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Freedom of Information Reveals Victorian Government's Indifference to Plight of Strzelecki Koala

Several months ago, Friends of the Earth applied under Freedom of Information Legislation, for details pertaining to how the Victorian State Government dealt with FoE's 2022 application to the Federal Government regarding EPBC listing of the Strzelecki koala. FoE's nomination was sent off in March 2022, with the subsequent nomination refused in October 2022.

The "silver lining" in regards to the nomination is that it now appears that the State Government has finally (ironic hand claps) started (as of July 2023) a project investigating the genetic significance of the Strzelecki koala and the extent of the population. The project could take 2 years to complete.


The 2022-23 Victorian State Budget provided $3.309 million over two years to support actions under the new Koala Management Strategy including: Undertaking state-wide genetic surveys of Victorian koala populations. With a major focus on the extent and range of the Strzelecki koala.

In the mean time there is no protection for the Strzelecki koala (other than the Wildlife Act) and limited protection for its habitat. Between 2004 and 2023, when the State Government promised it would look into the genetic significance of the Strzelecki koala, it refused to do so. Four scientific reports have now been completed on the animal: Phillips/Allen 2014, Phillips/Wallis 2016, Wedrowicz et all 2017 and Phillips/Wallis 2023. All of these reports have been researched and published with no assistance, support or funding from the State Government. All have concluded that this is indeed a very important animal, in the context of Victorian, Southern NSW and South Australian koala populations.

A key reason for the Federal Government's refusal was "The Threatened Species Scientific Committee" noted that significant additional genetic and spatial research will be required to confirm that the entity can be easily identified and considered demographically separate from adjacent populations in order to adequately circumscribe the Strzelecki/South Gippsland koala as a distinct population for assessment. In addition, data available to assess the Strzelecki/South Gippsland koala appear to be insufficient to evaluate it against the quantitative listing criteria. Further research is required to estimate population size and trends".

Strzelecki koala at Mullungdung. Photo: Alison Livermore

Almost 20 years earlier in the Victorian Government's 2004 Koala Management Plan (KMP), the State Government acknowledged the importance of the Strzelecki koala, but the objectives and actions of the KMP were not enacted. "Objective 7 Managing Genetic Structure Action To conserve the remnant genotype in South Gippsland Koalas, and to ensure that the low level of genetic variation in Koalas elsewhere in Victoria does not adversely affect the capacity of the species to survive and flourish in this state. Lead Agent: DSE Biodiversity and Natural Resources Division in conjunction with an appropriate genetics research laboratory. Timeframe: medium- to long-term 17: Initiate a detailed survey of genetic diversity, using microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA markers, across South Gippsland, from Western Port to Sale and from the Princess Highway to Refuge Cove, Wilsons Promontory.  Priority: high"

With a lack of Victorian Government interest in the Strzelecki Koala it was left to non-government groups and researchers to do the difficult work of highlighting the significance of the animal.

The following information provided by email threads sourced under FoI, provide few new insights, but they do reveal that the State Government was caught by surprise by the nomination and basically had to "fess up" that it had no information regarding what the Federal Government was asking for. The documents also reveal that the State's Environment Minister was put in a tricky spot after being asked to protect the Strzelecki koala by the public. She was also asked a Parliamentary question by Greens MP Ellen Sandell in May 2022.

The Freedom of Information Chain

Email sent on April 29 2022, showing that the nomination was now being discussed within the Victorian bureaucracy. The FoI documents did not include the excel spreadsheet notes stated in the email.

By May 5 2022, the Victorian Government was already acknowledging that FoE's nomination was lacking in supporting data and scientific credibility. No mention is made however that the Victorian Government should have already completed this work as per its 2004 Koala Management Plan. If FoE hadn't have nominated the Strzelecki koala under the EPBC Act would we have had to wait another 20 years for action from the State Government?

By June 9 2022, pressure was building due to FoE and the Victorian Greens a few weeks earlier asking the Environment Minister to support the listing. The Minister's Office wanted answers.

A PR plan was being hatched in early June as a State Government response. No documents were provided in the FoI application regarding what the Victorian Government actually sent to the Federal Government in terms of the nomination.

June 21. Getting ready to deal with any public criticism.

By July 1 2022, the Victorian Scientific Advisory Committee wrote to the Minister offering their expertise on the matter.

By early July it was clear that the Scientific Advisory Committee required more information before making a decision. It also appears the Minister had been 'put on the spot'. It's interesting that noone in the Government, appears to have asked the question as to why information held by the Victorian State Government was so lacking regarding the significance of the Strzelecki koala, given that genetic work on the animal was supposed to have been a key objective 20 years earlier. Was the pressure on the Minister actually a result of the work not being done by the Minister's own Department?


A final letter signed by the Minister on August 15 2022 to the Scientific Advisory Committee, stating that a decision on the issue had already been made by DELWP!

Friends of the Earth is currently still busy surveying for koalas in Mullungdung State Forest. Any help in the form of donations would be greatly appreciated.




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