Q & A reveals threat for Rotto

ERIC MOXHAM is the convenor of the Rottnest Society. He says the WA government’s plans for a big private marina on the island are a risk to its status as a holiday getaway for ordinary Western Australian families.

OF all the development thought bubbles proposed by the WA tourism minister and Rottnest Island Authority, a large private marina is the one that should provoke the most debate.

The findings of the RIA-commissioned Rottnest Marina Research study, conducted by TNS consultants in 2013, are clearly the focal point of the boating management strategy referred to in the Rottnest Island management plan 2014-2019.

What is really interesting—almost breathtakingly so—is not the TNS report itself, but the way the minister and the RIA have chosen to analyse its findings so as to support what they clearly want.

Just to whet your appetite for looking at this “research”, here are the questions relating to the marina asked recently in the Legislative Council by Lynn MacLaren MLC and addressed to the parliamentary secretary representing the minister for tourism, together with the answers:

Q: In what year and month is a business plan for a marine in south Thomson Bay likely to be completed?

A: The results from a detailed feasibility study regarding the proposed marina were reported in 2013. The study outlined an economic model for constructions costs and cash flows of the marina, and addressed other aspects such as environmental impacts. However, it is the intent that industry would assess the risk of analysing the commercial viability of the proposed development and the RIA would not therefore develop its own business plan.

Q: In what year and month is it intended that expressions of interest will be invited on the proposed marina?

A: An expression of interest process for the marina development is planned to commence in August 2015, but is subject to the progress of other development proposals as stated in the Rottnest Island management plan 2014-19.

Q: What is the minister’s response to TNS’s finding that a “significant proportion of boaties reject the need for newly constructed units”, given new accommodation units associated with the marina are proposed in the management plan?

A: The proportion of respondents supporting and not supporting accommodation units in the report referred to is approximately equal. The marina feasibility study indicated that the economic viability of the marina is greater when other services such as food, beverages and accommodation are included.

Q: Is the minister concerned by TNS’s finding that of the registered users accessing boat services at Rottnest who were surveyed, only 23 per cent were “definitely or very likely” to rent a pen in the marina?

A: Registered users are a subset of the boating community and the TNS survey indicated that across the broader boating community there is strong support for a marina. It is envisaged that a marina would attract more boating visitors rather than shift use of facilities to moorings to marina berths.

Q: TNS found that four out of five existing mooring licensees surveyed said that they would not give up their existing mooring even if they got a pen in the new marina. Does the minister agree that this indicates the marina may not lead to a big increase in boat owners visiting the island?

A: The motivation for mooring licences to retain both a mooring and a marina berth is unclear. However, the determination of commercial viability will be at the risk of the respondents to any expressions of interest for a marina.

The assertions made, particularly about the business plan and registered users who’d want a pen, are certainly worthy of challenge. Where is there evidence of a detailed feasibility study that outlined “an economic model for construction costs and cash flows of the marina, and addressed other aspects such as environmental aspects”? Again, where is the evidence that “across the broader boating community there is strong support for a marina”?

What we really need to know is what guidelines will be provided to respondents when expressions of interest are sent out. So far as we know, a marina providing 250 pens rather than the 400 originally considered is favoured by the proponents but we know nothing else, and as the RIA will not have its own business plan, we will remain in the dark for quite a long time.

It is a fact that there is a long waiting list for licensed moorings at Rottnest.

Many licensees have had a mooring for many, many years and don’t necessarily make use of the regularly, but they are unlikely to give them up for any reason.

The introduction by the RIA of a system to share moorings by registering other approved users has alleviated the situation to some extent, but there will always be a shortage on certain popular days in summer, depending on wind and weather.

This does not mean it demonstrates support for a marina by ordinary boaties who visit the island.

What they would like are additional licensed moorings elsewhere, even on a shared basis. Most supporters of a marina with associated accommodation and hospitality facilities will predictably be those in high-income brackets and who own much bigger craft.

They may also not be regular visitors to Rottnest, especially outside peak summer days.

Considering the environmental and construction challenges and the cost of needing to ship all materials from the mainland, the economic viability of the proposal will not be easy to determine.

We need to do what we can to create support for a sensible and thorough debate on this misguided proposal.

It is a glaring example of the fact that the current minister and the RIA no longer regard Rottnest as “the people’s island” but rather as a contrived and commercial playground for corporate business and rich individuals. Along with some of the other development proposals, it is clear the Act and Rottnest’s status as an A-class reserve are under serious threat.

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