Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley delays Brandy Hill koalas vs quarry decision

QUARRY DECISION DELAYED: A koala in a tree at Brandy Hill in June 2020. Picture: Marina Neil
QUARRY DECISION DELAYED: A koala in a tree at Brandy Hill in June 2020. Picture: Marina Neil

A grassroots campaign to save the threatened Port Stephens koala population in Brandy Hill has resulted in Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley delaying her decision on the proposed expansion of a rock quarry operated by Hanson.

Ms Ley was expected to hand down a decision on Tuesday, September 8 but a concerted community push led by Brandy Hill and Seaham Action Group (BHSAG) has resulted in a stay of execution and the deadline for a decision being extended to October 13.

The quarry expansion, which includes 52 hectares of core koala habitat, was granted by the Independent Planning Commission in July, but required federal approval because the project had been deemed likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance.

Ms Ley said that the department was still considering the assessment report and other relevant information, including the new report prepared by Dr Witt and Prof Clulow for BHSAG regarding the impact of the proposal on koalas.

"[Our] Government is rolling out a $200 million investment in bushfire wildlife and habitat recovery and I want to ensure that any bushfire impacts are taken into account," Ms Ley said.

The report by Newcastle University wildlife conservation scientist Dr Ryan Witt and conservation biologist Associate Professor John Clulow revealed that the expansion would sever an east-west koala corridor, disrupt breeding and destroy some of the most valuable koala habitat in Port Stephens.

Chantal and daughter

Chantal and daughter

BHSAG spokesperson Chantal Parslow Redman said the delay was a result of the traction achieved by the grassroots campaign, 30 Days to Save Port Stephens Koalas, launched on August 9.

A Hanson spokesperson said that the company understood the need for due process in these decisions and welcomed the input of the community groups and neighbours, including the BHSAG.

"Hanson has assessed the proposal in accordance with the relevant state and federal legislations, guidelines and policies, and will continue to engage and work with agencies."

Ms Parslow Redman said it should not be possible to approve a project that would have a significant impact on a threatened species on the basis of data collected in 2014 and before updated planning instruments - revealing that koalas in NSW are set to be extinct by 2050 - were taken into account.

"The popularity of the campaign demonstrates the groundswell of support to protect koalas and koala habitat following the devastating 2019-20 bushfires. What we hear from our supporters is that the memories of the tragic black summer bushfires are still raw, the loss of tens of thousands of koalas and countless hectares of burnt habitat. That's why they're motivated to act," she said.

"People are not going to stand by and watch as 52 hectares of critical koala habitat is destroyed in an area where koalas are breeding, at a time when this incredible species is facing extinction in NSW."

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington with residents at Brandy Hill in June speaking about their concern with the approval of the Hanson quarry expansion. Picture: Marina Neil

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington with residents at Brandy Hill in June speaking about their concern with the approval of the Hanson quarry expansion. Picture: Marina Neil

The eleventh-hour reprieve was also welcomed by State MP Kate Washington, a strong supporter of BHSAC in their community campaign against koala habitat destruction.

"I am calling on Sussan Ley to use the extra time productively," she said. "The NSW Government used a 2014 environmental impact statement to assess this project. So much has changed since then, including devastating bushfires where 71 per cent of local koala populations were killed. That's the new reality we're dealing with in NSW.

"Sussan Ley must use this extra time to commission new environmental assessments and update the information she's been given by the NSW Government."