Newly released meeting minutes reveal that if the Shenhua Watermark coal mine goes ahead, a railway associated with the project would carve through “core koala habitat” where several breeding females have been identified.
Failure to release the minutes after the meeting of the Koala Technical Working Group held in July 2020 is a breach of the conditions of consent for the Shenhua project. The minutes have only been released now after complaints by community groups, including Lock the Gate Alliance.
The minutes show that koala habitat in the area known as “Court Lane” is now believed to be “core” habitat, supporting about 25 koalas, including four breeding females.
The minutes also show the working group, which includes university experts, raised concerns about how long it would take trees planted by the company as an offset for bushland that would be destroyed for the mine to mature into suitable koala habitat.
“There is no planting that is 20 plus years old that the koalas can be relocated to. It is a big problem that no planting has been undertaken and only a token planting undertaken last year which will take 10 years to become a substantial habitat.”
Peculiarly, the meeting minutes also make reference to Shenhua anticipating a construction start date of July this year, however media reports and comments by NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro since the meeting indicate the mine has been pushed back further.
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW coordinator Georgina Woods said Shenhua must not be allowed to bulldoze the recently identified core habitat, and should be prosecuted for the breach of conditions which has been exposed.
“Koalas in this part of NSW are suffering and their numbers declined significantly in part due to the recent severe drought. These breeding females may be this particular colony’s last hope. Shenhua must not be allowed to bulldoze their habitat,” she said.
“Instead of allowing this project to delay indefinitely, the NSW Government should take this opportunity to put an end to it once and for all.
“There is time to save this core habitat and these koalas and it must be done, given the scientists advising the company are saying ‘every individual [koala] is important’.
“It’s clear the NSW Government should not be approving a Koala Plan of Management that will allow such important habitat to be destroyed by the project.
“Koalas are at serious risk of extinction and preventing that means protecting habitat and protecting individuals. We must do what we can to protect these species or we risk losing it from the wild in NSW forever.
“We’re also calling for Shenhua to be investigated and prosecuted for its failure to release these minutes in July 2020, which is a clear breach of the conditions of consent."