Several weeks ago, I called out the McGowan Labor Government for not releasing the socio-economic impact studies it had undertaken to help it justify the establishment of the South Coast Marine Park. On numerous occasions, I have also called on the Premier and Environment Minister to be clear about the scientific methodology they will use to make decisions on the exclusion zones that will be imposed on the commercial and recreational fishing sectors.
My intention in doing so was not to make a political point. It is incumbent on the McGowan Labor Government to substantiate its case, especially in the event that the proposed marine park and exclusion zones adversely affect our commercial and recreational fishing industries and the many businesses that serve them. In my mind, when a Government chooses a course of action that has the potential to destroy livelihoods, it is obligated to put forward a strong argument that doing so is the only available option and will be for the greater good of our state. Up to this point in time, the McGowan Government has refused to do so.
Instead, it has chosen to hide behind a veil of secrecy, leading the affected communities and businesses to speculate that the Government really doesn’t possess the scientific, social or economic data on which it has based its decisions. In fact, when questioned in Parliament in November 2021, the Minister for Environment even admitted that the Government’s own review identified an absence of biodiversity information, and that “ gaps in information required to formulate the marine park boundary and zoning scheme will be addressed during the planning process.”. Back-filling research within a planning process which has already commenced certainly doesn’t instill a lot of confidence that decisions are being made based on proper scientific methods.
It is also difficult to see how communities such as Esperance will be delivered an economic windfall, if our commercial and recreational fishing sectors are decimated by the imposition of extensive exclusion zones. Any losses associated with these industries would need to be offset by a substantial upswing in tourism. I’m not sure if the McGowan Government has looked recently, but Esperance is in the midst of a tourism boom. It is already filled to capacity with every form of accommodation being booked solid for months on end. The Government’s bizarre suggestion that this Marine Park could be the next Ningaloo or Great Barrier Reef is ignorant of the fact that the south coast is already a tourism ‘hotspot’.
Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the local Esperance economy would tell you that there is a significant risk that the economic base of the town could shrink rather than grow. If the McGowan Government has access to research that indicates anything different, it should share it.
For many generations, communities on the south coast have been the custodians of our marine environment. We have a deep affinity with the ocean – it is part of our social fabric where our families have swum, fished, surfed, dived, and sailed. For this reason, any proposal that seeks to remove or restrict access must involve meaningful consultation and open and transparent dialogue with the affected communities. Sadly, but true to form, I suspect that the McGowan Government has already made its decision, and any attempt to alter the outcome through ‘proper’ consultation will be an exercise in futility.