Paul Gamblin on THE day

1 December, 2002, Fremantle


Paul Gamblin, Save Ningaloo campaign spokesperson, 1 December 2002

I'd like to thank you for making the time to come here today. This campaign belongs to all of us. It is only as powerful as the community and looking across this mass of faces - I'd say the campaign has never been stronger.

It's taken a huge amount of work, many sleepless nights and an army of volunteers to get to this point but I'm sure I can speak for all of them when I say it's all been worth it.

For every person standing here and at rallies up at Ningaloo, there are plenty more people around Australia and the world who are here in spirit, willing us all on - hoping we can do the job and save the reef.

Only a couple of decades ago Ningaloo was hardly known to most western Australians. But for tens of thousands of years this magnificent coral reef and the wilderness around it has been home to indigenous people. This presence is everywhere at Ningaloo, to this day.

Now Ningaloo is on the tourist map and scientists from all over world are clamouring to unravel its mysteries. It's gaining fame as one of the most pristine coral reefs anywhere. Ningaloo is one of the world's great biodiversity hotspots and many endangered species depend on it.

But now Ningaloo is facing its greatest threat.

A group of developers has been trying to sell a proposal to build a massive resort up there, catering for thousands in an area already feeling the strain.

Not only that, but they also want to build a huge marina with hundreds of boats. Boats are already causing harm up there but this marina would multiply these impacts many, many times over.

To get some idea of just how big this marina is, have a look around you, get a feel for the size of this area that we're all standing in today. The space that stretches to the railway line behind me. Back to the road behind you.

Now imagine 10 of these spaces put together. Well, that's the size of the water area alone. Imagine how many boats you could fit into an area like that.

That's not counting the resort, the restaurants, the shops, the promenades. The total area they want is mind-boggling.

Try to imagine something that size along a natural piece of coastline where endangered turtles nest, where up the beach and across the lagoon are gardens of coral. Where mantas swim and humpbacks nurse newborn calves before heading into heavy seas south to the Antarctic.

Now, remember, as if this idea isn't bad enough, the land they want is ours. It still belongs to the people.

So how on earth could we be faced with such a proposal?
· Two hundred metre seawalls
· Water pollution for years to come
· Dredging
· Thousands of people
· Hundreds of boats

Well, when you look into it, you can see exactly what happened.

The system failed. The 80s happened.

Develop first plan later. Make the plan fit what you've already got in mind. It's all there in the reports. Planners trying to do the right thing but always aware of the long shadow cast by the proposal. There have been plenty of good people out there trying to get things right at Ningaloo, but this proposal has made their lives very difficult.

What we should have had was:
· Good science.
· Good consultation.
· A commitment to do the best thing for the reef and its people.

What we got is back-to-front planning.

Now, finally, thankfully, the developers are being challenged.

They say we should all just sit back and wait for the umpire's decision.

Well, they're attacking the umpire.

Weeks ago they sidelined one of the state's most respected scientists and government advisors.

Then on Friday they were gunning for the environment minister. They want her to step aside because she expressed concern about an even bigger version of this resort in the 1990s.

And only yesterday we read in the paper that the developers want to sue the government.

Talk about playing the man not the ball. Who's next? Where will it end?

So I ask you - are we sick and tired of Ningaloo being a political football?

I ask you - are these the kinds of people we want to trust our reef to?

It's time to take the party politics out of this issue.

All political parties should be on notice. We will make this a huge issue at the next election if we need to. But it shouldn't get to that, not if this government does the right thing.

It's time to put the community and common sense into the equation.

The developers said the marina resort would help the environment.

We weren't born yesterday, we're not idiots.

Coral bay does need help - now it's getting it. Real help - not false hope.

Government has promised proper boating facilities - proper sewerage, at long last.

Appropriate solutions based on real need not a development dressed up as a solution.

Government should be commended for finally taking action. However, it will all amount to nothing if they allow the marina to go ahead.

If they do so, we will all have been tricked.

Well, I suspect that Dr. Gallop is a man of integrity, a man who can see the big picture and the fine detail. I doubt he'd be convinced by the developer's PR.

So, we need his leadership, his vision to tackle the real issue:

More and more people will want to see the Ningaloo. That's our challenge and the answers are within reach.

Last weekend I had a chat with a young Dutch couple who are touring around WA and had just been up to Ningaloo. They talked excitedly about their experiences, swimming with mantas and turtles.

Like so many others, they think we're stark, raving mad to even be considering this proposal. This is what they said to me: "We came here to see something different, something natural. If we wanted to see Florida, we would have gone to Florida."

So, today we're letting government know that we expect them to live up to their election promises to listen to the community, to promote ecotourism, to drive sustainable development and to look after the environment - our environment.

Well, here's your chance Dr. Gallop. We call on you today to throw off the shackles of the 1980s, and do something bold, visionary, brave.

Save Ningaloo. Save our reef. Dump the marina!


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