Koala row threatens leader of Australia’s biggest state

SYDNEY (AFP) – A dispute over protection measures for Australia’s endangered koalas threatened yesterday to topple the government of the country’s biggest state.

Angered by a new koala conservation law it said comes at the expense of farmers in New South Wales (NSW), the rural-based Nationals party withdrew its support for state Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s governing Liberals.

The move left Berejiklian with a minority government, lacking the numbers in Parliament to pass legislation as the state battles to recover from the coronavirus crisis.

The uniquely Australian political stoush comes months after unprecedented bushfires destroyed vast swathes of koala habitat, prompting fears for the survival of the beloved tree-dwelling marsupials.

Berejiklian’s Liberals have governed in a delicate coalition with the Nationals in NSW.

In a statement, the Nationals decried the koala bill passed last December as “a blunt instrument to make city-centric law makers feel good about themselves”, claiming it prevents farmers from clearing their own land.

Environmental groups criticised the stance, saying koalas were on track for extinction in NSW by 2050 without urgent intervention.