Queensland Government adds a planning and development lawyer to scientific koala panel.

GRIM OUTLOOK: Scientists have found koalas are in major decline. The government has added a planning and development lawyer to its scientific panel.
GRIM OUTLOOK: Scientists have found koalas are in major decline. The government has added a planning and development lawyer to its scientific panel.

THE state government has added a development and planning lawyer to a panel of scientists set up to find ways to better protect koalas.

MinterEllison partner Antra Hood is a specialist in property, planning, environment and construction.

Environment Minister Steven Miles announced in July the panel would be chaired by Associate Professor Jonathan Rhodes from the University of Queensland and include Dr Alistair Melzer from the Central Queensland University’s Koala Research Centre and Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation’s director Mr Al Mucci.

He set up the group after a damning report found south-east koala populations were in a deadly down-ward spiral.

Redland koala populations have crashed by 80 per cent from 1996 to 2014 and may be in terminal decline, according to the report for the Environment Department.

Heavy development is thought to be behind the crash, as well as disease, dog attacks and car strikes, with the report showing protection measures have failed.

The report says the decline is rapid and likely increasing and the difference between the Pine Rivers, north of Brisbane and Redlands is likely due to the latter – once a koala stronghold – having been more heavily developed.

Dr Miles said Ms Hood’s role would be important because part of the panel’s job would be to provide recommendations on existing regulatory options and development instruments.

“In particular, this will link into the planning framework and South-East Queensland Regional Plan reviews that are currently underway,” he said.

Dr Miles said the panel was working with the Environment Department to provide recommendations on the most appropriate and realistic actions to address the decline.

“They will advise us on various immediate actions to allow us to continue gathering important data through surveying and modelling, and other conservation measures – without pre-empting future changes in direction,” he said.

“While the panel has an excellent breath of experience, we recognise there is a wealth of knowledge in the community and we need to capture that knowledge and ensure a balance of perspectives is considered”.

An interim report from the panel is expected by the end of the year, and a final report in 2017.

“Consultation will commence in the next couple of weeks and the public will be able to provide input through the ‘Get Involved’ website,” he said.

“It is clear from the science that we cannot just assume the koala protection strategies put in place over the past two decades are going to stop populations of this iconic species continuing to decline.

“Koalas are threatened by a number of factors in addition to habitat loss, including disease, car strike and dog attack.

“These are the driving reasons we ensured there was increased funding in the budget to enhance our koala conservation initiatives.

“There’s now an additional $12 million to boost koala conservation measures and improve population surveys over the next four years, and a further $2.6 million per annum for ongoing funding for koala protection,” Dr Miles said.