COMMENT: Marine parks mayhem

The news report on the Fisho site today detailing a back-flip by NSW Premier Kristina Keneally on the marine park moratorium proposed by the Shooters and Fishers Party further clarifies the Government’s apparent disregard for the state’s 1 million anglers.

Keneally’s decision to renege on a deal to halt further fishing lock-outs until more science and consultation had been undertaken on NSW’s six existing marine parks is being described by the mainstream media as a strategic move by the ALP to “adopt more Green-friendly policies” in the run-up to the state election next March.

It’s no secret that political pundits are united in the belief that Labor will lose government in NSW at the upcoming poll. The ALP has been in power for 15 years and, like any long-term government, it’s suffered a series of embarrassing and damaging blunders and scandals over that time.

Most commentators don’t question the fact that the Keneally Government will lose office at the March poll – it’s the extent of the loss that is the moot point. Will Keneally and her team be quietly shunted to the opposition benches or will they get completely annihilated?

Courting the Greens seems to be a fall-back position for Labor governments around the country. Whether that strategy works for the ALP in the long-term remains to be seen. Green politics is certainly the flavour of the month in some inner city electorates and with some sections of the community at large, especially younger Australians, but the more extreme policies espoused by some Green politicians are decidedly unpopular with large sections of the community.

The extremist Green influence in the way marine parks have been introduced and managed in NSW is certainly an issue that’s left many voters with a bad taste in their mouths.

Premier Keneally’s decision to back-flip on her marine parks deal with the Shooters Party is no doubt influenced by the closer links she and her Government are trying to forge with the Greens. However, there is no question that the proposed moratorium also posed certain administrative problems for marine parks management. This needs to be recognised and understood as a contributing factor behind the Government’s decision to renege on the promises made to Shooters MLC Robert Brown.

That aside, the fact is Premier Keneally’s handling of this issue has further driven a wedge between the Government and NSW’s 1 million anglers. Instead of stringing anglers along with talk of a halt to the insidious creep of no-fishing areas along the NSW coast, Premier Keneally and her Environment Minister Frank Sartor could have been more upfront about their plans. Are they going to implement any new parks or are they not? If they aren’t, why not clearly state that? And why couldn’t they have worked with the Shooters to come up with a moratorium plan that restricted any new marine parks while allowing effective management of the existing ones?

Instead, it seems clear that the lure of Green preferences is driving how the Premier and her Government react to important and divisive issues such as marine parks. It’s hard not to take this latest decision on the marine parks moratorium as a clear indication that the ALP operates in virtual serfdom to extremist anti-fishing groups.

The fact Premier Keneally has failed to realise is that most people think that we have enough marine parks in NSW. A lot of us think we have too damn many! Regardless, wouldn’t it be a good idea to see how the ones we have in place work and fully assess what they contribute to the environment before we add any more? Also, shouldn’t we assess the socio-economic impact of the existing marine parks so we get a clear picture of the relative worth of these areas before embarking on any additional moves to close further areas to responsible recreational fishing?

Many anglers believe the NSW Government has done a really bad job with implementing the current system of marine parks over the past decade. The process throughout that time has been unashamedly politically driven and, as such, it’s caused a huge schism in our society.

The up-welling of anger and disquiet about the overt politicisation of the marine parks issue in NSW will likely be a defining element in Premier Keneally’s election results. Her stance on this issue could well see a voter backlash turn into a voter blitzkrieg.

Jim Harnwell is the editor and publisher of Fishing World. He has closely observed the marine parks issue in NSW for more than a decade and was a member of the inaugural Jervis Bay Marine Park Advisory Committee.



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