14th August 2018
Questions without notice.
Graphic footage has emerged of a truck driver who ignored flashing warning signs set up by Roads and Maritime Services workers who were attempting to rescue an injured koala trapped on the Pacific highway. 68 North Coast koalas have been killed on the Pacific Highway since 2013. We understand that the truck driver has been charged.
The Hon. MARK PEARSON (16:22): My question is directed to the Hon. Don Harwin representing the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. An ABC Government Information (Public Access) Act request revealed that 68 North Coast koalas have been killed on the Pacific Highway since 2013. Fatalities include a koala killed by a truck driver who ignored flashing warning signs set up by Roads and Maritime Services [RMS] workers who were attempting to rescue the koala trapped on the highway. Noting that koalas are endangered on the North Coast, what is the Government doing to improve koala protections on the Pacific Highway? And will the Minister advise whether the truck driver has been charged with killing an animal and contravening RMS traffic directives?
The Hon. Don Harwin: As the matter is more properly within the portfolio of the roads Minister, my colleague the Deputy Leader of the Government will answer the Hon. Mark Pearson.
The Hon. NIALL BLAIR (Minister for Primary Industries, Minister for Regional Water, and Minister for Trade and Industry) (16:23): I thank the House for its indulgence. The member asked a question that should have been directed to the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight rather than the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. I am advised that as part of the strategy to increase koala habitat and connect existing habitat, 80,000 koala habitat trees have been planted on 110 hectares of previously cleared land with another 10,000 trees to be planted on 20 hectares when construction on the Pacific Highway is complete.
So far, more than 7,000 workers have been trained through a koala zero harm induction program to identify koala habitat, key threat mitigation strategies and how to implement strict rescue procedures. When complete, the highway will provide a closed system of fauna fencing with 26 bridges and large culverts to allow local wildlife and koalas to safely cross, which is about one crossing every 500 metres. I can advise members that 23 kilometres of temporary fencing and 16 kilometres of permanent fencing has been installed on the existing Pacific Highway at Wardell Road. All project sites and access roads have been protected with temporary koala fencing and speed zones have been reduced in known koala areas. Six vehicle activated koala signs and seven static safety signs have been installed on local roads in consultation with Ballina Shire Council and Friends of the Koala to increase driver awareness about koalas in the area. RMS continues to work with stakeholders to ensure the best outcome for koalas and is keeping the community informed of progress. A progress update on the Koala Management Plan was released in February 2018. An independent ecological contractor has started a monitoring program that will be in place for up to 15 years. This will help to measure the effectiveness of the mitigation strategies.
I saw the ABC story about the incident in the tunnel to which the Hon. Mark Pearson is referring. The images were quite confronting to view. I am advised that RMS staff took all reasonable steps to prevent this incident, including reducing traffic to one lane, reducing the speed limit, alerting motorists to the koala in the tunnel and calling the koala rescue group Friends of the Koala to help rescue the animal. Despite the best efforts of RMS staff, the koala was struck after a motorist failed to observe the warnings. Since the 2017 incident, RMS have reviewed fencing in the area. Following the incident, an additional 120 metres of fauna fencing was installed north of the tunnel. RMS is not aware of any other koalas being hit by traffic on this section of the highway since the incident. In addition to the recent announcement by the Minister for the Environment, the Government has some measures that will be installed in areas such as Appin Road to address its area of concern. I hope that provides the Hon. Mark Pearson with a bit of information as to what RMS has been doing. I thank the House and the member for allowing me to provide that information, although the original question was asked to the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure.