There’s another storm brewing for the Cook Labor Government and once again, it’s being fueled by an apparent unwillingness to listen or consult in good faith. Much like the anger and frustration surrounding the botched implementation of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act, this storm centres on a Government that thinks it knows better than industry, community groups and stakeholders and seems intent on pushing an ideological agenda. While plans to extend the Marmion Marine Park are not yet headline news, there is genuine concern that the way the Government is managing the extension, and specifically the addition of more sanctuary zones, will create much the same backlash as the Aboriginal cultural heritage debacle. This is a park off the coast of Perth that has been used by tens of thousands of fishers for generations. Conservation plans to extend the boundaries of the marine park, which runs along the coast from Trigg Point up to Two Rocks, have widespread support among stakeholders. The preservation of this beautiful coastline is in the interest of all West Australians and it imperative that it is protected for the next generation of surfers, divers, swimmers, boaties and commercial and recreational fishers to enjoy. The South Coast Marine Park is also being reviewed with the plan likely to be released next week. It’s the potential boundaries of the off-limit sanctuary zones within both marine parks that WA fishers are reeling about. There is also increasing angst about the way the Government is managing the planning and consultation process, and the lack of rationale and science behind the proposed changes. Peak fishing bodies, such as the Western Rock Lobster Council, Recfishwest, and the WA Fishing Industry Council are raising the red flag about the Government’s seeming lack of interest in properly engaging or listening to their experience and concerns. They believe this process is a box-ticking exercise for a pre-determined outcome that will see sanctuary zones inside the Marmion Marine Park expanded unnecessarily so that fishing, both recreationally and commercially, is further restricted along this coastline. If this is allowed to occur, the social and economic impacts will be significant. The issues are being exacerbated by the fact that the process is spearheaded by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development as joint planning partner. These are two dissimilar agencies representing different interests and unsurprisingly, there appears to be little love lost between them. With DBCA at the helm of the process, the primary industry groups are feeling disempowered. In a letter sent to DBCA, the three key primary industry bodies raised concerns they had been misrepresented, disrespected and ignored by the agency to date. Despite DBCA advising stakeholders there were no predetermined targets for the total sanctuary zone area within a marine park, industry representatives have reported in meetings DBCA has cited international conservation targets of 30 per cent. The major expansion that is mooted to the current sanctuary zones is seemingly being made without due diligence and no evidence or justification for their proposed location. Stakeholders believe if the Cook Government was genuinely interested in a collaboratively planned outcome through the community consultation process, that cultural heritage, biodiversity, commercial fishing and appropriate habitat mapping would be done before any plan was produced. But so far, this mapping has not materialised. WA is home to 53,000 licensed recreational rock lobster license holders. A significant portion of these operate out of the metropolitan region. There is legitimate concern the sanctuary zones will cover large swaths of prime cray fishing ground on or inside the Three Mile Reef. Recfishwest represents 750,000 recreational fishers throughout the State Government ignores the concerns of these stakeholders at its peril. Repeated requests for science-based evidence and justification for how the Government is determining these sanctuary zones has so far resulted only in obfuscations. When the Opposition raised it in Parliament, the Government accused us of being bottom feeders and scaremongering. Sound familiar? It’s the same script Labor rolled out in defense of its appalling cultural heritage legislation when legitimate concerns were raised about its overreach. The process also feels very similar to the introduction of the six-month demersal fishing ban in the West Coast Bioregion that has had a devastating impact on tackle shop owners, the fishing charter industry and small business and tourism operators along those affected coastal communities. The Government simply didn’t care and has forged arrogantly ahead, regardless of the impact. If these sanctuary zones in the Marmion Marine Park similarly go above and beyond what is required it will come at a heavy and unjustified cost that could have unintended consequences, compounding overfishing in other areas and threatening certified sustainable industries that have fished these waters for generations. The plans for the Marmion Marine Park extension are expected to be released for public comment next year. Let’s hope this early consultation process is not the smokescreen industry fears it is and determinations made by the Cook Labor Government are based on regulatory obligations and science, not ideology. Libby Mettam is leader of the Liberal Party.