By Tanya Plibersek

08 November 2023






SUBJECTS: Funding for koalas across Queensland; $3.5 million funding for the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital; funding for Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

TERRI IRWIN: I really want to welcome everyone if everyone's ready to be welcomed. Great.

So welcome to our beautiful Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, and I'm so appreciative to have Minister Plibersek here today because the work that she's doing and the support she's giving to ongoing conservation work is critically important to what we're doing, so I'd love for the Minister to say a few words, thank you.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Terri, thank you so much for that amazing welcome to this fantastic facility. We're here for some very exciting news today. The Australian Government will be investing $11.6 million in helping koalas across Queensland as part of our $77 million program for koalas right across Australia.

We know that koalas were really hard hit during Black Summer bushfires. We know that koalas are in fact endangered in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT and if we don't do something to change the trend, we can expect to see koalas become extinct.

In fact, a New South Wales Government inquiry found that koalas could be extinct in New South Wales by 2050 unless we change what we're doing.

So today's announcement of $11.6 million includes really substantial new investments, including right here at Australia Zoo where we'll be investing $3.5 million to support the fantastic work that's done here by the Wildlife Hospital.

Right here we'll be building a special ward for koalas that come in with infectious diseases. We'll be investing in planting food trees for the koalas because they're very picky eaters. And of course we'll be upgrading some of the other facilities here as well.

We're also going to be investing additional funding with the RSPCA Queensland with Currumbin and other wildlife sanctuaries because we know that koalas really need a helping hand.

Additionally, as well as the $11.6 million that we're investing in koala facilities here in Queensland, today my colleague Minister Murray Watt, the Minister for Agriculture, and I are announcing more than $13 million will be invested in preparing for the next season of bushfires around Australia.

We know that the Black Summer bushfires were catastrophic for Australian wildlife. We estimate that more than 3 billion animals perished or were displaced by the Black Summer bushfires. The last couple of years have been quite wet, which means that as we go into this hotter, drier season we're already seeing some really bad bushfires here in Queensland, and we can expect more of them as the summer heats up and dries out.

The investments that we're making with local land organisations are designed to map really important habitat for threatened species. We know that there are particular wildlife hot spots that are priorities to protect if a bushfire is approaching so that we can better protect the threatened plants and animals that live in these locations.

We also know that there are things that we can do before bushfires to reduce the likely impact of a fire should it occur. For example, we know that some types of leaves are particularly flammable. We need to get rid of them out of vulnerable areas.

We need to deal with feral animals as well, because feral animals ‑ if there's been a bushfire, feral animals can be particularly destructive and compete with native animals for food and habitat and breeding environments after the bushfire has passed through. Being better prepared for the next season of bushfires will help our native plants and animals better withstand.

Any questions about our terrific koala announcement or the bushfire announcement?

JOURNALIST: Will you go through the other funding, obviously you mentioned RSPCA and I believe the University of the Sunshine Coast was included in that as well?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Do you mind if ‑ I'll refer to my notes, so you get it exactly.


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: So it's $3.5 million for Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital and that's with a new infectious disease ward for koalas, research into koala disease and the koala food and water and other work.

There'll be $5 million to support RSPCA in Queensland. They're wanting to build a state-of-the-art Wildlife Hospital and Centre for Excellence at Capalaba.

$2.39 million for the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary to establish a new koala intensive care unit and a new rehabilitation and exercise area for their koalas. Also they'll be planting some koala food trees as well.

We've got $750,000 for the University of Sunshine Coast. They've been doing some excellent work on chlamydia vaccine for koalas, and another $750,000 for the Queensland University of Technology to develop implant. They've got a two‑dose chlamydia vaccine and they're trying to develop an implant that would automatically release that second dose of the vaccine. So they catch the koalas, give them the first dose of the chlamydia vaccine, implant this second dose and that second dose is then delivered automatically rather than trying to either keep koalas in captivity until the second dose is delivered or release and recapture them, which of course is very labour intensive.

JOURNALIST: The $3.5 million for the Zoo here, is that new building, new equipment, machines?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well Terri might want to talk a bit more about this investment but the most significant part of the investment is a new area for koalas that have infectious diseases so that they can be isolated from other animals. There'll also be ‑ so there'll be new hospital facilities, there’llalso be more planting of koala food trees, because as I said it's interesting to know that although koalas as a species can eat a variety of different types of eucalyptus trees, an individual koala will most likely only eat one type or two or three types at the mostof eucalyptus. They become very accustomed to the eucalyptus that's in the area where they were born. They learn from their mothers effectively to eat a particular type of eucalyptus. So having that food source available for koalas during their recovery is really important.

JOURNALIST: Do you know if the new build itself will cost 3.5 million or ‑‑

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: No, that's only part of the investment.

JOURNALIST: What’s contributed to the funding today, is it moneyyou’ve already budgeted for it or is it a particular [indistinct]

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well the $77 million program that we have for saving koalas has been under way for some time. The announcements today come after a lot of detailed work that we've done with Australia Zoo and with the other successful applicants to make sure that we're spending taxpayers' money wisely in a way that will really benefit these precious species.

JOURNALIST: And in that $13 million for bushfire preparedness, is any of that going to this area?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: That is right across Australia because we know that we've got really dangerous weather conditions coming up in the next few years. We're going into a hot and dry cycle of weather. We've had a lot of growth in the last couple of years because of the rain, so there's a lot of fuel stock, as they say, in our native forests and our bushland at the moment.

We know that last time we went into the Black Summer bushfires we were badly prepared. A lot of native animals were driven to the brink of extinction during the Black Summer bushfires. We're still discovering the impact of the Black Summer bushfires. We're still adding animals and plants to our threatened species list that were impacted by the Black Summer bushfires.

We have to be better prepared as we go into another hot, dry cycle. And by doing things like mapping particularly precious areas of bushland where we've got threatened species, we can better protect those areas. By taking steps like reducing fuel load, particularly when we're talking about highly flammable invasive weeds, we are better prepared for the next season of bushfires.

JOURNALIST: So does any of that mapping work happening on the Sunshine Coast?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yes, absolutely. It will be happening right across this area.

Okay, any other questions that are not about koalas or bushfires? 'Cause I'd really like to have a look at one of those koalas.

JOURNALIST: When will we know about the, whether the Sunshine Coast Rail isbeing scrapped or proceeding?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well the infrastructure review is a really important measure from this Government. The previous Government made a lot of commitments about infrastructure spending, they just didn't put the money aside in the budget to fund the projects that they announced.

What we've discovered is a $33 billion blow‑out when it comes to infrastructure funding. Our Federal Government will spend every cent of the $120 billion that we've promised for future infrastructure projects. Anything that's already under construction, anything that was announced as an election commitment will go ahead.

What we can't do is fund every dollar of the $33 billion blow‑outs that we saw because the previous Government liked to make announcements but not put funding aside for those announcements.

JOURNALIST: This whale project is one of the bigger ones on the list between the [indistinct] and the Whaler’s Corridor being mapped out for 20 years. It would be a big blow to lose that. Do you have any idea whether that one's on the scrap heap?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well it's an announcement for the Infrastructure Minister to make and I'll leave that for her.

JOURNALIST: Do you know when that might be?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I expect it will be soon.

SPEAKER: Would anybody like to ask some questions of Terri?


JOURNALIST: Terri, obviously we did see quite a significant bushfire response on the Sunshine Coast, how did our wildlife go?

TERRI IRWIN: The recent fires that we had of course have affected a lot of wildlife and not all animals can escape a fire, and some animals are displaced by the fire. So as Minister Plibersek mentioned we'll see the repercussions from that for some time.

What we're also dealing with right now is trauma season. So trauma season is when we see the most animals coming into the hospital because they're trying to find a mate, they're young mums that are trying to establish their own territories and they're moving around more so therefore they come into conflict with cars, domestic pets and that sort of thing.

Right now our trauma season is in full swing. We have over 60 koalas in care and that's just koalas. The most that we see are birds. We're taking in a lot of reptiles, animals that were affected by the fires as well and I think what Minister Plibersek was saying about being prepared for the fire season is something we started earlier this year with fire breaks and so forth. So we were able to not just protect the Zoo and the Crocodile Hunter Lodge but also our plantations around the Zoo property.

We've got about 700 acres that are protected from fire with fire breaks and so forth. So we can make sure we can manage our food intake. We go through a tonne of leaf every day between the hospital and the Zoo so it's important for us to have the plant species thriving. If we have a fire go through that we'll be in dire straits.

JOURNALIST: Terri, how nerve‑racking has been it been though? A lot of the fires recently] have been around this area, is that unnerving when they are so close to the Zoo and to this facility?

TERRI IRWIN: I really feel bad for the community [indistinct] the fire [indistinct]. A lot of people had to evacuate as a precaution. Fortunately no homes were lost. But I think preparedness is something we all need to take on board and it's before the events happen. So our fire breaks, water traps, liaising with the wonderful different fire departments that are fighting the fires have been very successful.

We have a really good team here on the Sunshine Coast that are working to protect everyone from fire incidents, but we all need to be responsible in looking at our own properties and making sure we're doing the best that we can and not just for ourselves but for our neighbours, for the wildlife for the environment.

JOURNALIST: How significant will this hospitalfacility for our koalas andour wildlife but also the Zoo and [indistinct]?

TERRI IRWIN: Well this funding is incredibly awesome and couldn't be coming at a better and more important time. So when we're treating wildlife we have a lot of considerations with the animals that we treat, but koalas are unique. So we need to understand when they come in with chlamydia they have ongoing effects that mean they need care for weeks if not months.

So when they come in sick they have to have an antibiotic treatment, so they get doxycycline until they are overcoming the disease, and then they have to overcome the antibiotic until they're gut flora has returned to normal. So that's why they're in care for such a long period of time.

So each and every koala can cost thousands of dollars to treat and recover. So while we're able to do that here, we're also able to do ongoing studies, whether we're looking at blood values, vaccine treatments, making sure they're reacting best to the medications that we're giving them, improving and changing medicine, and we are cutting edge here at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital. We have the best veterinarians on planet earth when it comes to care for koalas and I'm very proud of that. But it's never ending.

You don't stop learning and one of the things we've learned is it's really important to keep them isolated, get them well quickly, get them back out into the environment and protect them to the best of our ability. We will often see koalas come in multiple times, not necessarily from disease but it can be from encounters with cars and dogs, et cetera. But if we can protect them from chlamydia it's so important, because when fires go through or their environment changes, this threat will manifest itself with this disease and it eventually kills them without treatment. So it's critically important.

Just here at this hospital alone we treated over 11,000 koalas. We've really stemmed [indistinct] species here on the Sunshine Coast. We're very proud of that. Couldn't do it without the support and help from the Government, and particularly from this announcement today.

SPEAKER: Any other questions?

TERRI IRWIN: And they live happily ever after.

It's pretty exciting, yeah.