A rift in the NSW Coalition Government has been exposed this week over koala protection legislation, an issue of sudden importance for Premier Gladys Berejiklian following a viral friendlyjordies hashtag.
In an eventful 12 months for the Australian government, Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Deputy Premier John Barilaro have clashed yet again, this time over a bill looking to protect koala habitats. Nationals leader Barilaro claimed the bill would restrict how farmers could manage their land and threatened to move to the crossbench with his 13 Nationals ministers, a move that would ultimately lead to a minority Liberal Government.
However, Barilaro backflipped on this statement shortly after, committing to stay in the Coalition and support Liberal Government policies after Berejiklian threatened to remove all Nationals ministers from their positions if they were to join the crossbench. Is it possible that this infighting, and the Berejiklian Government’s sudden hardline stance on koala habitats, could have anything to do with the videos of YouTuber and comedian Jordan Shanks, aka friendlyjordies?
The argument around the koala habitats stems back to the State Environmental Planning Policy (Sepp) which became law in December of 2019, and in particular, on the onus placed on property owners to assist in the conservation of koala habitats on their land. Barilaro previously stated, “We think a Sepp like this is somehow a way to sanitise the regions, attack the property rights of landholders and do absolutely nothing to support koalas.”
Following years of silence surrounding the climate crisis and the destruction of koala habitats in NSW, the Berejiklian Government has become increasingly vocal on the issue over the past year. Yet Berejiklian’s passion for saving the koalas seemingly coincides with a viral campaign orchestrated by friendlyjordies labelling the NSW Premier a #koalakiller.
Friendly reminder that the Berejiklian government has been logging high value koala habitat that survived the black summer bushfires all year with no intention of stopping. Want to save koalas from extinction in NSW? End this government. #nswpol #koalas #koalakiller https://t.co/N25Fe94yvG
— Kailas Wild 🐨 (@kailaswild) August 23, 2020
The hashtag went viral on social media in the summer of 2019, during the widespread bushfires which destroyed vast amounts of bushland and animal habitats across the east coast. The fires, which came in the wake of funding cuts to Fire and Rescue NSW and National Parks and Wildlife Service, as well as mass clearing of native vegetation conducted by the Berejiklian Government, led to the perishing and displacement of up to 3 billion animals in what was dubbed one of the “worst wildlife disasters in modern history”.
Whilst the Premier has a habit of dodging accountability, a series of friendlyjordies YouTube videos placed the blame for the NSW bushfires and the declining koala numbers squarely on the Berejiklian government, conceiving the hashtag #koalakiller.
Since then, #koalakiller has continuously trended on Twitter and attached itself to anything Berejiklian-related.
Could’ve prevented a majority of this disaster if you weren’t complacent on climate change. #KoalaKiller
— Ed Cotlow (@edcotlow) November 17, 2019
It's 8 months into the pandemic… And months after the first major wave… I mean I guess better late then never but jeez. Hell, maybe we can use them for the remaining 29% of Northern NSW koalas next fire season before you can finish them off. #koalakiller
— Tom the Opinionated 👏 (@th3s0ap) September 9, 2020
This backlash seems to have made inroads in the State and Federal Governments, seeing the State Environmental Planning Policy passed, construction of a quarry potentially harmful to koala habitats delayed. NSW Minister for the Environment Matt Kean pledging to double koala populations by 2050 in response to a report claiming they could go extinct by that date.
This latest level of tension and fighting within the NSW Coalition Government is a ramification that perhaps not even friendlyjordies could have seen coming. Following the political drama, Shanks released a video thanking his viewers for their continued pressure on the government and its real-world impact.
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