Opinion: RecFish SA’s dodgy dealings reveal flaws in national angling representation system

OUTRAGE over the revelations that RecFish SA took money to “promote” controversial marine park plans is further evidence that the current system of angler representation just isn’t working.

RecFish SA is under fire for signing a deal with the Labor Government prior to the SA state election which saw it receive $125,000 for agreeing to produce maps of proposed marine park zones, “promote the benefits of increased marine protection” and counter “misinformation” about the proposed parks.

Details of this deal came to light following an FOI request by the Liberal Party. The revelations of the deal between RecFish SA and the Labor Government have resulted in an outcry of anger and disgust from rank and file fishos.

In Fisho’s opinion, there is no evidence that RecFish SA officials entered into this deal for personal benefit or gain. However, the fact that the RecFish SA leaders signed a legal document requiring them to “promote” marine parks demonstrates a disturbing lack of judgement.

Fisho understands that RecFish SA will now return money earmarked for payment for its marine park promotional activities. This is a positive move but it is probably not enough to assuage the many thousands of anglers in South Australia who feel utterly betrayed by an organisation that is supposed to advocate on their behalf.

After talking with prominent SA angling identities, reading media reports and assessing numerous comments from angry rank and file anglers, it seems obvious that RecFish SA no longer has the support of the fishing fraternity.

We understand a public meeting is proposed to enable anglers in SA to discuss the situation. If and when this meeting is staged, it would be expected that RecFish SA leaders would front it and put their case to the people they purport to represent. If that happens – and it would be disappointing if it didn’t – then SA’s anglers can choose to either stick with RecFish SA or reject them and begin the process of nutting out a new representational organisation.

This is obviously a situation that the South Aussies have to sort out. However, it is vital that this issue is openly discussed and resolved. It’s gone way too far to be swept under the carpet. It’s clear from discussions I’ve been party to that RecFish SA officials – and those from other state organisations plus the head honchos at RecFish Australia – would much rather all the hoo-haa just goes away. I can’t blame them for that but somehow I don’t think it will …

Money – or the lack of it – is the main reason why RecFish SA has found itself in this nasty situation. And the fact is that exactly the same sort of problems could eventuate with other state-based organisations representing anglers.

Lest it be said that I am opposed to RecFish or am conducting some sort of vendetta against it or any other angling organisation, let me say that I know all of the people involved with these various state and national groups. I have no hesitation in saying that most of them are honourable, hard working and dedicated. But they all rely on governments for their money. And that means they are vulnerable to being screwed over by governments.

The fact is the SA Labor Government – which continues to hold power although more than 53 per cent of South Aussies voted against them – used RecFish SA to help sell an unpopular marine parks plan.

RecFish SA needed the money the Government was offering. Personally speaking, I understand why they took it. I don’t even particularly blame them for doing so. But that doesn’t disguise the fact that it was a really stupid thing to do. It’s the SA Government’s job to promote its marine parks, not RecFish SA. Like I said before, the fact they signed this dodgy deal – which it appears some members of the RecFish SA committee didn’t even know about – was madness in the extreme.

The fact that they are now wanting to give the money back is a clear indication that they know they screwed up big time.

As stated above, what happens with RecFish SA, whether it implodes, is forcibly exploded or bounces back stronger than ever, depends entirely on what the anglers of SA want to have happen. Looking at this from an outsider’s perspective, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, actually occurs. It could well be that typical angler apathy means nothing at all will happen. As I said before, it’s all in the hands of the fishos down there in SA …

From a national perspective, it’s Fisho’s view that this sorry episode demonstrates the flaws in the current system of angler representation in this country. It is entirely possible – highly likely in fact – that similar scandals could happen in other states. Governments and politicians prefer the groups representing anglers to be kept poor. They like the power that comes with handing out scraps of cash. They like being able to punish groups or individuals by witholding funds. No government, Labor, Liberal or any other flavour, wants powerful and independent angling organisations holding them to task for their policy failures. Thus they want the status quo to continue.

This is an untenable situation and it has to change. If the SA fiasco does nothing else, I hope it makes us all realise that if we want effective and powerful representation, then we have no choice but to pay for it ourselves. Only then can we expect the sort of independent and strong leadership that we deserve.

The good news is that there are moves afoot to achieve exactly that … Stay tuned.

Jim Harnwell is the editor and publisher of Fishing World.

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