Local News

Koala bill revisited – Premier sacks Cusack for crossing the floor

Geoff Helisma

The controversy surrounding the NSW Government’s handling of protecting koalas took an unexpected turn on Thursday November 29, when Legislative Council member Catherine Cusack voted against the Local Land Services Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2020.

The Liberal MP’s support resulted in a 19-18 vote to block the bill, which was being considered as a result of Clarence MP Chris Gulpatis’s opposition to the Koala Habitat Protection State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP).

The bill will now be considered by an upper house committee headed by Greens MP Cate Faehrmann.

Subsequently, the Premier released a statement: “Following [Ms Cusack’s] decision today to move a non-government amendment to a government bill, I have made the decision to immediately remove Ms Catherine Cusack as a parliamentary secretary.”

In the house, Ms Cusack said the bill was a “tipping point” brought on by nine-years of “disappointments”, which she says she has “endured for the sake of loyalty”.

“…the incremental stripping away of protections from environment and planning and into a primary industry framework has been very difficult to swallow—particularly since the models that we have been dismantling were set up by the Liberal Party and the Nationals during the Greiner years.

“It is our own good work that we have been undoing.”

For his part, Mr Gulaptis said, “At the end of the day, to be honest, I’m glad it’s reverted back to the SEPP, so we can rethink our position to better protect koalas and farmers and rural industries.

“The SEPP was clumsy and didn’t really target koala protection as its focus … from where I sit, I’m happy about the outcome.

“We can go back and develop a better policy and give famers better direction and not impact on their futures.”

On Ms Cusack’s sacking, Mr Gulaptis said there are “always ramifications when you cross the floor”.

“I lost my role as a parliamentary secretary [when he crossed the floor to save the greyhound racing industry],” he said.

“She knew what she was doing when she crossed the floor.”

On September 2, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis triggered the argy bargy when he threatened to move to the crossbench in the NSW Legislative Assembly.

Mr Gulaptis was objecting to the Koala Habitat Protection State Environmental Planning Policy, which was adopted by the NSW Government in late 2019.

“It is untenable to have this legislation in my electorate,” he said at the time.

“This will affect rural businesses and regional economies unless changes happen.

“We need a compromise that will protect koalas, not just trees.”

National’s leader, John Barilaro, subsequently said his party could not afford to lose an MP of Mr Gulaptis’s calibre.

A week later, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged Mr Barilaro to withdraw his protest against the government’s changes to the koala protection policy.

“It is not possible to be Deputy Premier or a Minister of the Crown and sit on the crossbench,” she said in a statement.

“If required I will attend Government House tomorrow [Friday September 11] and swear in a new ministry.”

On October 21, the Nationals gained support in the legislative assembly to amend local land services laws to exempt private rural landholders from having to recognise the expanded definition of koala habitat under the koala State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP).

“The Local Land Services Amendment Bill 2020 is a vast improvement on what was proposed initially, and a win not, just for the Nationals, but also for farmers, the timber industry and indeed koalas,” Mr Gulaptis said at the time.