West Australian - April 25, 2003

WEST AUSTRALIAN Tuesday April 25

New wave of disappointments - Paul Gamblin

GREAT to see Ningaloo occupying so many column centimetres in The West Australian recently.

However, readers did not get all the relevant facts. Unfortunately, The West Australian's coverage contained historical inaccuracies and the uncritical rehashing of dubious claims by Coral Coast Marina Development Pty Ltd.

It also missed the main policy breakdown that caused this whole fiasco in the first place. It's disappointing, but not surprising, because The West Australian's editorials have, for some time, been scathing of opponents to the Mauds Landing proposal.

You would think that The West Australian would have contacted the Save Ningaloo Campaign for a series called, ''The Battle For Ningaloo''. But no. Instead, the paper perpetuated the weird and bilious allegations of Norman Moore, a long-time supporter of CCMD's proposal, who has been trying to distract attention from its potential impacts by ''playing the man not the ball''. So much for balance.

Also unlikely to promote useful debate was The West Australian's characterisation of people who challenge CCMD's proposal as being ''anti-development''. For example, in an article on April 14, it opined: "Whether you believe that development of the remote coastline is long overdue or are passionately opposed to it, one thing is certain; Mauds Landing, if misread, could spell the end of a Government.''

This implies that we have to accept CCMD's proposal or have nothing - a suggestion plainly illogical and also misinformed, because some sustainable development is already at Ningaloo - and tourists love it. Yes, more is needed, but good jobs will flow only if development is guided by careful planning and backed up with sound management, as the Save Ningaloo Campaign has said over and over again.

Understanding why careful planning did not happen is hindered by history being turned on its head: "In 1987, the then Labor government approached the company and asked it to come up with a plan for a marina at Mauds Landing because of environmental pressures on Coral Bay." (The West Australian, April 14). Wrong. According to information published by CCMD itself, its founder entered into discussions with CALM and the EPA before the company was even formed. These conversations must have been persuasive because soon after, expressions of interest to build the marina resort were invited, and CCMD was chosen.

That's a crucial difference, particularly in light of recent reports about lobbying efforts on behalf of CCMD. This all suggests that lobbying has been a key strategy for the company all along and seems to be reaching a crescendo as the final decision looms.

But why has CCMD needed to lobby at all? It's partly because its environmental argument did not stack up, as indicated in the EPA's recent report, and because Coral Bay's problems clearly were not going to be fixed by the development either - not that The West Australian scrutinised those claims.

The tactic of claiming to solve environmental problems worked in the 1980s but it says a lot that even in those heady times, an era infamous for audacious proposals, CCMD still needed a canny way to justify its proposal. Coral Bay's problems became the developer's crutch and few people questioned the logic. Coral Bay obviously needs attention, whether or not the marina is built, and the Save Ningaloo Campaign has played the lead role in pressuring the Government to act. After making a promising start, much more effort is needed from the Government.

The other side of CCMD's need for lobbying stems from the lack of a proper planning process. In fact, CCMD cleared its own path - getting government support through lobbying when government should have been planning.

This is vital because planning must guide development, not the other way around. When good planning and rigorous scientific research are done, businesses know where they stand and the community has real input.

ATTEMPTS at planning for Ningaloo only started in the mid-1990s. paper The West Australian listed some of the documents but it did not analyse what lies within them. Interestingly, some planning documents specifically avoid the tricky subject of the marina altogether, while others - distorted by the proposal's momentum - contradict themselves; warning of the area's fragility and advocating only carefully designed, small-scale accommodation along the reef itself but then trying in vain to justify the massive marina resort. Images of the stepsister trying to shoehorn her oversized hoof into Cinderella's glass slipper spring to mind.

The lesson is clear, unencumbered planning must be done now before any developments at Ningaloo are endorsed. It is time to put firmly and permanently, the horse back in front of the cart.

We now await the decision of the Government on a proposal the community should never have had to fight.

There is no doubt that the great majority of the people of Ningaloo and elsewhere, irrespective of political leanings, want this Government to get us out of this mess and scrap the marina proposal.

Long after the political intrigue and scuttlebutt have been forgotten, our children and our children's children will hold all of us accountable for how we treated Ningaloo.

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