Summit declared as members debate Pro

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Margaret River’s Bronte Macaulay surfs in last year’s Pro, which was cancelled due to two unrelated shark encounters.
Camera IconMargaret River’s Bronte Macaulay surfs in last year’s Pro, which was cancelled due to two unrelated shark encounters. Credit: joliphotos.com

A terse debate on Wednesday night heard councillors accused of threatening the success of the Margaret River Pro, undermining news the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River will hold its climate action summit during the world championship tour event in May.

Confirmed by Surfing WA and Shire president Pam Townshend this week, planning for the summit is still underway.

But early details indicate the summit would be held at the Pro’s headquarters upstairs at Surfers Point during the event, with the marquee taken over by workshops and talks.

The Shire also hopes to leverage the World Surf League’s estimated 20-million-plus audience, with some elements of the summit to be streamed to international audiences.

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However, a two-hour debate on Wednesday night about approving five-year rights to use Surfers Point, The Box, Prevelly and North Point, plus Shire reserves, included five amendments of varying complexity – one of which was a failed bid by Crs Naomi Godden and Peter Lane to forbid the Pro running its annual Corona Bar at Surfers Point.

Cr Godden won another amendment to reduce the WSL’s use of Northpoint from four days to two, and to ban any semi-finals and finals held there.

Debate about how many hours the break could be used was finally undercut by an angry Cr Ian Earl who moved another amendment removing a new eight-hour-per-day limit.

Cr Earl warned the Shire was “heading down the road to a nanny State”.

After last year’s cancellation, Cr Earl said he was astonished to hear councillors putting up so many roadblocks to the competition’s ongoing success.

“The way we’re going, we’re going to be doing some irreparable damage to this surf comp,” he said.

“If we’re going to have the Pro down here, you’ve got to give them the best conditions to operate.”

Crs Godden and Lane were against the Corona Bar because it represented a foreign beer company, with Cr Godden also saying alcohol consumption was not in the spirit of the contest or the sport.

“It promotes an international beer that has nothing to do with our area,” she said.

The amendment was lost after the other four councillors voted against it.

Cr Earl noted Corona was a brand that had money for sponsorship at the elite level.

Apart from the news about the summit, pitched as an annual event coinciding with future years of the Pro, acting Shire president Julia Meldrum also introduced formation of a Surfers Pro Stakeholder Committee.

Cr Meldrum and other members said the committee was overdue, and would include a wide selection of local groups – including traditional elders, the Chamber of Commerce, Surfing WA, surfing groups, tourism and State Government stakeholders – to advocate for the region.

“This has come about from listening to the community’s concerns and I don’t feel we have a formal-enough structure in place to respect those values the community is telling us about,” Cr Meldrum said.

The new committee could also advocate “more strongly to the State Government” for environmental funding.

The meeting heard coastal rehabilitation groups had raised widespread concerns about annual damage from the Pro, reiterated by local conservationist Rick Ensley who said the Chamber, Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association and Nature Conservation were not acting to protect the region from damage or wrangling funding from organisers to counter it.

“There are meetings, Memoranda of Understanding, and no real reinvestment,” he said.

While supporting the amendment, Cr Godden said the well-intended committee was insufficient to address the concerns of surfers, including fears the “rare” Northpoint wave would be maxed out by the visiting elite during peak season, plus damage to the headland.

“Our environment community and our surfing community will not be happy about it,” she said.

At the meeting, councillors heard arguments that corporate surfing, WSL and Surfing WA had taken the region’s environment for granted for many years without addressing the damage it caused.

Acting planning and development manager Matt Cuthbert told the Times the Shire was helping the Sustainability Advisory Committee and community groups deliver the summit.

“The summit will be an opportunity to foster greater awareness about the effects of climate change and to begin to develop a shared action plan as to possible mitigation projects,” he said.

Speaking about the climate action summit to the Times while on leave, Cr Townshend said the council wanted to include the international surfing fraternity which shared ratepayers’ interest in the environment and protecting the Margaret River region.

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