ENVIRONMENT: “Fake” consultation

Fishing Sydney Harbour. Image: Scott Thomas

MAJOR decisions with significant impacts on anglers are supposedly made following thoughtful consideration of the results of “consultative processes”… or are they? Sometimes, yes. In the case of the initial set of marine parks created in NSW, local community members were invited onto working groups and it looked like their inputs were genuinely considered when zones within the parks were defined. Not everyone got everything they wanted, but there were genuine compromises. When the parks were reviewed after several years of operation, a similar process was followed. Again, not universal happiness with the outcomes, but at least an understandable process.

Similarly, when the Recreational Fishing Havens were set up, members of the public got to provide input as to which rivers and estuaries would be included in the network. Public meetings were chaired by an unflappable old public servant, the late Vern Dalton, who was highly skilled at diffusing the heat in the room. And as setting up the RFHs meant buying out affected commercial licences, there was plenty of heat.

When bag and size limits are reviewed, anglers generally get to provide input on what should change. Being a diverse bunch, inevitably some think changes go too far and others reckon not far enough. But at least they were asked.

But in the last couple of years their seems to be a shift towards what might termed “fake” consultation. That’s basically where a government or bureaucracy makes a contentious decision and then pretends to consult on it.

The classic example is the demolition of the Sydney Allianz Stadium and its planned replacement with something which won’t be much different for the average footy fan or concert goer… if and when it gets finished. How many fans (as distinct from some sports journalists and corporate supporters) actually supported pulling it down? Who’d know? Of direct possible impact on anglers, the now-abandoned Sydney Marine Park planning process was pretty hard to top. At a “consultative” session promoted to discuss the actual need for a park, the first question from the “independent” facilitator was: “Tell us what you’d like to see in the Sydney Marine Park”, as if it was inevitable. Half the attendees switched off at that point.

The decision to create a cruise ship terminal at Botany Bay was taken and then supposedly followed by consultation. Everyone, every group, “consulted” hated the idea. But, COVID willing, it’ll go ahead, despite almost universal opposition in the “consultations”. The ultimate “fake” process.

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