The only complaint John Barilaro has raised with the New South Wales planning minister about the state’s new koala protection laws is from a Newcastle property developer with multiple residential developments on the edges of towns including Maitland, Lismore and Armidale.
Jeff McCloy, one of the Hunter region’s most prominent developers, told the Guardian he contacted Barilaro when the National party leader and deputy premier spoke out about the koala state environmental planning policy. He then sent Barilaro a lengthy briefing note he had written in May about it.
“The new koala SEPP can have a significant negative effect on farmers, natural resource industries and the developers of residential, commercial and industrial land by increasing the cost to manage, operate and/or develop landholdings. This is because the new SEPP redefines and lowers the threshold for identifying core koala habitat,” McCloy wrote on 8 September.
He copied in the upper house MP Catherine Cusack, who is based in the Hunter and who had criticised the Nationals’ stance on the koala protections.
McCloy, a former lord mayor of Newcastle, specialises in residential communities on the fringes of Newcastle and surrounds, such as Maitland and Lake Macquarie, but also has developments in northern NSW.
McCloy gained notoriety in 2014 when he admitted to the Independent Commission Against Corruption that he gave tens of thousands of dollars to state Liberal party candidates, to such an extent that he felt “like a walking ATM”.
On Wednesday McCloy told the Guardian he had contacted Barilaro because he was concerned that the private sector was being made to carry the cost of protecting koalas.
“NSW has a massive proportion of national parks,” he said. “Most of the koalas killed are in the national parks. The numbers are on record. So what happens is private enterprise are expected to maintain the [populations elsewhere].
“That’s the long and the short of it.
“Fundamentally you’ve got to do these massive studies for any sort of development, residential, rural residential … if you have any of these 123 trees on the site. That means massive delays, massive time costs.”
McCloy denied he had a particular project that was affected by the koala Sepp.
“The two big sites we’ve got are cleared sites in the main,” he said. “I don’t do this for self-interest. I do it, like I normally do, because I’ve done my homework. The maps are in areas where koalas haven’t been for 100 years.”
He said developers were expected to maintain offset land in perpetuity, and if the state government had to do that themselves they would have to set aside $9bn.
“Why are they penalising private enterprise?” he said. “We are so far out of kilter with reasonableness it’s almost beyond a joke.”
Barilaro faced a vote of no confidence on Wednesday after he threatened last week the Nationals would walk away from the Coalition and sit on the crossbenches if the Liberals did not immediately repeal the koala Sepp. The premier, Gladys Berejiklian, threatened to swear in a new ministry if they did and stared down the threat. The future of the koala protections will be discussed at cabinet in October.
Meanwhile, environmental groups have highlighted that despite claiming to represent the bush, the Nationals represent only 29% of the area of regional NSW. The Nationals lost the huge seat of Barwon to the Shooters at the last state election.
Eleven out of 25 regional NSW seats are with the Liberals, Shooters, independents, Greens or Labor.
A number of the north coast seats held by Nationals are under increasing pressure from Labor and the Greens due in part to demographic changes. They are held by slim margins.