Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW: Red tape choking the blue economy

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AN offer to dredge Port Hacking for free has been knocked back repeatedly by the local council and the NSW Government.

A consortium of sand miners, scientists, stakeholders and urban planners are proposing to provide maintenance dredging of the navigation channels of Port Hacking at no cost to government or the council. They fully understand the rules and regulations around the process, and will ship the sand to Port Kembla for feeding back into the building and construction industry. The offer has been scorned even though it has unanimous support from the majority of stakeholders in Port Hacking, such as sailing clubs, yacht clubs, marinas and fishing groups like the Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW.

Large pleasure boats, yachts, and trailer boats are all being forced to navigate shifting sand banks and an ever-shallowing estuary. Boating, fishing and sailing drive the "blue economy" in NSW and it is bewildering that the NSW Government has not convened a working group to review this offer and look at expanding it around NSW to keep our estuaries open.

Dredging requirements often exceed government budgets, but the NSW government should continue to support dredging in waterways that sustain significant boating activity, maximising the commercial, economic and social benefits. This is not about co-funding – it would be at zero cost to NSW taxpayers — it is about greater coordination between stakeholders, and more effective government engagement with industry and the private sector to revitalise the blue economy.

Hundreds of letters of support have come from local boating enthusiasts for the proposal. However, in a stunning slap in the face for these local residents, Sutherland Shire Council described them as “junk mail”. The Council is adamant the waterways are a NSW government problem. When asked to at least help the group navigate the red tape, the Council responded with a firm “No”.

A four-year plan on NSW Maritime’s website notes their responsibility for maintaining NSW waterways. It outlines what are described as “Key Investment Areas”. Port Hacking is one of those areas. It notes that its budget for dredging is restricted and lists the areas where dredging is planned over that four-year period. Port Hacking is not one of those. The published document does however state that “Private sector investment or co-funding will be welcomed”. Clearly this proposal meets those criteria.

In a meeting with proponents, NSW Maritime head of infrastructure Andrew Moggs stated: “There is no box I can tick to make this happen. This is outside the square. It will need to be dealt with at ministerial level”. At that same meeting, a spokeswoman from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment complained: “The amount of paperwork that would need to cross my desk to make this happen is unbelievable. It would be easier if you simply lobbied us to pay for it”.

Port Hacking has been dredged six or seven times in the last 20 years at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each time. The consortium is offering to do it for free and employ around 100 local people in the process. It is being knocked back at a time when the local federal member Scott Morrison is touting support for “Shovel Ready” projects in a covid-affected economy. This project will only get off the ground if the political masters in NSW State Parliament remind their “public servants” what their job is: public service and the best value for money for the taxpayers.

A shovel-ready project that will employ people and keep our estuaries open, a win-win for all. So, why is the NSW government not working with boating, fishing and sailing groups to make this happen?

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