THINKING ALLOWED: Rotto report a bit rich

DAVID HAWKS is a retired emeritus professor from Curtin University. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED the Fremantle resident says privatisation plans for Rotto—particularly a new marina—miss the point of the ‘People’s Paradise’.

THE Rottnest Island Authority (RIA) has recently released its Rottnest Island Management Plan (RIMP) for 2014-19 following a period of consultation which included some commissioned surveys, the details of which have not been released to the public.

Whereas the objectives of the RIMP are unobjectionable, being largely motherhood statements such as preserving the pristine nature of the environment, the means entertained for the realisation of these objectives are much more contentious: in no small part they involve turning more of the island over to private interests, interests which come with benefits.

It is argued that Rottnest is not financially self-sufficient in its present guise, despite the rising cost of its accommodation, and that further government “handouts” are not justified.

Not deserving

It must be asked what other class-A reserves (essentially national parks) are financially self-sufficient and how is it that Western Australia’s principal recreational area is not deserving of government subsidy, the substance of which is, in the first instance, the taxes paid by the population that the government represents.

It is secondly argued that Rottnest is not “glamorous” enough to attract international visitors in the numbers desired and additionally those Western Australians who prefer Bali-like sophistication.

While this may have been the tenor of some of the surveys carried out, the representativeness and veracity of these surveys, have not been made public.

Rottnest has been in the past, and for many generations, an affordable, unique and memorable holiday experience for legions of Western Australians.  The ubiquitous presence of school-children visiting the island as part of their educational experience suggests it will remain so for the foreseeable future. To auction parts of the island off to the highest bidders will seem a poor bargain to generations of future Western Australians.

The notion that the “glamming” of its facilities will make it more attractive to visitors, particularly to international visitors, is curious when it is considered it is essentially weather conditions which define seasonal demand. How can the off-season be turned into an on-season merely by upgrading accommodation and providing additional services?

Like most islands, particularly those located in latitudes comparable to Rottnest, the weather dictates when people will visit. No clearer demonstration of this is to be observed than the fact that Thompson Bay, while close to its capacity as a mooring area on particular summer days, is largely unoccupied for most of the spring, winter and autumn months.

Among the most contentious proposals is the plan to create a private marina on the site of the existing Army jetty. While details of the feasibility studies carried out to promote this development have not been made available to the public the suggestion is for a 400-plus berth marina catering to boats some of which are too large to be accommodated in the existing mooring area except at its periphery.

If this was approximated, the area of sea bed occupied would exceed that of the Fremantle Esplanade together with the Little Creatures complex and be larger than the existing Challenger Harbour.

A structure of this size, all of which materials would need to be shipped to the island, would inevitably have implications for the circulation of seawater and sand in Thompson Bay and therefore have implications for its beaches. No details of any oceanographic modelling have been released, nor is there any indication that such modelling has been carried out. To recommend such a proposition to those willing to invest in this development pens would be available on an annual rental basis and consideration given to preferential holiday rental deals.

No-one is suggesting Rottnest should be free to visitors in the way many national parks are free. Those choosing to visit or stay on the island should pay at rates commensurable with the level of service provided.


At present those rates differ depending on the accommodation provided, which can vary between that available at a camp site or a hotel/resort.  Services of whatever kind provided on an island are inevitably more expensive than those provided on the mainland. If those services are to be accessible to the majority of those who visit Rottnest (successive surveys of whom show to be predominately Western Australians having average incomes) they need to be affordable.

If in order for them to be affordable the state government needs to subsidise the island’s budget. This should not be construed as a “hand out” any more so than the assistance provided to any number of public services, not all of which are enjoyed by the whole population.

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