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The facts don't matter

By Vic Jurskis - posted Wednesday, 5 August 2020

In the lead up to the NSW Elections last year, the ALP candidate for Coffs Harbour parroted green propaganda: "If we don't do something by 2050 koalas are going to be extinct". Nationals candidate, now Member for Coffs Harbour, Mr. Gurmesh Singh said "I think the scientific evidence shows otherwise, that the numbers are far higher than they have been in the past". AAP FactCheck supposedly "examined … Mr. Singh's opposing claim" and, on the same day, reported that it was: "Mostly False - Mr Singh's claim is mostly false - mostly false with one minor element of truth". They reported that:

It's "practically impossible" to get an accurate count of koalas, according to the Australia Koala Foundation. … There is however consensus that koala numbers are declining. … According to a senate report the estimated koala population before European settlement was as high as 10 million. … The Journal of Conservation Biogeography estimated an average decline of 24 per cent over the past three generations.

It's certainly not possible to count koalas using faecal pellets as AKF seems to do. And if there were consensus, there would be no need for a FactCheck. The Senate's estimates refer to populations irrupting a full century after European settlement. The Journal of Conservation Biogeography doesn't exist, and in any case journals don't make estimates, they publish them. The numbers came from the heavens via 15 Oracles, through the Delphi Process. I kid you not. The experts wrote:


It was not necessary to achieve high levels of certainty or consensus among experts before making informed estimates. A quantitative, scientific method for deriving estimates of koala populations and trends was possible, in the absence of empirical data on abundances.

AAP FactCheck seems to have overlooked that Mr. Singh was not making a claim, merely stating what he thought. More importantly, he was 100% correct. However, their incorrect Verdict was publicised through about 50 media outlets including television. I repeatedly requested AAP to FactCheck some of the false public statements in references upon which the verdict relied. Three times I was told they'd have a look, but nothing happened.

After 6 months, I supplied them with 6 scientific papers falsifying both their statement that there was only one study showing any increase in koalas and their Verdict. I asked for a correction. By this time, FactCheck had a new Editor – Peter Trute – who agreed to review the evidence and respond. Another two months later, after many email exchanges and a phone conversation, FactCheck "updated" the article, referring to only 3 of several studies showing "possible" increases. They did not amend their historically and scientifically incorrect Verdict.

I asked Mr. Trute how I could take this matter further up the line at AAP and was informed that I could only go through him. I wrote a letter to AAP Editor in Chief Mr Tony Gillies suggesting that FactCheck had breached their Code of Practice. Unable to find an email address, I sent it to their Standards Committee in November 2019. I received no acknowledgement. Now, 8 months on, I was surprised to receive a response from the Chairman of AAP Standards, dated 31st July, saying:

Processing your complaint was delayed to allow consideration of the findings of the NSW parliamentary inquiry established in June 2019 to report on koala populations and habitat in NSW. We have viewed your submission to the inquiry and the transcript of your appearance at its December 2019 hearing in Sydney.

One of the findings in the parliamentary committee's report, released last month, was that koala numbers were in decline in NSW even before the 2019-20 bushfires. The report said the only counterargument to this finding was from you. …

Please find attached our report on your complaints.

This matter is now closed for AAP Standards and any further action will be at the discretion of AAP Editor in Chief Tony Gillies.

NSW Koala Inquiry did indeed falsely report that mine was the only counterargument. Like most of their findings, this was wrong.


One of their star witnesses was Dr. Kellie Leigh, Executive Director of Science for Wildlife who gave this evidence immediately after mine:

People have assumed that because it is largely sandstone country in the big protected area-we are talking about the Greater Blue Mountains world heritage area, so eight national parks and Jenolan Caves Reserve as well-throughout that area the assumption has been that if koalas are there they are low density and they are not significant populations.

What we are finding is large, growing populations. They are not low density. We have found a lot of koalas particularly in south-east Wollemi National Park, which runs right down into the Hawkesbury. They are cross tenure. There are a lot of animals in the protected area on a range of soil types … and they are running down into the developed area as well … On the other side of the mountains in Kanangra we have found a lot of koalas … they are breeding …

Everywhere we look we find a lot of koalas. This area just has not been surveyed. … They appear to be breeding well. The demographics that we are getting are of a young and expanding population, particularly up in Kanangra.

The AAP FactCheck motto is "Restoring confidence in content through independent verification of the facts". When I once again searched the net for an address to contact Mr. Gillies, I found that he had announced as early as 18th June that he would step down as Editor in Chief on 31st July. I wondered what was the point of the official AAP Standards adjudication. So I read the first paragraph:

Please note that our investigation and the contents of this correspondence are intended to respond to the issues you have raised concerning AAP's standards only. The contents below are provided to you without prejudice to any consideration of AAP's legal position or any subsequent complaint which may arise regarding the same or similar subject matter.

That was enough.

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Vic Jurskis is the author of The Great Koala Scam.

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About the Author

Vic Jurskis has been a forester for 40 years. He has published extensively in academic journals. He is the author of Firestick Ecology: fairdinkum science in plain English (Connor Court, 2015).

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