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State Scene: Wedged on the reef

DICKENSIAN England gave us the blood-curdling Tale of Two Cities.

Not to be outdone, WA is giving us the intriguing ‘Tale of Two Nor-West Resorts’.

Back in the Dowding years the Labor government called for expressions of interest to develop a resort at Maud’s Landing, north of popular Coral Bay. A company later named Coral Coast Marina Development (CCMD) won the process.

In 1989 the Dowding Government accepted CCMD’s proposal for a marina, golf course, 1000 caravan bays, tourism facilities and 1200 residences.

CCMD thus set out to build a tourism town.

But a recession stopped planning, with work recommencing in 1994.

That year the Court Government confirmed CCMD’s right to develop and a year later the Environment Protection Authority concluded the then project – cut to 950 residential lots – was acceptable.

But in 1997 Environment Minister Cheryl Edwardes stopped the project and in 1998 a government inter-agency committee was convened to set down precisely what CCMD should do for Maud’s Landing to proceed.

The project was further trimmed, meaning no golf course and only 200 residences.

In 1999 the Court Government had CCMD submit proposals, which included a man-made lagoon and Rottnest Island-style development, primarily for tourists, with one and two- storey buildings except the marina village, which would have three.

In April 2000 the government approved this and wanted CCMD to obtain the necessary statutory approvals, which it has done.

By now CCMD had outlaid several million dollars and agreed to generate $1 million annually from visitors to fund Conservation and Land Management’s (CALM) regulation of access to Ningaloo Marine Park.

Last October the EPA’s latest assessment gave Maud’s Landing the all-clear.

When built it would mean 700 jobs, $100 million annually in tourism outlays, Perth-to-Learmonth flights, and would lighten the pressure on the 1960s-style environmentally overloaded Coral Bay.

But CCMD never realised another resort to its north was being planned, with the planners a former senior public servant and a Mosman Park businessman.

Firstly there’s Dr Barry Wilson, a one-time leading CALM official and currently chairman of the Marine Parks and Reserves Authority, which has affected Maud’s Landing’s planning. He’s also a member of Premier Gallop’s Science Council.

Secondly there’s Martin Copley, millionaire developer, who Labor Senator Peter Cook recently told the Senate had been bankrolling the eco-activist group, Save Ningaloo Reef (SNR), which, like Mr Copley, vehemently opposes Maud’s Landing.

Although SNR surfaced before last State election it made little initial impact despite ongoing demonstrations in Fremantle addressed by the likes of eco-activist writer Tim Winton, who regularly denounces Maud’s Landing.

The demonstrations’ organisers are hand-in-glove with

WA’s Greens Party, which opposes Maud’s Landing, meaning mounting political leverage against CCMD, something that has worried several Labor ministers.

Crucially, in mid-2001 SNR had a sudden injection of funds that boosted its anti-Maud’s Landing campaign, with huge print runs of car stickers, letter cards for Dr Gallop, and drinks coasters.

Senator Cook said: “The campaign against this development is an expensive one.

“There is a well-founded rumour – I cannot vouch for it but I repeat it, qualified because I cannot establish it, nonetheless it is well-founded – that $500,000 of that campaign has been contributed by a body called the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC).

“This body is a high-minded idealistic operation and it requires great community support, but it is not a disinterested spectator, it is also a developer and it favours an eco-tourist type development.”

AWC was created and initially bankrolled by Mr Copley but has received significant Federal funding.

Dr Wilson had been AWC’s managing director.

In April 2000 he finalised the purchase of a 25 per cent stake in Ningaloo station near Maud’s Landing by Mr Copley for AWC, and last year arranged for AWC to meet Dr Gallop to outline its resort project.

Dr Gallop won’t meet CCMD officials. Documents show the Copley proposal asks government to hive off 25 per cent of Ningaloo station’s lease – a huge coastal tract – which is currently owned by two elderly ladies who live on and manage Ningaloo station.

When Liberal Upper House leader Norman Moore highlighted this in parliament Mr Copley wrote him a letter he later released.

In it he claimed his Ningaloo plan included only “a low key bush camp comprising 10 seasonally removable safari-style tents” and a research facility.

But many watching the Copley-Wilson-controlled AWC note the 25 per cent slice of Ningaloo station they want the Government to take from the two elderly ladies and handed to their AWC includes spectacular Ningaloo Beach, Lefroy Bay and Winderabandi Point.

Each locality was identified in a 1993 Jones Lang Wootton tourism study as having potential to become significant tourism precincts.

Mr Copley’s AWC submissions to Dr Gallop dubbed CCMD’s Maud’s Landing as ‘big bang’.

Those suspicious of the Copley-Wilson eco-business approach see the nor-west resort they’ve dubbed a “bush camp” as being the thin edge of the wedge.

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