By Penny Davidson
As a consequence of a leaked draft Marine Estate Management Plan the community has been made aware of a new push to allow cruise ships to use Jervis Bay as a destination port. The plan was leaked in July 2021 and we were told that the plan would go for public consultation in August / September. We then heard that it would be available September/October – but the community is still waiting.
While we wait it is worth re-visiting the lead up to the current situation.
We know, as was written by Chris Grounds in ‘Cruising for Trust’ (The New Bush Telegraph, July 21 2021), that Jervis Bay had been proposed as a cruise ship destination in 2014. And, whilst the idea seemed to have disappeared, the proponents continue to envision Jervis Bay as a cruise ship destination as is evidenced from the following strategies and documents.
Over the past years, a number of NSW State Government documents have planned for the expansion of cruise ship tourism. Many of these documents have repeating themes which encourages and promotes policy around the development of cruise ship tourism in NSW. Below we highlight the references to Jervis Bay as a cruise ship destination.
Illawarra Shoalhaven Regional Plan (NSW State Government Report. 2015, rev. May, 2021)
The document makes reference to Destination NSW’s (NSW State Government’s tourism body) intention to increase marine-based tourism, including cruise ship visits, supporting the intention to take advantage of the numerous marine parks along the coast, and to ‘leverage marine tourism’ to increase economic contribution and create regional job opportunities from the cruise ship industry.
The updated Illawarra Shoalhaven Regional Plan 2041, published in May 2021, refers to Destination NSW and the NSW Port Authority’s proposal to develop a ‘blue highway’ along the NSW coast – ‘blue highway’ being a euphemism for cruise ship route. The Plan aims to activate the region’s harbours to promote the ‘blue highway’:
In addition to Shell Cove’s new 270-berth Shellharbour Marina development, better coastal connectivity, activated harbours and the right infrastructure will unlock the opportunities of the blue highway and connect to marine parks at Jervis Bay and Batemans Bay (our emphasis).
NSW Cruise Development Plan 2018
In response to an increasing interest in cruise tourism the NSW State Government released the NSW Cruise Development Plan (CDP) in July 2018.
The CDP states:
In 2014 the NSW Government committed to developing a Cruise Development Plan (CDP) that … considers options to support a long-term plan for the NSW cruise industry as recommended by the Visitor Economy Industry Action Plan (VEIAP) … (and) supports the growth of regional ports through development of strong regional destinations with the purpose of positioning NSW as a world class cruise destination.
Cruise expansion in Sydney is limited by wharf capacity. The State Government then proposed a number of solutions, one being to increase the number of smaller, luxury and expedition-
It is predicted that demand for berths at the WBCT (White Bay Cruise Terminal) will continue in the luxury and expedition cruise markets … (utilising) fleets of Small Cruise Ships carrying less than 1,000 passengers that are able to pass under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The CDP states:
The NSW coast has a number of smaller destinations that may attract visits from the growing expedition, luxury and specialty cruise markets. However, growth in this market is currently being restrained by lack of infrastructure as well as operational and regulatory barriers.
Key Actions tabled in the CDP aimed to enable this regional cruise ship expansion include
Action 6: The NSW Government will investigate funding options for suitable infrastructure to support calls at current and potential regional ports, in partnership with local authorities; and
Action 7: The NSW Government will investigate opportunities to remove regulatory barriers to entry for emerging cruise markets, including the expedition cruise market, and will seek an inter-jurisdictional policy position with other governments.
So, you might ask, where is this all heading?
The NSW South Coast Marine Tourism Strategy, released in 2019, lays further foundations for the State Government’s ‘blue highway’ to the south.
NSW South Coast Marine Tourism Strategy 2019
The NSW Government’s South Coast Marine Tourism Strategy is focussed on supporting and implementing policies for tourism growth on the NSW South Coast.
Interestingly, this document states that the NSW South Coast excels as a marine tourism destination. In 2017, the region received approximately 10 million visitors … expected to grow to 14 million visitors by 2030, and … the unspoilt nature of the region leads consumer messaging …
The South Coast Marine Tourism Strategy recognises that the region contains a “wide variety of high-quality coastal, estuarine, lake and river environments” and offers a range of “nature-based experiences”, not to mention “a large number of beach options to suit all visitor expectations”. Note that Jervis Bay destinations are mentioned in each of these categories. However, whilst the Strategy acknowledges “protection and enhancement of the marine & coastal environment as an important driver” (of increased tourism), this is very much an ESD document - where ‘E’ is Economic, not Ecological or Environmental!
Not unexpectedly, this Strategy document also refers to removing the regulatory barriers to entry for emerging cruise markets, including the expedition cruise market, and will seek an inter-jurisdictional policy position with other governments to support market growth.
The South Coast Marine Tourism Strategy declares the opportunity for “Attracting new visitors and vessels to Jervis Bay Marine Park through improved accessibility for both land and sea arrivals”. But says of Huskisson Wharf : “boating access is challenging given the limitations of silting and tidal environmental conditions”. However, it also views the site as one of the existing assets on the South Coast which provides ‘opportunities for enhancement’ (for cruise-related access), and proposes that “Floating pontoons and anchorage provide potential solutions, as does foreshore activation and master planning. There may be scope to increase mooring options in the surrounding area”.
Coincidentally, the Strategy calls on Councils to seek funds through other State Government programs in order to implement foreshore infrastructure enhancements. This includes approximately $7.6m for Huskisson wharf and foreshore, and a third lane expansion and pontoon installation at Woollamia boat ramp.
Should we be concerned?
Removal of regulations
The NSW Government believes that cruise tourism will have an economic benefit and to unlock that benefit they need to remove regulatory barriers and build infrastructure. There is no acknowledgement as to the purpose of the regulations, rationale for removal and implications of their removal. Selling faster cars might also be good for the economy and would be possible if the state would just remove some of those burdensome regulations! Or allowing children to work in factories from the age of five might be good for the economy (so much cheaper for the consumer) but again the government would need to remove some of those tiresome pesky regulations! Regulations are there for a reason! Let’s take a close look before “remov(ing) regulatory barriers”.
Failure to make public environmental assessments or research
The local tourism strategy of 2019 simply endorses the increase in ‘marine tourism’ to be built upon the high-quality coastal, estuarine, lake and river environments. Whilst the authors acknowledge a number of challenges of tourism on environmental management, they fail to indicate how these will be addressed. Leaving it instead to other entities to establish Coastal Management Plans and Marine Park Strategies which might somehow be able to protect the resource while supporting the State Government’s economic imperatives.
There is no state or local government research that provides a holistic assessment of the impacts of current tourism strategies on our marine or land environments; nor do future government plans espouse the monitoring of the tourism impacts on our valuable natural resources. For example, the environmental sensitivity of Currambene Creek and its estuary and mangrove systems have been ignored in these strategies.
Once again, will the environment and future generations be lumbered with a reactionary approach to remedy human-induced impacts precipitated by injudicious government policies?
Failure to acknowledge the already ‘activated’ marine environment
The Woollamia boat ramp is the busiest boat ramp on the south coast. The boat traffic here is huge – how much more capacity does it have before Jervis Bay is no longer ‘unspoilt’?
Failure to be transparent and provide Community Consultation
As has been shown in the aforementioned State Government planning documents, for many years it has been the State Government’s intention to develop cruise tourism on the South Coast, including in Jervis Bay.
What is most concerning is the recent lack of transparency and community consultation, both at the local and state government levels. It is clear, from the advertising by cruise ship companies, that ‘someone’ has indicated that they will get ‘approval’ for entry into Jervis Bay. Recent media interviews with a potential Kiama local government candidate espoused the so-called (incorrect) economic benefits of cruise ships to the Kiama electorate. Clearly the cat is out of the bag when it comes to keeping cruise ship approvals secret!
The Cruise Development Plan specifically states that they will work in ‘partnership with local authorities’, which we assume they have been doing and yet our local authority has not made anything public to the community.
Let’s just say at this point - the devil is in the detail - the government is resisting making their ultimate goals available to the public and stakeholders other than those that will either make money from such a proposition or are directly responsible for the area. The State Government promises to “consult with the community”, but to-date this appears to only include those who are likely to agree with their economic agenda.
All these State Government plans point to a government determined on tourism development at the expense of the environment. There is little or no reference to how economic objectives will be balanced with the needs of our very special South Coast environment. They are happy to use our pristine environment as a promotional and marketing tool but how are they going to guarantee its preservation and conservation?
We ask our local government representatives and candidates, our local members and the state government to provide our community with:
- Transparency and genuine public consultation on issues impacting our local communities and our land and marine environment.
- Up to date research and data on the current impacts of tourism on our marine and land ecosystems.
- The establishment of an ongoing monitoring program to assess the environmental and ecosystem impacts of tourism on our land and water (including marine) resources.
This is the least we expect but so far no information has been forthcoming. Why aren’t we surprised?
Our region already excels as a marine tourism destination and that has been carefully built on the unspoilt nature of the area. Our community has been fighting inappropriate development for decades now and this is yet another example of government trying to force upon a location something that the residents (or even visitors) didn’t ask for, want or were even consulted about. There will be precious little economic benefit to the area, just the inevitable costs. And, apparently, we are expected to have no say in it at all.
Feature image: Cruise ship in Jervis Bay. Image supplied