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Articles reproduced here come from past Rottnest Society Newsletters and other documents up to 2005.

Developments at Rottnest

From the Rottnest Society (This article on the proposed developments at Rottnest was  published in the December 2005 quarterly Newsletter of Boating Western Australia (Inc) and is reproduced here in its entirety).

BWA members are usually acutely aware of any Rottnest-related stories and so the recent announcement by Tourism Minister Mark McGowan concerning the proposed private accommodation developments at Mt Herschell and South Thomsons will be very much on your minds.  The Minister also launched a new promotion aimed at increasing the number of day visitors to the island. 

Rottnest Society members are also acutely aware of these proposals and the committee is seeking to inform ourselves about the proposals, and the possible consequences, in order to be better prepared to comment when the expected public comment period opens.

At the outset we acknowledge our gratitude to RIA CEO Paolo Amaranti for his willingness to meet with us to discuss our concerns – and hopefully to take some of them on board.

The Society has reason to believe that we do represent the views of a large number of Western Australians in relation to development on Rottnest – and that only increases our obligation to be as well-informed as we can, and to keep taking our concerns to management and government.  Naturally there are a range of viewpoints – even amongst our committee members and in our membership.  And we understand that there are people in the broader community who have significantly different views on this matter.   As with most areas of disagreement there are many grey areas and a number of complex issues need to be considered – not too much is black or white.

 The Society also acknowledges that this government has spent, and is continuing to spend a significant amount of money implementing the recommendations of the Rottnest Island Taskforce. Although much work remains to be done, anyone who has visited the island over the last few months will realise that significant renovation and upgrading work has taken place – and we understand that next winter will see the completion of much of this work.  It is reasonable to say that  the work is bringing the island's infrastructure up to a standard which is still relatively basic but is modern, clean (and more easily cleanable), and working – without detracting from the essence of the 'Rottnest experience' which continues to be valued so highly by so many Western Australians.  We also acknowledge that several businesses on the island have recently invested in improvements – e.g. the Lodge and the Bakery.  And the Society wants the island and its infrastructure to be maintained properly and upgraded where necessary to ensure that it remains a wonderful holiday destination for Western Australians for many future generations.  And it would be in all our interests to see it become financially self-sustainable – a target that the RIA believes it is on track to achieve (and which is required by government).

Just a few of the questions that must be asked about any future development include:

  1. What benefits to Western Australians will such development bring?  We understand that the lease of the necessary land for the proposed developments would bring a significant additional income stream to the RIA's coffers.  Presumably there would be increased demands for the RIA's coach tours and extra business for the local businesses – more income. 

  2. What, if any, will be the impact of more overnight and day visitors on the very fragile ecology of the island?  This is very difficult to quantify and, although we have been lobbying (in vain) for years for some meaningful academic research to be done on this matter, it remains of serious concern to us.  What we do know is that the ecology is extremely fragile- as BWA President Simon Joel so rightly points out, Rottnest consists largely of   dunes and limestone cliffs – especially those parts of it on the daily horizon of visitors, namely the beaches.  The question remains – 'how many pairs of feet on the island is too many?  The RIA believes that day visitors stay on the bitumen and are easily guided away from ecologically sensitive areas – and are therefore not much threat.

  3. What, if any, will be the impact of more overnight and day visitors on the 'Rottnest experience'?  The Rottnest Society has a number of concerns about this aspect.  We have no problem with the RIA seeking to improve visitor numbers in winter.  Summer is another matter.  The proposed accommodation developments apparently allow for up to 440 extra overnight visitors (at this point we are not aware of how many extra staff will be required to service these units).  From the numbers point of view alone is this a reasonable increase on the currently available 2,700 visitor beds on the island? What is a reasonable number of extra beds if combined with an increase in day visitor numbers which might follow promotion?  There are the questions of power and water supply, and waste disposal (including toilet waste) to be considered.  Extra buses between Thomsons Bay and Mt Herschell, and more for coach tours of the island would be worrying (although we understand that the RIA is rationalising existing vehicle numbers).

  4. What, if any, follow-on impact might there be from such developments?  Given that the Minister's stated aim is to attract interstate and overseas visitors through these developments what kind of demand for extra services might we expect to see in the future?  The Society is certainly concerned that efforts to attract more overseas and interstate tourists will lead to the provision of more activities and services for 'high-end' tourists – will people who are staying in somewhat more luxurious accommodation be satisfied with the standard and services available on our little island?  And could this lead to a whittling away of  the 'Rottnest experience' that we value so much?  Is it possible that there will be more businesses on the island finding financial viability difficult because of its seasonal nature – or pressuring the RIA to increase visitor numbers yet more?

  5. Is it possible that we could have the focus of the RIA shift from managing Rottnest primarily as a holiday destination for Western Australians and other visitors to that of tourist destination.   Tourists are of course welcome at Rottnest – as long as the primary focus (as required by the Act under which it is governed )remains on it being an affordable holiday destination for Western Australians and other visitors.  Marketing it to tourists would seem to be a different emphasis.  Rottnest is, in our opinion more, and more precious to Western Australians in the way that it still offers a beach holiday of a kind that is largely gone from many other beaches as they become urbanised and 'up-marketed'.

Obviously there are many more questions to be answered and we urge BWA members to think through these and other issues – and when the time comes to use the opportunity for commenting on the proposed developments.  We will be posting more comment on our website at www.rottnestsociety.org.au over the next few months – and we would appreciate any thoughtful comments to convenor@rottnestsociety.org.au or by telephone on 9438 1413.