Why is Premier Minns Ignoring the New Science on Koalas?

Why has the NSW Department for the Environment ignored the work of one of the world's most recognised forest ecologists for more than five years?

Tue 11 Jun 24


Michael Kemp, the Member for Oxley in the NSW Parliament, gave a well-researched and thought-out speech on the evening of 5 June 2024 in the NSW Parliament.

Mr Kemp spoke of giving the Minns Labor Government, the Minister for the Environment, and the Greens the “truth of a groundbreaking piece of information” that was being “conveniently ignored in their crusade to abolish the native hardwood timber industry.” 

Mr Kemp outlined the findings of a comprehensive seven-year research program led by Dr Bradley Law, a forest ecologist from the NSW Department of Primary Industry, released last month. 

“Using acoustic monitoring devices, researchers demonstrated that New South Wales koala populations are more prevalent than previously thought, and it provides pivotal data contradicting previous concerns about the impact of forestry.

The study covered over 224 sites and 8.5 million hectares, including those proposed for the Great Koala National Park, and contained more than 25,000 hours of monitoring data.

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Map showing 224 monitoring sites overlayed on koala habitat suitability. Blue and green show higher suitability; yellow and red show lower suitability. (Image Credit: Research produced by Dr Bradley Law, Leroy Gonsalves, Traecey Brassil and Isobel Kerr)

Notably, the study focused on the land west of the highway and categorically proved that mega-fires are a koala risk, but modest fires, forestry, drought, and flooding are not. It also highlights that we have the technology to monitor our koala populations actively.

Dr Law dubs it “exceptionally effective”. The acoustic monitoring, combined with heat-finding drones, enables the capture of those accurate snapshots,” Mr Kemp said.

Mr Kemp invited the Premier and the Minister for the Environment to share their thoughts.  The Government has been silent about this work.

It is known that the Department for the Environment has publicly ignored Dr Law’s world-recognised work for over five years.

The department has also rejected work done by the National Resources Commission into koalas and forestry. The department’s implied stance is that if it is not its work and challenges its ideology, it will ignore the work in its policy formulation and advice to the Government.

Mr Kemp correctly observed: “Most importantly, Dr Law’s research highlighted that regulated timber harvesting in State forests had no effect on the trend of koala populations via any metric and nor did land tenure. In fact, his research shows that the health outcomes of koalas in national parks are no different to those in State forests.” 

The speech raises important issues for both the NSW State economy, the National economy, environmental issues, and the politics of the NSW bureaucracy.

It was also a speech that showed that a first-term MP is learning the ropes, which augurs well for the National Party going forward.

The other political issue that the speech revealed is that Michael Kemp was the only National Party MP addressing the problem in Parliament regarding the process and the substance of the consultative process of the Great Koala National Park.

The big question is, where is the Leader of the National Party and Shadow Spokesperson for Forestry?  

Has the Liberal Party in the Opposition Coalition Shadow Cabinet silenced him, is it just the Leader of the Opposition’s office stopping any commentary or is he just missing in action?  The Leader of the Opposition has a long history of being against the hardwood industry within NSW.

The Hon Wes Fang MLC in the Legislative Assembly has done week In Budget Estimates as reported in Wood Central. The Hon. Sarah Mitchell has also taken up the native forestry timber in The Legislative Council.

In the last fortnight, two North Coast Backbenchers issued a press statement. These statements should rightly have come from Dougal Saunders, given the significance of the issue and its impact on the hardwood industry state-wide. Not surprisingly, the press release called for the five-year review of the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operation Approval to commence as it was overdue. 

The big issue at the time was that the NSW EPA had caused a total shutdown of all state-controlled forestry operations in NSW. There was no statement from the Shadow spokesperson on Forestry, who is the Leader of the Parliamentary National Party. It is not surprising that Dugald Saunders is earning the nickname in the bush of “Do Nothing Dugald.”

Michael Kemp’s speech can be found here.

The Dr Bradley Law Report referred to in the speech can be found here:

Law BS, Gonsalves L, Brassil T, Kerr I (2024) Broad-scale acoustic monitoring of koala populations suggests metapopulation stability, but varying bellow rate, in the face of major disturbances and climate extremes Ecology and Evolution

Other research needs to be acknowledged by the ALP, Greens and not-for-profit environmentalists seeking public donations for running costs.

Law BS, Gonsalves L, Slade C, Brassil T, Flanagan C (2024) GPS tracking reveals koalas Phascolarctos cinereus use mosaics of different forest ages after environmentally regulated timber harvesting. Austral Ecology

Law BS, Brassil T, Gonsalves L, Roe P, Truskinger A, McConville A (2018) Passive acoustics and sound recognition provide new insights on status and resilience of an iconic endangered marsupial (koala Phascolarctos cinereus) to timber harvesting. PLoS ONE 13(10): e0205075.

Law B, Caccamo G, Roe P, et al. (2017) Development and field validation of a regional, management-scale habitat model: A koala Phascolarctos cinereus case study. Ecology and Evolution 7:7475-7489.


  • 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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