CRITICS say the NSW Government seems to have all but ignored concerns about the risks Shenhua Watermark Mine pose to the Gunnedah koala population in their response to an Upper House inquiry on how to protect koalas and their habitats.
A total of 42 recommendations were handed down last year, but it was revealed on Monday just 11 have been adopted, with a further 17 'supported in principal' and 14 merely 'noted'.
Unfortunately for local koala carers and experts, one of those that fell in the latter category related to the Namoi Valley.
The recommendation stated 'that the NSW Government ensure the protection of the koala colony and habitat before allowing any further development at the Shenhua Watermark mine site'.
The government responded by stating they believed the conditions of consent were satisfactory to minimise risks to the local koala population. They also pointed to the mine's Interim Koala Habitat Plan, which 'details the koala habitat revegetation Shenhua must undertake throughout the next two years'.
Under that plan, 266 hectares of koala habitat will be planted within their boundaries. Progressive rehabilitation of the land is also a focus at the Shenhua site.
However, there was no mention of preventing further development if it were to affect existing populations.
Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) licenced foster carer Martine Moran, who is based in the Namoi Valley, said it was a disappointing outcome given it was one of the few points that focused on inland areas such as Gunnedah, which is seen by many as the koala capital of the world.
"The thing that I was struck by was that a lot of the ones they said they were supporting were nothing to do with this side of the range, it was hardly mentioned, you'd wouldn't have thought there was a koala here," she said.
"There's a significant inland koala population that they just didn't seem to take into account."
Ms Moran can't understand how the government have made, what is in her opinion, such a significant oversight, while also claiming the inquiry could and should have happened at least two years ago.
There was a silver lining however, as she was thrilled with the recommendations that were adopted, which included prioritising 'the protection of koala habitat and corridors in the planning and implementation stages of urban growth areas'; 'that the NSW Government rule out opening up old growth forests in the state forest reserve for logging'; and they 'urgently approve comprehensive koala plans of management previously submitted to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment in a timely and transparent manner'.
Associate professor at the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney, professor Mathew Crowther, said he was not surprised by the government's response because he expected it to be 'tempered'.
He did, however, have a slightly more cynical outlook on what the three categories they used in their response actually meant.
"If it says supported then that's something they've already done, supported in principal is that they say 'well we're doing the best we can' and noted is 'oh we don't really know how to do anything about this'," he said.
"I don't know if anyone should be surprised with the responses of the government because this is what they do, it's going to be very hard for them to admit to doing anything wrong."
As for the Shenhua Watermark Mine, he said it was a case of the project being too far gone for the government to turn back now.
Environment Minister Matt Kean stated he was hoping to double the state's koala numbers by 2050, but Prof. Crowther doesn't think creating a goal like that is advisable
"I don't actually believe they should be committing to a target, but rather to a change, i.e. that koalas are no longer declining," he said.
"It's really hard to do that type of thing... koala threats differ throughout the range from fires, to disease, some have really hot conditions or there is road traffic.
"I would've thought a better commitment is to reduce the threat to koala populations as opposed to commit to a number."
For the moment, it is clear the state officials will be receiving no further pressure from the federal government on the topic, given Australia was again a notable absence at a global environmental conference this week.
They did not attend the virtually held One Planet Summit, headlined by Britain, France and Costa Rica, which aims at protect 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030.