Coffs Harbour MP Gurmesh Singh has brushed off claims of a conflict of interest between his links to the lucrative blueberry industry and his strong stance on the new koala protection policy.
Coffs Harbour MP Gurmesh Singh has brushed off claims of a conflict of interest between his links to the lucrative blueberry industry and his strong stance on the new koala protection policy.

Singh denies conflict of interest on koala policy

COFFS Harbour MP Gurmesh Singh has brushed off claims of a conflict of interest between his links to the lucrative blueberry industry and his strong stance on the new koala protection policy.

He was the founding director of Oz Group Co-op and continues to have interests in properties and a number of trusts including Bella Blueberries Trust which has a farm at Upper Corindi.

This family farm is surrounded by core koala habitat but Mr Singh says this has not influenced his strong public stance on the new Koala Habitat Protection SEPP (State Environmental Planning Policies).

"It might be surrounded by it (core koala habitat) but the whole farm is planted out so we don't need to do anything further on that farm that might require a development application."

But Mr Singh says it's an issue that goes much further than farms.

"Where we have core koala habitat mapped on roundabouts and cricket ovals it's an issue that goes far beyond farms and that's an issue we are trying to work out," Mr Singh said.

"The Woolgoolga headland is mapped as core koala habitat; and Riding Lane where Council wants to build new chambers is also mapped."

Last week leader of the NSW Nationals John Barilaro backed down from his threat to move his party to the cross bench over the issue.
Last week leader of the NSW Nationals John Barilaro backed down from his threat to move his party to the cross bench over the issue.

Mr Singh and his colleagues, including leader of the NSW Nationals John Barilaro, say rural communities are being asked to carry the burden for koala protection across the state.

"Essentially we are asking landowners to pay the cost of maintaining core koala habitats on private properties and that's an accepted position but we draw the line at land that is not core koala habitat and has been incorrectly identified as part of this SEPP.

"If you have a rural block and half the property is core koala habitat you still have to pay rates and take care of it and you can't do anything with it."

Coffs Harbour City Councillor Sally Townley.
Coffs Harbour City Councillor Sally Townley.

Coffs Harbour City Councillor Sally Townley has campaigned for greater regulation of the blueberry industry and ran against Mr Singh in the State elections.

She says farmers are not being singled out.

"Farmers who carry out development should surely follow the same guidelines as other people?" Dr Townley said.

"Farmers are not being singled out to bear a cost. Even before this SEPP, a farmer putting in a DA would have to provide information in relation to native vegetation clearing. This is nothing new."

She says Councils have an obligation to consider impacts on threatened species, including koalas, when assessing all development applications.

"This is also not new. The National Party represents a tiny percentage of Australians. And perhaps this will be even less as they reveal their policy position on koalas."

John Barilaro. Picture Rohan Kelly
John Barilaro. Picture Rohan Kelly

Last week Barilaro, and other Nationals MPs including Chris Galaptis and Mr Singh, backed down from their threat to move to the cross bench over the issue.

Now the matter will be up for discussion at the next Cabinet meeting.

"It will now be discussed as part of the Cabinet process which will mean a very robust discussion," Mr Singh said.

"There is so much detail in this SEPP and we're down to the nitty-gritty and unfortunately that doesn't come across in a sound bite."