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Calls for $36m for koalas' conservation

A Senate inquiry has called for a $36million federal funding boost for koala disease research, and new ''koala friendly'' national guidelines for road upgrades and construction.

It wants speed limits in koala habit zones, tougher controls to curb urban dog attacks, and government grants to help people protect koala trees on their property.

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown, who spent two years pushing for the inquiry, described the Senate environment committee report as a victory for the long-term efforts of koala scientists and community wildlife carers.

Senator Brown said they had ''worked their guts out over decades'' to collect important data on koala diseases, genetic diversity and multiple survival threats including habitat loss, climate change, dog attacks and roadkill.

''This report vindicates their concerns. It puts all of Australia's political leaders on notice,'' Senator Brown said. ''It is a real challenge, and we must be up to the task of turning these recommendations into urgent government policy.''

In its 178-page report, the inquiry urges the Federal Government to take ''a much stronger leadership role'' in koala conservation, saying there appears to be ''little commitment'' at present.

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''There is little doubt that koala numbers are in marked decline and that significantly more needs to be done to ensure the long-term preservation of this unique Australian species,'' the report said.

The report also blasts the current federal process for listing threatened species as unsatisfactory, inadequate and ''not well suited to the conservation needs of the koala''.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke welcomed the report, saying it would ''add valuable information for the assessment of koalas as a nationally threatened species.'' Mr Burke is currently considering an assessment by the Federal Government's Threatened Species Scientific Committee over whether to list the koala as nationally threatened.

University of Queensland ecologist, Professor Clive McAlpine, one of the co-founders of a national koala research network, said the report was ''an important step forward'' for koala conservation but warned little would be achieved if it failed to become policy.

''It's an excellent report, but we will keep losing koala habitat and koalas if the Government ignores its recommendations,'' Professor McAlpine said.

The 10-month inquiry into the conservation status of Australia's koalas received more than 100 submissions, with the bulk of these from community-based koala conservation groups and scientists. The report notes the inquiry aroused such public interest that ''seating in the public gallery at each of the committee's three public hearings was fully occupied, which is not a usual occurrence.''

The inquiry, chaired by NSW Labor senator Doug Cameron, has made 19 recommendations. These include federal funding for a national koala monitoring program, increased support for koala research grants to help property owners protect koala habit, new speed limits and ''road retrofitting'' to prevent koala roadkill, and a $36.5million five-year program to develop a vaccine to control the spread of highly infectious diseases such as koala retrovirus and chlamydia.

''This should be a budget priority for the Government,'' the report said.