Catherine Cusack has been fired by Gladys Berejiklian after she voted against her party on a bill which threatened to take protections away from koalas.
You may or may not remember the koala saga that almost brought about the collapse of the entire NSW Government back in September and gave NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian a massive headache.
Well, if you thought it was all over – you’d be wrong. As of yesterday, a fresh vote in the state’s parliament has reignited the so-called ‘koala-war’, resulting in a failed bill and the firing of a Liberal staffer, Catherine Cusack.
In case you don’t remember, tensions first arose between Berejiklian and NSW Deputy Premier/Nationals Leader John Barilaro when the latter wanted to loosen koala protections in favour of farmers and Berejiklian refused to budge (most likely because of her public branding as #KoalaKiller).
Yesterday, NSW Parliament convened in the upper house to vote on a new bill which was framed as a compromise on the koala protection issue, aimed at easing tensions between the Liberals and the Nationals.
However, far from protecting koalas, the legislation was dubbed the ‘koala-killing bill’ by Greens MP Cate Faehrmann and others, who warned that it would remove koala protections on private property and allow for the clearing of millions of hectares of habitat.
2/2 If passed the LLS bill could enable millions of hectares of #koala habitat to be cleared/logged.
It removes a council’s ability to prohibit clearing/logging or other “allowable activities” in environmental zones.
It increases logging approvals from 15 to 30 years. pic.twitter.com/JeNTFGYgMY
— JON DEE (JonDee.com) (@JonDeeOz) November 19, 2020
When it came time for the vote, Liberal MP and Parliamentary Secretary Catherine Cusack decided against the bill, crossing the floor to side with Labor, the Greens, the Animal Justice Party, and Independent Justin Field instead.
Cusack’s vote was the decider, and the bill failed to pass, 18 votes to 19. The winning side opted instead to send the bill to be reviewed by the parliament’s planning and environment committee (which is chaired by Faehrmann).
BREAKING: 19 Ayes 18 Noes to refer LLS bill to Inquiry. Which committee? The one I chair and which held the Inquiry into koalas. Fair to say the Nats Koala-Killing bill has been killed! Woot!!
💪🏼🐨 #nswpol #saveourkoalas
— Cate Faehrmann (@greencate) November 19, 2020
Speaking on her decision, Cusack described that at the hands of the Liberals there has been a continual “stripping” of environmental protections, gradually handing control over to the Nationals.
“My faith in the processes has been shattered,” Cusack described, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, alleging that what they were debating on had “zero to do with protecting koalas”.
“It’s to try to patch up a political disagreement, and I would dearly love to see that solved, but it is just too costly if it comes at the expense of koalas,” she continued.
I want to thank Catherine Cusack @katieqs for crossing the floor last night to vote down the Local Lands Amendment Bill.
An extraordinary act for which we're grateful.
Our koalas need a break from our relentless destruction. #nswpol#Tinonee
*our new sign BTW pic.twitter.com/dG6C3JzhRb
— Tim Jones (@Forthleft2) November 19, 2020
Following this, Gladys Berejiklian called an emergency meeting, and in a joint statement alongside Barilaro, she announced that they would be ditching the legislation and moving to develop a new policy to “protect koalas and the interest of farmers” next year.
Then, in a move which couldn’t help but feel at least a little Trumpian, Berejiklian went on to announce that Cusack was fired from her role as parliamentary secretary.
It comes as Donald Trump this week fired his top security official, Chris Krebs, for refusing to support Trump’s claims of voter fraud – the latest in a string of dismissals from the former US President.
“Following her 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,” Gladys Berejiklian described in a statement.
The premier faced immediate backlash on social media, with many disagreeing with her decision to fire Cusack. Others offered support for Cusack, congratulating her on her integrity.
— Cate Faehrmann (@greencate) November 19, 2020
You forgot to tell NSW voters that you sacked Catherine Cusack last night because she had the integrity to not vote for a bill that hastened koala extinction.#IStandWithCatherineCusack #SaveOurKoalas https://t.co/5lq4Q8HSX7
— Georgina Siri🐨 (@gteasts) November 20, 2020
Punished by her party. Admired by the rest of us with a moral compass. But we must stay vigilant. They’ll go at it again next year….. Thank you Catherine Cusack 🐨
— Selina McGrath BVA (Hons) (@mydalilife) November 19, 2020
— Marie-Anne (@MarieAnneLees1) November 19, 2020
Berejiklian’s decision to fire Cusack carries extra weight considering the premier herself has recently been embroiled in controversy following last month’s revelations of her relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire.
In light of her failure to divulge the relationship – and her worrying proximity to Maguire’s corruption – Berejiklian has faced calls to resign and just last week narrowly avoided being referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
— Cait Ogdon (@Jaca_Salette) November 19, 2020
In lieu of the new bill, Gladys Berejiklian has now announced that the government will revert back to its former State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP 44) until a new policy is created next year. This is despite the fact that SEPP 44 has already expired and was replaced back in March by a new policy which included a modernised definition of koala habitats.
According to The Guardian, chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Chris Gambian, called the move “outrageous” and a “regression” for koala protections, describing: “All that good work planning had done in working up a decent Sepp is wasted.”
“The National Party has spent a lot of time this year just wasting everybody’s time,” he continued.
— Penny Sharpe (@PennySharpemlc) November 19, 2020
Under SEPP 44, the number of protected koala feed trees will now be reduced from more than one hundred to just ten. Thursday’s bill would have made it easier for private landholders to get around the new tree protections which were instated in March.
The whole thing comes after an inquiry from the planning and environment committee earlier this year found that koalas will be extinct by 2050 unless there is urgent government intervention.
I’m looking forward to explaining 2020 to my grandchildren: fires, COVID, Trump, and the small but plucky group of politicians who just really wanted to kick the shit out of koalas 🐨
— Chris Gambian (@chrisgambian) November 20, 2020