29/04/2003 - 22:00

State Scene - Balance as a first resort

29/04/2003 - 22:00

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THE Gallop Government’s guillotining of former premier Brian Burke’s and one-time minister Julian Grill’s lobbying work highlights several interesting inconsistencies.

State Scene - Balance as a first resort

THE Gallop Government’s guillotining of former premier Brian Burke’s and one-time minister Julian Grill’s lobbying work highlights several interesting inconsistencies.

Perhaps the most bizarre is Dr Gallop’s discrimination between eco-activist lobbyists and those wishing to build a major tourism facility in the resort-starved Exmouth-Carnarvon region, involving Coral Coast Marina Developments (CCMD), which has proposed a $200 million facility at Maud’s Landing.

The project awaits Dr Gallop’s all clear, having encountered several hurdles, the latest from a powerful and cashed-up eco-activist coalition that includes the WA Greens, author Tim Winton, a protest group called Save Ningaloo Reef (SNR), and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), headed by Mosman Park millionaire Martin Copley. WA Labor Senator Peter Cook recently told Parliament he’d heard Mr Copley had given SNR a big cash donation.

He’s also teamed up with former Conservation and Land Management (CALM) divisional chief Barry Wilson, who now chairs the State Government’s Marine Parks and Reserves Authority, which is opposing Maud’s Landing.

Dr Wilson is an AWC director and also sits on Dr Gallop’s Science Council.

Interestingly, AWC has acquired a 25 per cent stake in Ningaloo pastoral station near Maud’s Landing and asked Dr Gallop to give the AWC the all clear to hive off that station’s coastal segment so it can establish some eco-tourism facilities, which in correspondence with WA Business News AWC has said will be “a low-key bushcamp comprising 10 seasonally removable safari style tents (max two persons per tent) and an associated visitors’ centre”, which would help fund research facilities.

Because of such mounting pressure, in February last year CCMD’s directors sought a meeting with Dr Gallop to outline their case for the resort.

But they say their request was promptly declined.

However, six months later, in August 2002, Dr Gallop personally met AWC officials, including Mr Copley.

When State Scene asked Dr Wilson this week if he had opened doors for the AWC-Gallop meeting he declined to comment because he said he planned to present a grievance petition to the legislative council.

In a rather amicable conversation, Dr Wilson said this move had been prompted by recent press reports (including WA Business News) and others commenting on his role as an AWC members and MPRA chairman.

However, he added that it was on the public record that he had not attended the AWC-Gallop meeting.

Clearly both groups – CCMD, which plans a Rottnest Island-style facility that includes a man-made lagoon, and the AWC, which has eco-tourism plans – wanted to lobby Dr Gallop, but it appears only eco-activist AWC officers gained that opportunity.

While AWC insiders now apparently argue that recent decisions by the State Government to excise coastal areas of pastoral leases have ended their plans for a research facility and associated eco-tourism plans, one must still wonder why they gained such access.

Why were investors, who were initially encouraged by a Labor Government, and who seek to build a new job-creating North West tourism township, not accorded equal treatment?

Why no level playing field?

But there are other intriguing aspects to this issue, which is attracting so much attention.

Documents recently obtained by State Scene show Dr Wilson didn’t oppose a Maud’s Landing resort when he had quite a bit to do with the initial planning phase of this project in the late 1980s while a senior CALM chief.

Many are memos or letters involving one-time North West identity Ken Ryan, who formed CCMD, which won from a Labor Government the right to develop Maud’s Landing into a resort.

For instance, an October 8 1987 letter from Dr Wilson to Mr Ryan said: “As you know, there is concern that development pressures are becoming difficult at [nearby] Coral Bay.

“There is consensus among the State Government departments involved that the beach area there should be reserved for family use and small boats.

“Maud’s Landing is recognised as a potential alternative site for larger vessels and associated land-based facilities.

“A marina there, provided it met environmental standards, would be appropriate as a facility to service recreational users of the [Ningaloo Marine] park.

“The land at Maud’s Landing is a gazetted townsite, which is appropriate for land-based services and perhaps accommodation.”

An undated report of the Government’s Maud’s Landing Working Group, which included Dr Wilson, said CALM and the Department of Marine and Harbors (DMH) were anxious to remove all boats from Coral Bay.

“A properly planned development at Maud’s Landing, some three kilometres north of Coral Bay, both of which are part of the gazetted Maud’s Landing townsite, is seen as an acceptable solution to existing planning and boating problems in the region,” it says.

Of Mr Ryan’s proposals that working group said: “This is a well researched, professionally presented submission comprising a 20ha inland marina surrounded by tourism developments, including resort hotel, chalets, caravan park (1000 bays).

“The Department of Land Administration, CALM and DMH representatives all favoured CCMD’s proposal as it provided a major new facility at no cost to the State and at the same time provided some revenue opportunities for the State to care for on-going management costs.”

A March 30 1989 ministerial memo of Dr Wilson’s states: “CALM’s view is that an effective marina and associated facilities at Maud’s Landing would greatly enhance public access to the [Ningaloo] marine park and contribute to the economic development (through tourism) of the region, while taking pressure off Coral Bay which is at present an ‘environmental disaster area’ in the park.

“From CALM’s point of view, the Coral Coast proposal is desirable and the 1000 residential lots acceptable.”

When we asked Dr Wilson if he’d changed his mind on the Mauds Landing project he said this too would be covered in his grievance petition.

State Scene certainly believes everyone has the right to change their mind.

But with CCMD’s shareholders having already spent over $7.5 million, preparing costly environmental and engineering studies, let’s hope Dr Gallop has had the full story while being lobbied.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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