Secret reports prompt minister to overturn law on shark nets

TRIAL HAS BEGUN: Shark mesh nets  last week were installed off four Ballina Shire beaches as the six-month trial of the nets begins.
TRIAL HAS BEGUN: Shark mesh nets last week were installed off four Ballina Shire beaches as the six-month trial of the nets begins. Graham Broadhead

CONCERN about the impact of shark attacks on tourism has been cited as the reason behind an exemption from national shark net bans for the Far North Coast - allowing shark net trials to proceed.

Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg's official statement outlining reasons for granting the exemption has been published online.

Supporting documents referred to 'secret' reports from surf shops on the far north coast that indirectly blamed media coverage of shark events for a 12% loss in wages and up to a 50% decrease in sales in 2015 - 16, "particularly for surfboards and associated wetsuits and surf gear (rash vests, board shorts)".

Mr Frydenberg said: "This has impacted on owners, workers and suppliers to the retail sales industry in the region".

The minister may only offer exemption "if he or she is satisfied that it is in the national interest".

"The threat of shark interactions is of national interest as the North Coast of NSW is a major national and international recreation and tourism destination, and a gateway to the Gold Coast, Queensland and other regional locations.

"The heightened public media on the most recent spate of shark events is likely to impact on Australia's reputation as an international tourism destination, with flow on impacts to the regional and national economy, including jobs and growth."

Minister Frydenberg said the NSW far north coast attracted more than 11 million visitors each year, mostly holiday makers who spent $3.7 billion in the 2015-16 financial year.

Domestic tourism "supports around 1 in 3 jobs in the region", he said.

The statements also referred to membership reductions in surf life saving clubs, including a 20% drop in nipper registrations in 2015-16.

While acknowledging the uncertainty about the effectiveness of shark nets, Mr Frydenberg said he had to balance his decision with trial research outcomes, the level of risk shark interaction posed to humans, and associated economic impacts.

Topics:  editors picks shark net

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