludes the Salamander Bay site.
Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton last week announced the fund as a means of “preserving koala populations and securing more protected habitat”.
Irene Jones from Mambo-Wanda Wetlands Conservation Group said it was extremely disappointing that the 6-hectare precinct sold for $250,000 in 2016 did not feature in the protected locations within Port Stephens.
“We have been fighting for over two years and we are passionate about getting this valuable parcel of koala habitat moved from private to public hands,” Ms Jones said.
“We are constantly seeing cash from the Liberals being splashed across Port Stephens, what about Mambo?”
But Liberal state candidate and Port Stephens councillor Jaimie Abbott said that the re-acquisition of the former school site sold to private developer Paul Unicomb had been following a separate process, as announced by the Premier and the council.
“Any funding for Mambo will be additional to the koala habitat program announced by the Minister and not at the expense of other habitat. It would be wrong to use the koala habitat program to fund its re-acquisition.”
Ms Abbott admitted that Mambo should never have been sold and that she would continue to fight for compulsory acquisition.
The koala priority sites identified in Port Stephens include regions of Tomaree, centred around Anna Bay and Boat Harbour, Tilligerry, Karuah and Medowie.
“If you own good quality, occupied koala habitat that meets the criteria, the NSW Government is a willing buyer,” Ms Upton said.
The criteria includes evidence of koala presence and improving the management of threats to koalas; connectivity to native vegetation; and suitability for inclusion in the national parks system.
Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald said that while Mambo Wetlands may not be included in the priority location, it did not preclude the owner, Mr Unicomb, from applying.
"At the end of the day the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) is seeking value for money and there must be a willing buyer and seller."
State MP Kate Washington said under the government’s policy, priority would be given to land closest to adjoining national parks and other government-owned nature reserves.
“Today’s announcement is a last minute attempt to buy credibility from a government whose policies and actions are putting our koalas at risk of extinction,” she said.
“Current estimates say wild koalas in Port Stephens could be gone within 10 years, but this government has refused calls to transfer land they already own in Fishermans Bay into the adjoining Tomaree National Park, while offering $20 million to buy private land to add to the same national park. Labor is committed to buying back the Mambo Wetlands through compulsory acquisition.”
Another critic of the program was NSW Greens MP Dawn Walker, who described the private land purchase scheme as inadequate to stopping the further decline of koalas across NSW.
“It’s alarming that the government refuses to apply the same strategic oversight to protecting core koala habitat on public land, like state forests.”
As part of the buy-back scheme, community groups and other interested stakeholders are also invited to propose suitable land for inclusion. Expressions of interest are open until December 6.
Full details and locations can be found at the www.environment.nsw.gov.au website.