CEO Message – Regional communities are becoming increasingly unhappy 

It’s been a busy time with plenty of rubber on the road for WAFIC over the past week or so.

It kicked off with meetings and a fisheries display at the Geraldton Blessing of the Fleet festival earlier this month, followed by a week-long road trip with meetings and activities in Albany, Bremer Bay, Hopetoun and Esperance, before making the drive back to Perth. This was further expanded with a number of Saturday meetings at various metro Farmers Markets, plus some weekend media engagements.

I personally clocked up 3000 kilometres for the week, with Marshall Thompson not far behind with 2000 kilometres and WAFIC Chair Adele Farina with 1000 kilometres.

While we obviously interacted a lot with commercial fishers and families, processors and retail outlets, we also mixed abundantly with recreational fishers, caravan park managers, petrol station owners and people on the street.

If you listen to the direct feedback, or background chatter, you’ll hear a clear message that the public out there is clearly fed up – and it’s not just commercial fishers.

In fact, I’d go as far as saying that recreational fishers on the south coast are now openly angry about the marine park fiasco, and most are more than willing to vocally express it.

There’s a growing recognition that the proposed sanctuary zones and other fisheries changes will have significant lifestyle impacts, and will remove a preferred food source from local plates.

And why? So the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) can lock up fisheries.

But the anger is more than that. It’s not just about fishing related issues, it’s clear the real people in the regions want to be listened to. They tell me they are being ignored, and that the fisheries issues are being hijacked by people who don’t even fish or visit the areas. They are fearful about their future and the growing lack of services available in regional towns.

Let’s face it, it’s 2023 and many regions can’t even get mobile phone connectivity along the major arterial roads. Yet you can go to third world areas of Turkiye and Cambodia and have full strength everywhere.

Last week I was in a regional south coast service station and had to wait more than five minutes for the WIFI connectivity to allow me to swipe the credit card.  Similarly, when checking into the hotel the receptionist kept apologising, saying it happens every day.

Despite the socio-economic benefits of the regions to WA, the regional services are truly woeful. But, of course those who fly by private jets to attend a meeting and fly home, don’t get to experience what it’s like.

Encouragingly, it seems there is a wind of change blowing and there is clearly a broad tectonic shift underway throughout the WA community. Wherever I now travel, I see and hear it, and it’s certainly not just about fishing.

It’s a wave of frustration, regional communities have had enough of being taken for granted, and having metropolitan-centric solutions imposed upon them.

I’m not sure if this has been stimulated by the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act, or The Voice referendum, or whether those particular issues were the results of previous changes already underway. But it’s really kicked in around that time.  The point is that wherever you go, there are rumblings of discontent at every level, and it all points back to disrespect and arrogant decision making from a distance.

This is really disappointing, it’s not what anybody wants, as our state needs to focus on securing and protecting its key industries and ensuring a fair and just community where locals get a say over the decision-making which impacts their lives.

WA is far more than Perth – and our locals certainly understand this. I’m not so sure that some elements of government get it though, as they make their decisions using voting calculators.  That’s fine and dandy if you are trying to win an election, but here’s a tip – it only works out if you are tuned in to the real people – so make sure you test the assumptions.  Those examples mentioned above clearly showed that the proponents were focused on the teal votes – they assumed if they could win them over then the rest would all follow – instead they were out of step with the vast majority of the community.

The planners sat in Parliament House and said “let them eat cake”, instead of opening the door to some genuine engagement, listening to locals and building a healthy future for regional communities.  When the fabric of our precious regions is being picked apart, and the businesses that keep them alive are shut down one by one, you can only expect regional communities will become increasingly upset, and other WA locals will join in as they see that the central core of what it is to be a Western Australian is being quickly eroded.  Something needs to happen soon, before it’s too late.