Over the years it's been wonderful to see the return of whales to our shores in ever increasing numbers.
It's also been great to see increasing numbers of people-perhaps 400,000 every year-visiting our region to watch whales. They bring much-needed dollars to our local businesses during the colder months.
Whale watching is a growing industry both locally and in waters around Australia. The industry and governments fully understand the importance of ensuring our fascination with whales doesn't hurt them or interfere with their natural behaviour.
Many years ago the South Australian Government put in place strict laws governing our interaction with whales. The regulations strongly restrict approaches by vessels, swimmers and aircraft. They require people to move away and keep their distance, and prohibit other activities which may disturb whales.
There have been extremely few cases of the law being breached. The first such case was in 2010 and heard in Victor Harbor; a conviction was recorded and a fine of $4000 imposed. Another local case in 2012 involved a jet skier being fined $15,000 for harassing whales in Encounter Bay. Penalties are very severe for breaching the law: up to two years' jail and fines of up to $100,000.
South Australian law is clearly very effective in protecting whales, which is one of the main reasons why I don't support Alexandrina Council's proposal for an exclusion zone on the South Coast during whale season. There simply isn't any need for a change.
The zone would also severely restrict local whale watching operators, tour and charter businesses, and recreational and commercial fishing-these are all important contributors to the local economy.
I'm further concerned Alexandrina Council has allowed itself to be pressured by vested interests largely outside our community. Activists are increasingly targeting councils to get involved in areas where they have absolutely no jurisdiction such as foreign affairs, human rights, natural resources and-in this case-regulating access to the sea.
The result is usually ratepayers' money being squandered on empty symbolism. Now, the State Government will be required to devote considerable taxpayers' resources to formally considering a request that it do something which is completely unnecessary.
It's impossible to see how this exercise has been in the best interests of our community, which is now increasingly opposed to the idea. I hope our local councils are listening. I certainly am, and I'm making sure the State Government is too.
David Basham was elected as Member for Finniss in March 2018 and replaced the retiring Michael Pengilly.