Defence Housing Australia (DHA) has applied to the Toowoomba Regional Council to build 342 houses on a former rifle range, owned by the Defence Department in the Toowoomba suburb of Mount Lofty.
But after an estimated one billion native animals have perished in bushfires, locals said governments should be protecting the bush, not selling it off.
Plan ‘doesn’t add up on a lot of levels’
Ecologist Geoff Sharp, who has more than 20 years experience as an environmental professional, described the plan as “outrageous”.
“DHA is a Commonwealth Government corporation [with] two shareholding ministers; one is Defence, one is Treasury or Finance,” he said.
“So this is reckless profiteering by a government-owned corporation.
“They’re putting people in bushfire hazard areas, they’re destroying koala habitat.”
Sharp said all surveys of the area had been done during the drought, but he said there had been more koala sightings after recent rain.
“We’ve got a healthy group of quality koalas, they’re disease-free, they’re breeding,” he said.
Sharp said the area was mapped as koala habitat by the State Government and the local university.
“It’s not contested that it is koala habitat [and] critical for their survival, but what the State Government’s done is basically made it all exempt development in an urban area.”
“They’re just going to barrel the koala habitat.
“If this was in a rural area and you are trying to farm you wouldn’t be able to clear — it’s one rule for the bush one rule for the city.”
‘Owe it to children’
Toowoomba mothers Justine and Renee Dunn, who hike the area, said they owed it to their children to try to stop the plan.
“We see them [koalas] in the wild, see them in their habitat. I don’t want it them to lose their home,” Dunn said.
“To a child they don’t understand why we’re wanting to rip down that land and put houses on it.
“They’re just in awe, they’re gobsmacked, they light up. You can’t pay for that.”
Belle and Malcolm: the faces of the campaign
The sisters have become so familiar with two of the koalas regularly sighted that they named them Malcolm, after the former Prime Minister, and Belle.
“Belle and Malcolm — it’s a love story. And we really want them to have babies,” she said.
Justine Dunn said people were ‘angry’ about the proposed plan after bushfires injured and killed koala populations across Australia.
“Everyone’s seen just how important it is to save what [koala population] we do [still] have,” she said.
“We’ve got America, Japan, England — they’re all jumping on board.
“They’re like ‘come on Australia, save what you have left.’ They’re devastated for us.”
She said the koalas had untapped potential to attract tourists to the region.
“Many people have so many great memories themselves, why don’t we want our children and our grandchildren to have that too?” she said.
More information needed on Queensland koalas
University of Queensland research fellow, Bill Ellis, said not enough was known about the impact of bushfires on koala populations in the region.
“At the moment all we know is we’ve got less habitat, we’ve probably got less koalas than we had a couple of years ago,” he said.
Dr Ellis has called for statewide koala mapping and said the vast majority of koalas live outside the south-east corner of Queensland.
“This is a good example, this particular development, where there’s no mapping for the site, but yet the locals out there know that you can see koalas there,” he said.
“If you don’t know what you’ve got sometimes you’re more likely to lose it.”
Council seeks expert advice
Toowoomba Regional Council mayor, Paul Antonio, said a decision on the development application would be made “in due course”.
“Council has appointed an environmental specialist to undertake a peer review of material submitted by the applicant,” he said.
“And to provide council with expert advice regarding the development’s impact on the habitat values present over the development site.”
The mayor said the applicant also referred the development to the Federal Department of Environment and Energy for consideration of impacts on species, including koalas.
A DHA spokesperson said it would continue to support council by providing further information as required.
“As council work through the application process, we are unable to provide further comment at this time,” the spokesperson said.