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"Explaining what’s wrong with the shark cull debate"
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"Explaining what’s wrong with the shark cull debate"

Sharks aJake Elsonre not rare in the waters of Western Australia but the debate about how to deal with them has grown to unusual proportions, writes Jake Elson, 20, a Correspondent from Bunbury in Australia, who says government, activists and the media must all take responsibility for the acrimony and intimidation.

Drum lines will not be returning to Western Australia this summer. Australia’a Environmental Protection Agency has recommended to the Minister of the Environment against the baited hooks that lure and catch sharks. Although if properly implemented the lines are proven to save lives, they have caused a passionate debate in both Western Australia and the world; one that has often discarded civility.

Drum Lines, despite the controversy, have been successful at saving lives. In South-west Queensland, there have been no deaths in protected areas. In KwaZulu-Natal it’s the same statistic. However, by-catch is a serious problem. The Australian Maritime Conservation Agency has, although conceding the success of drum-lines, criticised the effect on native wildlife. Natal stops by-catch during the sardine run by simply taking out the drum lines and implementing temporary swimming bans.

The implementation of drum lines in Western Australia, although inspired by usage in Natal and Queensland, has been rather rushed; therefore the whole process is poorly implemented. The policy of dealing with sharks that are still alive is to shoot them and dump the carcass in the sea. It’s unnecessary. It’s a waste of life, and a public relations disaster. Furthermore, disposing the dead sharks at sea causes more problems, as it may itself cause a shark feeding frenzy. The government’s reaction was callous. The Premier simply referred to any opposition to the cull as “ludicrous and extreme”.

However, in all fairness to the fishermen and the government, they weren’t the only guilty parties. One of the principles of Australian society is the right to protest freely within the law. For the majority of protestors, this did happen. Yet a sector of protestors across the state simply declared war on the government, abandoning all aspects of civility. During the whole saga, various tenders in the running for a government contract were threatened with vandalism and intimidated by those opposed to the hunt. At least one tender pulled out as a result. Threats of sabotage occurred, despite government warning that those involved will face up to a year imprisonment and/or an AUD$25,000 fine. Ironically, the culprits are yet to be found.

Much more frightening, however, were acts of political intimidation and threats of assassination toward elected members of parliament – particularly the Premier. In one case, a man threw a hammer through the window of the Premier’s constituent office in Cottesloe, Perth. In addition, he sprayed ‘egomaniac’ on the wall of his office. In another case, a young woman sent an e-mail to Mr. Barnett, threatening to kill him. The opposition parties themselves have not helped return civility. The Greens in Western Australia have inflamed tensions on numerous occasions. Her Majesty’s official opposition, the Labor party, has been surprisingly quiet. That is until recently, when the Opposition leader was ejected from the legislative assembly during a debate of drum line retention for the 2014-15 summer.

But of all the organisations, it is probably the state’s mass media that has ramped up paranoia and hysteria more than anyone. Here in Western Australia, a shark attack is front-page news. It should be explained that we are in a shark hotspot. However, some of the reporting has been absolutely ridiculous. A web page run by one of the major newspapers in the state reported ‘minute by minute live coverage’ of a shark north of Cottesloe beach. In addition, much of the focus has been on the shark attacks themselves. When a young surfer was killed by a shark off Gracetown – a surfing mecca in Western Australia – the mass media neglected to mention that there were also whales in the area which had caused a feeding frenzy.

There is no doubt that the standard of reporting in the mass media has influenced public opinion to the point of hysteria. Over-hyping the whole situation may explain why both sides acted as if they were at war, with no room for compromise. It must be remembered that the media has a privileged position of power, and should not use it in an unwise manner. Although I mean no disrespect to the victims and their families, the presence of sharks is hardly cause for alarm.

Western Australia is a hotspot for sharks, and something has to be done to limit future deaths. But the behaviour of all sides: the government, certain protestors, and the media, has been outright disgraceful. If the debate does flare up again, all sides need to show maturity. The government and the protestors need to find a compromise, and the media must stop using yellow journalism to inflame the situation. Otherwise, what’s the point of a civil society?

photo credit: michaelpickard via photopin cc

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About me:

I am a history buff, but also am into soccer. I referee soccer, and would like to go FIFA one day.  I’m currently studying politics and international relations at Edith Cowan University. My aim is to become a police officer in Western Australia, and I would like to be Prime Minister one day.

I am a Conservative and a Monarchist, and believe in the role of the Commonwealth as a tool for good.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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