Archives - Reports

Reports reproduced here come from past AGMs of the Rottnest Society.

Convenor’s Annual Report 2009-2010

As you know this is my last AGM as convenor of the Rottnest Society.  I became convenor in 1997 when the previous convenor, who happens to be my daughter Liesl Folks, left Perth to go and live and work in California.  She now appears to be settled there with her partner and two children and so I am planning to move to California to be much closer to them.  Thus this is my last Annual Report.

In terms of any lobbying work this has been a relatively quiet year for the Society. You may remember that we put a lot of work into making submissions during the development of the Rottnest Island Management Plan (2009-2014) which was gazetted at the end of June 2009.  Thus the first year of the implementation of the current RIMP was completed at the end of June 2010 and we believed it was reasonable to give the RIA some time to begin to bed down the RIMP and to then try to get a sense of how that is working.  We recently attended a briefing of stakeholders by the CEO on the first year of implementing the RIMP.  He reported briefly on the actions taken in relation to each of the 25 Initiatives which constitute the RIMP. There are only four or five Initiatives for which action has not yet been commenced.  It is now time for the Society and others to start looking more closely at how the RIMP is being implemented and we do have a number of questions which we will pose to the RIA.

We are particularly interested of course in the review of the Act – which is Initiative One.  Reviewing the Act and then attempting to get it through the Parliament is likely to be quite a protracted process and we know that the RIA has an internal committee which is working with this.  We have yet to receive any indication of what changes are likely to come of this.  Last year we said that we should form a small group to work on our ideas about the Act (the Society has made a number of submissions over the years) and we now need to get that going so that we are in a position to review proposals put forward by the RIA when they become available.  I know that the RIA is looking to see whether there are other models of governance which might be more appropriate than the current one – and I have heard that they have not come up with much.  I do think we need to be very sure that, whatever comes, there remains direct accountability to the Minister (who is accountable to the people) and that there should be no opportunity for privately owned land on the island.  Other Initiatives of particular interest to us are the development of Initiative 17 - the Terrestrial Management Strategy.  Related to this is the development of the proposed Coastal Walk Trail and it also includes the development of extra facilities outside the settlement zone (eg toilets, bus stops, signage, walk trails etc).  I know that the RIA has done a considerable amount of work in reviewing and drawing together the many different aspects of terrestrial management and my hope is that there will indeed be a comprehensive plan.  Of course funding for such a plan is still a very doubtful proposition however it should give a firm basis on which to progressively seek funding for parts of it.  I do think it is time that the RIA released to the public the results of its Sustainable Visitor Research.  This was intended to be an important part of the development of the Terrestrial Management Plan and it specifically underpins Initiative 2 (Tourism and Recreation Strategy) and Initiative 14 (Upgrade Visitor Facilities).   I believe this research is now completed

We have some concerns too about Initiative 15 (Marine Facilities – Boating Management Strategy).  This includes consideration of mooring sites for larger vessels and a feasibility study for the development of a commercial marina in the vicinity of the Army Jetty.  As you know we raised serious concerns about a marina during the public comment process so we will be watching the feasibility study with great interest. 

Initiatives related to accommodation developments which are specifically mentioned in the RIMP include the Mt Herschel development, the development of the site adjacent to the Rottnest Hotel (which I believe will be hotel rooms which will be part of the Rottnest Hotel).  Other items to watch for include the development of an eco-tourism development in South Thomsons and what happens to the temporary campground presently located adjacent to the Caroline Thomson cabins.  There is also Initiative 12 which calls for the review of visitor accommodation options and specifically the option of ‘alternative rental management structures for a segment of the RIA accommodation.  Our concerns about these continue to be about the possible impact on the overall ‘Rottnest Experience’ of more upmarket developments and particularly of the cumulative impact of a number of them within a few years.  There are of course other items for us to monitor arising out of the RIMP but I will just speak a little more about Mt Herschel as I know how keen public interest is in this development.

You probably saw the newspaper article last week about the two companies which were chosen by the RIA to come back with more detailed proposals for the proposed Mt Herschel hotel.  We believe that these proposals are due about now.  The RIA will then have to decide which company will be its preferred developer.  According to the newspaper report Chairman Laurie O’Meara indicated there will be a public comment process for the chosen design.  And with a completely new design coming we hope that the RIA’s recently updated Development Planning Guidelines will be applied to this new design.  These guidelines were approved by the minister in May and are up on the Rottnest Island website.  They are covered under Initiative 6 in the RIMP.  I urge anyone with an interest in development on the island to read them.  And I have been told by a very senior RIA staff member that these updated guidelines would not have happened but for the Society’s work.  They are certainly much more comprehensive than previous guidelines and, if applied as stated should mean both more environmentally sustainable building and more appropriate builidng (eg size, height, footprint and compatibility).  Under these guidelines there is provision for  Substantial Developments and such developments would have to go out to public comment but it is not clear just what would constitute a Substantial Development (or who determines such a thing) although it is clear that public comment would be limited to the style and dimension of the proposed development.  It does refer to a Significant Development as having ‘the potential to significantly impact on Rottnest Island’s environment, heritage, social values or visitor amenity’.  Like all such documents, there do appear to be let-outs for the RIA in that there is provision for Site Specific guidelines and there does not appear to be any avenue for appeals by the public.

In my view many questions remain about the wisdom of pursuing 4.5 star development on Rottnest – which is, as someone recently said, probably more a 3 star island (well 3 star infrastructure anyway).  One of the concerns that we and others have raised about such development on the island is the likely changes it may bring to the culture of the island as people who stay at such accommodation demand higher quality services on the island.  And as an indication of how this can impact on the culture of the island in very subtle ways I recently had an email from a 30-something ex-committee member.  He told me was that friends of his were at the Rottnest Hotel during the summer and, when they removed their thongs to sit on the (fake) lawn, they were heavied by security to put them back on. 

Recently we learned that the RIA disbanded all of its advisory committees – I understand that this is because the Authority felt that these committees were costing them a lot in terms of staff time and money and that they were no longer getting value for that effort and money.   Such committees can and do become stale and bogged down (I am not saying that they did in this case because I have no first hand experience).  However I am concerned that with all of these committees disbanded there is a very real possibility that the RIA has closed itself off to input in a number of areas from user groups and indeed various experts.  It is too easy for an organisation to become a closed loop with very little external input and I don’t think that is healthy.  I have heard that the RIA will set up reference groups for particular purposes and these would include stakeholders.  Such reference groups would be disbanded when the particular task is completed.  This could work as long as it really does happen.  It will be important for the Society and other groups such as BWA to keep an eye on this and I think we need to put our names up as interested parties to be part of at least some of those reference groups.

We have worked very hard again with our volunteer weekends over the 2009-2010 period.  Again there has been quite a high turnover of staff in the environment section of the RIA.  I suspect that this will continue, at least in part because of our mining boom and the shortage of staff.  We organise approximately 50 volunteers – to get them onto the island in time to start work on the Saturday for a full day’s work followed by a half day on Sunday.  We then work hard with the RIA staff to see that equipment and plants are kept up to our volunteers – they tend to get rather stroppy if we run short!  The RIA’s Volunteer Coordinator and conservation officers determine what we will do each weekend as well as ensure that all plants and equipment are on the island in time.  Although the RIA has more environment staff than ever before it still battles with limited resources.  These staff work very hard particularly during the cooler (and hopefully wetter months) to take advantage of as many volunteers as they can for tree planting, dune rehabilitation and weeding. 

I just want to refer to the Rottnest Island Volunteer Network Group which is chaired by the CEO and which meets 4 times per year – and which has not been disbanded.  This is NOT an advisory group but I believe it is a very useful group for those who take part in it and I hope that the CEO continues to chair it.

The funding debate for Rottnest goes on.  You may have read recently that visitor numbers are down in most areas of the state - and Rottnest is no exception.  This directly impacts on the RIA’s income.  It may be a good time to try to raise the profile of the issue of some regular public funding with the public and with parliamentarians again.  I do think that the RIA has done a lot of very good groundwork in this regard over the last few years in their discussions with, and submissions to, Treasury and cabinet – so far to no avail.

When I became convenor I had been on the committee for twelve months and frankly I felt thrown in at the deep end to say the least.  Although I loved Rottnest I had very little knowledge of the issues – apart from what I read in the local newspapers - and I certainly wasn’t expert in anything to do with Rottnest.  I remember that the committee agonised for some time about whether we remained relevant and whether we should dissolve the Society.  Looking back now after 13 years I believe that we made the right decision to continue our work.  From time to time since then there have been questions raised in committee about whether we were having any impact.  I have thought a lot about that question over the years and I think we have a tendency to judge our impact by whether we managed to completely stop a particular project or not – for example the Mt Herschel project.  We did not stop it completely.  It is also very difficult to judge how much of an impact we had on the original design because those negotiations fell over after about 2 years so that we are unlikely to ever know how that original design was modified as a result of our submissions – although I believe there were some changes such as a reduction in height.

So what work lies ahead for the Society?  The committee elects its office bearers at the first meeting following the AGM.  However, I am very pleased that Eric Moxham, who is currently the Deputy Convenor, will stand unopposed for the position of Convenor.  Eric was there at the very beginning of the Society, and is a very experienced and capable chairperson who has an abiding passion for Rottnest.  He is one of those people who camp out every year at the RIA’s offices to be an early bird when bookings open for accommodation for the following Christmas.    And I believe that the current office bearers will stand again.  That includes Trish Bevan who is doing an excellent job as Secretary/Treasurer and Beth Strang as Minutes Secretary.  Carl Dyde will continue as Newsletter Editor.  Trish, together with Jane Laurie and Erica Price, has been taking over quite a bit of the workload on the volunteer weekends and Beth will handle the bookings for those weekends.  So I know the Society will be in good hands. 

And I particularly want to thank them all now for their work and their support.

It will of course be up to the new committee and the new Convenor to determine where they will focus their energies.  However a number of possibilities that I see include:

Continue our critically important work of watchdog.  We remain the only independent organisation in a position to do this and many people who are not members seem to be aware of our work.  Over the next few years this will largely be monitoring, and commenting on, what happens as the RIMP is implemented.

Continue to raise the funding debate with the public and politicians wherever we can – in my view this should be considered as an ongoing effort to change the culture around funding for the island as a contribution towards keeping it affordable.  I am talking of course about public funding for some aspects of island management such as the conservation of the natural environment, conservation of the built heritage, and assistance with the provision of utilities.

The Society’s website drastically needs attention.  I have been the one with that responsibility and just have not had the time to do it justice.  This is up and running but requires someone with an interest in website management to take it over – it is not that difficult for someone with reasonable computer skills.  In fact I find it quite fascinating.

We have talked about using social media before but we really need at least one new recruit who is experienced with such media and is willing to take it on.  I certainly understand that it would be a terrific asset especially with young people.  Perhaps it will come over the next year or two.

The Society can also keep the focus on the island as our simple holiday island rather than international tourist destination – as I have written recently I think Rottnest is becoming more important as a recreational place for Western Australians as our population grows rapidly.  And I believe that it is becoming more important, not less, for the future of our kids and grandkids.  And what I believe to be important is its very simplicity, and the opportunity, right on our doorstep, of getting so close to nature.

I want to close by urging all members to think about whether they can see any way of contributing a little more to the work of the Society.  We need younger people coming in but we need a mix of ages and backgrounds to help us stay relevant.  And we need a mix of skills.  One of the things I am most concerned about is finding people who are willing and able to research Rottnest-related topics and write about them – both for our Newsletter and for submissions when required.  I regard the Newsletter as being very important – not just for our members but for a wider audience.  We know it gets read by at least some in the RIA and it goes to a number of politicians and newspapers.  It is not unusual for the Subiaco Post, for instance, to use material from our Newsletter.  Overall I am sure that you would find contributing to the Society’s work both interesting and rewarding.  And I think it could help younger people develop an understanding about working with a government agency in this way.

Thank you all for coming tonight and I truly wish the Society well into the future.