02/12/2010 - 00:00

Greens’ attack an unusual development

02/12/2010 - 00:00


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Some of the arguments against a coal mine near Margaret River ignore the reality of development in the area.

MY attention was drawn to some interesting arguments in state parliament last week made by Greens upper house member Lynn McLaren.

When examined closely, they expose the Greens as oddly allied to the very people they usually rail against – the super rich who are regularly told off for squandering the earth’s resources.

The member was stirred up during a motion moved by Labor’s Ljiljanna Ravlich to condemn Tourism Minister Liz Constable: “For her failure to produce a tourism policy at a time of economic uncertainty ... outline what she will do to assist tourism businesses and Western Australian workers who are adversely impacted by the global financial crisis”.

Ms McLaren threw herself into the matter and did her own bit of condemnation of the government, raising her concerns, among other things, about the proposed up-market resort on Rottnest Island.

She contrasted the plan for Rotto with the operating resort of Faraway Bay on the northern Kimberley coast. Ms McLaren waxed lyrical about Faraway Bay’s eco-friendly development, which was much in demand, having had many awards bestowed upon it, including from Luxury Travel Magazine.

This is the bit I find fascinating about the Greens. They will appear to be the protectors of the weak, and yet they constantly reflect upon solutions to problems that are only available to the super rich, who are the most likely readers of Luxury Travel Magazine, no doubt.

Just for the record, the cheapest advertised rate for Faraway Bay is $3,460 for three nights, which includes the flights to and from Kununurra, gourmet meals and a fine selection of Australian wines (just count the carbon miles involved in operating this speck in the remote north).

And, as Ms McLaren’s colleague Robin Chapple claims, there is a three-year waiting list.

This is a great model for Rotto – a resort so expensive no-one except the super-rich can use it, if they can ever get in. Faraway Bay might work for that location but let’s get real about Rottnest, which simply needs a better class of accommodation for travellers wanting a smidgen of luxury, not a three-year waiting list.

But the Greens member went on to chastise the government over plans by a private company to develop a coal mine in the Margaret River area.

“This brings us to the case of Margaret River, where the lucrative tourism industry is in limbo as the community waits to see whether the government will choose to allow an underground coal mine to be built in this world-famous wine region,” Ms McLaren said.

“This government not only is taking little or no care to protect this tourism hot spot from inappropriate industry, but also seems to be rubbing salt into the wounds of the South West tourism industry by appearing to focus its energies on attracting tourists to Perth.”

Ms McLaren goes on to describe Margaret River as “pristine” and “home to booming tourism, and fishing, agricultural and recreational industries”.

“The planned coal mine would have a devastating effect on these businesses,” she said, ignoring the fact that environmentalism and ‘Nimby-ism’ has already all but killed the fishing industry there, and the fact that tourism isn’t actually booming in the South West.

“Tourists do not want to see trucks, smell smog and hear heavy industry while they are sipping their sauvignon blanc on a vineyard balcony, because we can be sure that if one coal mine starts up, it will set a precedent, and others will follow.”

This is typical Greens policy at work. Somehow the lifestyles of the sauvignon set are worthy of protection.

I am a huge fan of this region but how anyone can describe Margaret River as pristine absolutely beats me. It shows that politicians will say anything if it suits their cause. Yes, the coast is well protected and the Boranup karri forest regrowth is superb, but vast tracts of Margaret River have been heavily cleared and developed considerably, both for agriculture and human habitation.

I love our wine industry but I would never delude myself that it is any friendlier to the environment than most of what we do in Western Australia. Sexy and romantic, certainly, but it has heavy demands on water, requires chemical spraying, involves relatively intense manufacturing processes and clocks up the carbon miles by transporting what is effectively fancy water around the globe for the consumption of a relatively small and rich population.

And instead of growing vital food it diverts agricultural resources into an unnecessary luxury.

When the cold hard facts are stripped away from the fluffy romance of wine sector marketing, it is hardly cause celebre for the environment movement. By using it in such a way, the Greens member invites the listener to come to the opposite conclusion to what she, no doubt, intends. Industry and development can bring great benefits to the regions without damaging environmental consequences.

The fact that she views Margaret River as pristine when in fact it is home to intensive agriculture shows how much we ought to value what has taken place there. Industry has got it right, it seems, even according to its greatest critics.

I am not keen on the idea of coal mining in the area, but we ought to be careful about blanket restrictions to industries on the basis of perception rather than reality. Coal lives in conjunction with wine in other parts of the world and it is up to government to ensure there is a balanced approach to allow all industries the opportunity to develop appropriately.

Arguing against coal by pretending wine is a pin-up example of environmentally sound industry is wrong.

And is wine’s sibling, tourism, any better?

Everywhere I look the Greens are opposed to the tourism industry, except pallid and politically correct versions of it like Faraway Bay, which sits at the very fringe of the sector’s mainstream.

In our national parks, environmentalists oppose vital tourism developments such as roads, arguing that making it easier for people to visit will bring the uninitiated hoards. Only those in tune with nature, it seems, are allowed to discover it.

Well guess what? Tourism and recreation break almost as many of the environmentalists’ rules as any other industry.

Why, in the day and age of opposition to air travel and its supposedly decadent use of carbon-based resources, do the Greens promote the idea of wanting the world’s rich to fly here to sip sauvignon as they gaze at our bushland?

The hypocrisy is breathtaking. But there is a lot of that going on these days.

• mark.pownall@wabn.com.au



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