Did Penny Sharpe Mislead NSW on Great Koala National Park?

The NSW State Government must be held accountable for false information shared in the Parliament.

Mon 01 Apr 24


Cracks are now appearing around NSW Environmental Tsar Penny Sharpe’s election promise to establish a Great Koala National Park.

That pledge promised to establish a Great Koala Park on the Mid North Coast of NSW, with $80 million committed to the project. The project would be subject to a consultative process involving all Kempsey to Coffs Harbour stakeholders.

However, that promise of a stakeholder consultation process has now been broken—seemingly without her approval!

The “Community” committee has just one person who lives locally and is neither an environmentalist nor a public servant. When it first convened, the “Industry” committee had one saw miller.

And it does not include the party responsible for managing the State Forests, the Forestry Commission of NSW! The union representative on the panel has no members in the North of NSW. 

In effect, the workers are unrepresented – silent, with no voice representing their future.

In addition, the NSW State Government’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC) is not involved in the panels.  

The NRC was established and supported by both Liberal and Labor State Governments to act as a neutral umpire between NSW Departments with differing agendas—mining, water resources, forestry, and the Environment. 

It is available like the FCNSW for consultation when wanted!

Recently, it has been rumoured that the Environmental Protection Authority—previously covered in my Wood Central article—and the Department of Environment declared war on the NRC because the independent reports it has generated do not fit the ideology of officers in this agency or department. 

The rumours, which have appeared in left-leaning blogs and are now filtering into news outlets, seem to be flowing into the Great Koala National Park process.

The extraordinary thing about this is that the ALP established a process of transparency and accountability on the last two occasions when State Forests were placed in large areas in the National Parks of NSW.

The NRC was the Chair and Empire and had the final call on what would happen. The stakeholders included the tenured department for NSW State Forests, the saw millers, and the recipes of native forests, which got around the table with maps and data and discussed it. 

In 2024, the ALP had not even remotely built a process like this. 

Instead, the National Parks of NSW (NPNSW) is responsible for convening and managing the process. A serious conflict of interests! 

There are no open, transparent guidelines or rules for how the steering committee should work. The consultative panels have no idea what is sent to the steering committee.

For example, the Industry Consultative Panel secretariat does not prepare minutes for the panels’ meetings. Instead, notes are produced. 

Notes are editorialized between meetings and bear no resemblance to matters discussed. There is recourse to correct notes for accuracy, but these NPNSW are sent to the steering committee.

The Industry Consultative Panel has held three meetings. The first meeting focused on the area under review by the GKNP, as promised in the ALP election. 

At the next meeting, the area increased in size. It now reached past Grafton into the Clarence region. The officers of the NPNSW still maintained that the area was contained in the ALP Election promise. 

At the next meeting, the area had increased to include native forest plantations to over 220,000 hectares. 

This clearly shows that the NSW Minister for the Environment has lied to the Parliament.

The broken election promise and the fact that Parliament was being told false information need to be asserted. This can only be done according to what the Premier and the Minister for the Environment have said.

The Department of the Environment has released a discussion paper by Professor Macintosh of the Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, titled “Improved Native Forest Management Carbon Method.” The fact that Professor Macintosh is a long-term and well-known anti-native forestry advocate and one of the three best-qualified forestry schools at ANU would not be lost on those who have appointed him to this task.

The Minister for the Environment stated in Budget Estimates on 7 March 2024:

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Yes. As part of the work that’s being undertaken in the creation of the Great Koala National Park, we are getting work undertaken on what could be a forestry accounting method to account for carbon in the forests. You’re probably aware of this, Ms Higginson, but I’m not sure if other members of the Committee are: This has to go to the Federal Government. We’re basically working up a proposed model that we will then submit to the Commonwealth for work to be undertaken. There is a fair way to go on that, but yes, we are doing that work. …

We want to get a model that works. The thing for me in all of this is there’s an opportunity here in relation to carbon credits, but it’s not an opportunity if it’s weak, if it’s not transparent, if it’s not really rigorous if it’s not able to really be measured properly, and that’s the work that we’re really undertaking. At the moment, it’s related to the Great Koala National Park. It is possible, though, that other agencies—and I can’t speak for them, but I know that other agencies have sort of looked at their opportunities. Other agencies have swathes of land. I know that some Aboriginal communities are quite interested in this as well because they’ve got a lot of land, and they see it as an opportunity to have funding and income to work on country. I can’t speak across there. For us it’s about the Great Koala National Park and that’s the method that we’re working that we hope to submit to the Feds pretty soon. 

This is not the first time the Department of the Environment has undertaken its own “scientific” work. 

It would be surprising if the Department had Professor Macintosh’s paper peer-reviewed, as the exercise is an attempt to establish a scientific narrative opposing those with which they disagree, which are even peer-reviewed. 

Without peer review, it is difficult to know how any paper can be branded “scientific”.  Rather, it is an opinion. 

One of the Australian experts on carbon sequestration in hardwood is in the NSW Department of Primary Industry (Forestry Science unit) and is peer-reviewed. Why has this person been excluded from the Department of the Environment’s work?

The area of the Department’s koala policy is a stand-out example. 

The Department of Environment rejected the work of the Department of Primary Industry (Forest Science Unit), the reports of the Natural Resources Commission. 

Even though the Natural Resources Commission has, under the ALP State Government, tendered ground-truthing work for koala numbers in NSW, the Department of the Environment is ignoring that this work is underway and held an invite-only koala strategy forum to finalise a new strategy without any real knowledge of the numbers of koalas in NSW. 

Macintosh’s paper assumes there will be no native forestry in the State Government’s native forests. 

The work the Minister has commissioned excludes the NSW native forestry industry. 

This is in contrast to all the material in the extracts from her answers to Parliamentary questions or motions in the last year.


  • Jack Rodden-Green

    Jack Rodden-Green, with 30 years of experience as a forester in New South Wales, combines a deep understanding of forestry with legal training to address social and environmental issues.


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