THE Rottnest Society has vowed to take the McGowan government to court in an attempt to stop a backpackers precinct on an “isolated” part of the island.
Society chairman Eric Moxham issued a release on Wednesday saying he was appalled at the backpackers proposal, which was unveiled by tourism minister Paul Papalia on Tuesday.
The Rottnest Island Authority wants to put the backpackers in a couple of World War II cottages built for the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service near the Wadjemup Lighthouse, about five kilometres west of the main townsite. Mr Papalia said it would give young people a chance to “make a bit of noise and enjoy themselves”.
But Mr Moxham fears that young people with a license to party would be an unacceptable fire risk. “Medical and police services would be extended as backpackers ‘enjoy themselves’ a little too much,” Mr Moxham said.
The society, which coordinates a lot of the island’s tree planting and weeding activities, is also concerned drunk youngsters could also undo some of their environmental work.
“To most sensible people, and certainly the Rottnest Society, this would create an isolated enclave where environmental impacts would be most difficult to manage,” Mr Moxham said.
The Act which covers the island prohibits the RIA from creating living areas in the A-class reserve outside the main settlement, but a sub-clause gives the minister the power to declare areas “substitute” settlements.
But the society still believes the proposal is outside the intent of the Act and will use this to try and stymie the development through the courts. They may also use Mr Papalia’s failure to appoint an environment and conservation expert to the island’s board.
In July last year Mr Papalia appointed an architect and a commercial business manager to the board, which also boasts Fremantle councillor Hannah Fitzhardinge (a corporate public affairs specialist) and is led by former WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO John Langoulant.
“It is clear to the Rottnest Society that these actions show that the minister is hell-bent on putting at risk the natural values of Rottnest Island as he pursues increasing visitor numbers without a care for environmental consequences,” Mr Moxham said.
The minister’s office and RIA were contacted for comment.
by STEVE GRANT