There are times in politics where you just have to shake your head in disbelief. Sadly, the revelations over the past two weeks with respect to the ongoing train wreck that is the South Coast Marine Park have left me doing just that.
Last week, the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council revealed that US based environmental lobby group, the Pew Charitable Trust had been given a key advisory role in the planning process for the Marine Park. The involvement of foreign based lobby groups in important government decision making is never a good look, for very good reason. It undermines perceptions of impartiality and objectivity, leading to a lack of community confidence in the process. In a process that is already exceptionally low in community confidence, it is somewhat bizarre that the Minister has chosen to go down this path.
In response to questions I raised in Parliament this week, the Minister confirmed that the McGowan Government had failed to release the actions and outcomes of the Community Reference Committee’s final, and most important, meeting. This is despite it being a requirement under the South Coast Marine Park Community Engagement Strategy and the fact that a communique for each of the preceding meetings had been released. As it turns out, there was a very good reason for this.
The outcome of that final meeting did not fit with the McGowan Government’s narrative.
There have been numerous reports that the final CRC meeting essentially descended into farce, where no common ground could be reached by members on the proposed draft zoning scheme (sanctuary or exclusion zones). From what I understand, even the Government’s own departments couldn’t come to an agreement. So, rather than being ‘open and transparent’ and providing the community with an honest report of the outcomes of the meeting, no communication was released.
So much for the gold standard of transparency promised by McGowan before his government was elected.
This week, we learned that the person the McGowan Government had specifically chosen and located on the South Coast to ensure that all community views were considered during the planning process has been ‘sacked’. This is despite the community consultation process moving to its most important phase in the coming months, with the release of the draft Indicative Management Plan for public comment.
Anyone that has any experience in proper community engagement understands that consultation is not about having a beautifully crafted process; any number of fancy consultants can do that for you. It is the honest intent that sits behind the consultation which matters most, with a genuine endeavour to engage and listen in good faith being a good start. This process has been completely absent of that.
One wonders if the McGowan Government and the Minister understand that the wheels have well and truly fallen off this process. I suspect they don’t. Even worse, I doubt they really care.