Cook Labor Government fails to heed Opposition concerns about Marine Park planning process

On the 28th November 2023 the State Opposition raised a matter of public interest in the Western Australian Parliament condemning the short-sighted and reckless approach to marine park planning by the Cook Labor Government.

The clear intent of the Opposition was to once again bring to the Government’s attention the strong concerns being expressed by regional communities, key stakeholders and industry groups about the planning and consultation processes which had primarily been undertaken by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) for the proposed South Coast Marine Park (SCMP) and extension to the Marmion Marine Park (MMP).

From the commencement of the consultation processes for both marine parks in 2021, my office had proactively engaged with local communities, regional stakeholders and industry groups to gain their feedback on the Labor Government’s consultation processes and confirm they were being undertaken in good faith. Almost without exception, the feedback was overwhelmingly that the processes were rushed, lacked evidence-based rigour and seem designed to deliver a predetermined outcome. What was striking is that the feedback was identical for both processes, even though each were essentially mutually exclusive. The common thread, however is that DBCA is the agency in charge.

Those same concerns continued to be expressed by key stakeholders and community members throughout the entirety of the community engagement processes for each marine park, despite direct representation by many of the stakeholders to both the Ministers for Environment and Fisheries and their respective agencies, seemingly to no avail. To make matters worse, I learned through internal government documents gained under freedom of information laws, that the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) had expressed the exact same concerns to DBCA in its role as joint planning partner for the SCMP.

These points are important. You see, when responding to the matter of public interest in Parliament, both the Ministers for Environment and Fisheries accused the Opposition of being ‘scaremongers’ and ‘bottom feeders’, simply intent on causing division in the community and cheap political point scoring. Much the same way as the Premier thought it was appropriate to call members of the Opposition racists and dog whistlers when being challenged on the botched implementation of the now infamously repealed Aboriginal Cultural Heritage laws.

both Ministers also sought to characterise the concerns expressed by DPIRD on the SCMP as simply a ‘robust’ discussion between two government departments aimed at delivering a good outcome.

Anyone that has read the documents in question would know that is a gross misrepresentation of what was actually at play. DPIRD was deliberately unambiguous in its language in explicitly calling into question the way in which DBCA had engaged with key stakeholders and had failed to consider the social and economic impact of its proposed sanctuary zones for the SCMP – both of which are critical to the integrity of the planning process.

What is disappointing is that the Cook Labor Government has rolled out its usual playbook of abuse and misdirection rather than addressing the legitimate concerns being raised by the Opposition on behalf of the communities, businesses and industries affected by the proposed marine parks. In doing so, the Cook Labor Government has again shown its true colours.

We are told that the draft plans for both marine parks will be released for public comment in the very near future. It will be interesting to see whether the Cook Labor Government has truly listened to the people of Western Australia and not the interest groups and environmental activists in DBCA.

Sadly, I don’t hold out much hope when the Cook Labor Government appointed Chair of the SCMP community reference committee is quoted in documents obtained under FOI as telling members at its very last meeting “The CRC’s role is to provide advice and ultimately it won’t be able to push the government in a direction it does not want to go.”