Fine print in reserve plan

BY proposing the declaration of a massive new network of marine reserves, the federal government stands to win green votes and enhance its image on the world stage for the small price of $100million in compensation for displaced fishers.

It’s a bold-looking plan that would create 44 marine parks covering 3.1million square kilometres.

But already critics are scanning the fine print of the announcement, suggesting the grand plan appears to offer far more than it really delivers.

In the Hunter, for example, the new federal marine reserve off Port Stephens is divided into two zones, ‘‘special purpose and ‘‘multiple use’’. According to local trawler operators, the only activities banned in these areas are specialised netting techniques that aren’t commonly used anyway.

It appears that drilling and mineral or gas extraction will still be permitted, leading some to question the practical value of the new Port Stephens reserves.

Nationally, the plan has been criticised by the commercial fishing industry, which has warned that up to 36,000 jobs and $4billion in revenue could be lost. The Australian Marine Alliance says 70 trawlers will go out of business.

But the prime minister, Julia Gillard, insists only about one per cent of commercial fishing activity will be affected.

Beneath the sweeping rhetoric it appears the government has provided genuine ‘‘full protection’’ for a number of very important marine environments around the Australian coast.

But most of the new network of reserves explicitly leaves the door open for the gas industry, upon which the government appears to be pinning such high hopes for future revenue creation.

In that light, the plan is a compromise that will leave many battles to be fought in future over development proposals in particular locations. It won’t be entirely surprising if one of those contentious locations proves to be the ocean bed off Newcastle and Port Stephens.

Private oncology

NEWS that private interests will provide advanced cancer treatment in the Hunter is generally welcome.

Lake Macquarie Private Hospital plans to install two linear accelerators for use in radiation oncology.

For those cancer sufferers with top-shelf private insurance or with money in the bank, the new service will give them a precious new alternative to queuing for care at the overburdened Calvary Mater or travelling to other cities for treatment.

That should free up treatment places at the public hospital for those without the means to access the new private service.

If the service does prove to be entirely additional to existing public facilities, the arrangement should be win-win.

It should be asked, however, whether the region will be able to attract extra oncologists to cover a net increase in patient-load.

If there is a danger of the new service robbing public Peter to pay private Paul, then this risk ought to be openly discussed well before the new machines arrive, and measures taken to avoid it.

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