Friday, September 22, 2023

Great Koala National Park – report, criticism and response

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To read the full Report, go to:
Find a summary and background on the Report on this page below.

Australian Rural & Regional News approached the University of Newcastle for a response to this opinion piece and the University’s response is provided on this page below.

Photo: Cassie Lafferty, Unsplash

The University of Newcastle Faculty of Business and Law released an economic impact assessment and environmental benefit analysis of the proposed Great Koala National Park on 2 February 2021. The paper was commissioned by several North Coast Councils and the NSW State Government agency, Destination North Coast.

In this commentator’s opinion, it is flawed in many respects.

The paper equates “land clearing” and “clearing” in NSW with the operations of native forestry.  Not true.  It is very easy to see the requirements for native forest harvesting on the web under the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (Coastal IFOA) and the provisions of the Forestry Act 2021 (NSW) where the legislative basis for these rules sit.

Native forestry is selective harvesting under very strict conditions and protocols.

“Land clearing” or “clearing” is something else and is covered by the Local Land Services Act 2013 (NSW).  If the writers got land clearing confused with “clear felling of timber”, then that is what happens in a planned manner on “plantations, both softwood and hardwood”.  This is controlled by different legislation and is not native timber harvesting.

The Report examines what timber companies would need to be compensated for closing down their businesses.  The Report clearly has no idea of how timber harvested is moved on the North Coast.  There is no outline of the operational nature of the native timber harvest and haul in the regions.  This lack of research makes a nonsense of what businesses would need to be compensated.  Even with the businesses listed, there is no idea of exactly how these businesses conduct their business.  This is information available in the public domain.

Then there is the question of how to calculate what the cost of buy-out would be.   The $8.5m payment to Boral for the buy-back of timber quota in 2014 is provided in the Report.  Even this description is wrong.  This information is also available in the public domain.  The 2014 Boral contract adjustment contained many things, not just  a payment of $8.5m.

However, the State Government also adjusted the Boral contract to guarantee their quota also had “preferred species of timber”  giving Boral an advantage over the rest of the  hardwood industry on the North Coast.  The adjustment limited the unwanted  timbers, which meant that Boral’s competitors had to take this timber.  This timber is very difficult to sell, if at all.  Then Boral got a contract extension to 2028, five years more than their competitors.  What value is placed on all this? Far more than the figure of $8.5m referenced in the Report.

The Report says 1 million new jobs in tourism.

There is no understanding of the uncertainty  of finding koalas in the native forests just at the right time for tourists.  There is no certainty of finding a koala on a bush walk.  International tourists rightly want to see a koala close up, to get the full experience.  It is what they pay for.  This can only occur in a closed area where koala presence is guaranteed – called a zoo or sanctuary.  The Report says nothing about this,  an important business criterion to operating a successful international koala-viewing venture.

Finally, the Report is silent on the cost  of maintaining good koala habitat.  It is not just a need for koala feed trees or koala roosting trees – and they are different.  There is also a need to ensure the native forests provide new growth which koalas seek out.  There is a need for major weed eradication such as lantana – so that koalas can move safely between trees.  They descend and walk along the ground.  Major fuel reduction programs in the forests  to reduce the ferocity of  bushfires which in the past have killed koalas.  All of this is high cost year in and year out.   Again nothing is said about this in the Report.

Newcastle University, what is needed is even-handed research and to not just write a Report to the brief which on this occasion repeats previous reports using selective data.  A business case should analyse the benefits and the problems associated with the business idea.  A fair reading of this Report does not even start on that old fashioned idea.

Summary and background on the University of Newcastle Report

The University of Newcastle’s response

This interpretation of the Report’s finding is not accurate.

The University of Newcastle was commissioned to examine the economic impact and environmental benefits of the proposed Great Koala National Park on the mid north coast of NSW. 

The main findings of the Great Koala National Park Economic Impact Assessment and Environmental Benefit Analysis included that over a 15-year period the Great Koala National Park would generate an increase in regional economic output of $1.2 billion, of which $531 million would flow into the region’s economy including $330 million in additional wages. 

The region would benefit from:  

  • the creation of 9,800+ additional full-time equivalent jobs 
  • new investment in the region of $145 million in capital expenditure and $128 million in operating expenditure 
  • a boost to the visitor economy of 1 million visitors who will spend $412 million. 

The assessment shows that the environmental benefits of the Great Koala National Park equate to added biodiversity value of approximately: 

  • $530 million for the NSW population  
  • $1.7 billion for all Australians.  

The study is based on well-established economic modelling methodology. It is designed to inform the next stages of the Great Koala National Park project, including the development of a business case.  

Photo: Hygo Kruip, Unsplash

Related: The new form of science or just bad government


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