Great Koala National Park would create thousands of jobs, study finds, but at what cost? | Ralph-Lauren

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An ambitious plan to create a 180-kilometre koala conservation reserve along the NSW Mid North Coast could generate thousands of jobs and add more than $1 billion to the state’s economic output over the next 15 years, a study has found.

The Coffs Harbour and Bellingen councils, along with Destination North Coast, commissioned the University of Newcastle to undertake an economic and environmental analysis of the proposed Great Koala National Park (GKNP).

Lead researcher Roberta Ryan said it was estimated the park would generate $412 million in visitor expenditure and create 9,810 full-time-equivalent jobs.

“In economic terms, the story is pretty positive,” she said.

The National Parks Association of NSW, which has pushed for the GKNP since 2015, is lobbying for 175,000 hectares of state forest to be converted into national park to establish a reserve that would span from Grafton to Kempsey.

Professor Ryan and her team’s analysis projected the development of the park would cost $145 million and would require $128 million to operate over 15 years, starting this year.

A map of a proposed conservation area for koalas in NSW.
The Great Koala National Park would involve the transitioning of state forests into conservation areas.(Supplied)

Findings disputed

While the report detailed the positives the park could create for the regional economy and environment, Professor Ryan said it also assessed the downsides.

State forest native logging would be hard hit, according to the report, and could see as many 675 jobs axed in the region.

But Timber NSW said job losses would exceed 1,500 and that the move would cost the region’s economy at least $700 million a year.

General manager Maree McCaskill said the study significantly underestimated the value of state forest native logging.

“They’ve made some significant assumptions, not understanding or knowing how the industry works,” she said.

Ms McCaskill said the university approached the peak body for information about the study but did not respond to Timber NSW’s requests for more information.

In the report’s conclusion, Professor Ryan recommended the State Government conduct a full business investigation into the park.

She hoped it would contribute to the ongoing conversation in determining the best approach to protecting koalas from extinction in NSW.

“This is a very reputable study, very high-quality data done using conservative assumptions that we really would like to see be part of the debate,” she said.

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