Sharks And Pot Smokers v Colin Barnett


After the fatal attack on a diver off Rottnest Island last week, the WA Government announced for the first time in history that it would order Department of Fisheries officers to trap and kill a shark in a bid to protect public safety.

At the time of the announcement exact details about the offending shark, which witnesses now say is a 3m white pointer, were unknown. Fisheries officers laid baited hooks in the areas where the attack occurred with the aim of killing a Great White, or possibly multiple other sharks, who happened to be lurking in the area.

The hunt has since been called off without any sharks taking the bait. However Premier Colin Barnett has raised the possibility of further shark culls and says he will consider allowing commercial fishermen to increase their catches of sharks along the WA coastline in a bid to reduce numbers. Clearly, the Government does not want to be seen as doing nothing.

Yet the shark experts are essentially telling the Government there’s nothing they can do.

CSIRO shark expert Barry Bruce told reporters that great whites travel up to 80km a day and traverse waters as far apart as South Australia and northern Western Australia. The likelihood of catching the same shark suspected of an attack in the open ocean is extremely remote, he says.

Bruce also stated there is no scientific evidence to suggest a shark suspected of attacking a human is any more or less likely to do so again.

But for a government that goes to considerable lengths to provide reassurances of public safety, the absence of fact-based evidence has not presented a problem for policy-makers before.

Earlier this year, WA Police Minister Robert Johnson announced harsher penalties for casual marijuana smokers with the penalty for possessing less than 30g of cannabis increased from a $100 fine to a maximum of $2000 and the possibility of two years in jail. In addition, anyone caught with more than 10g of the drug would now be charged with drug possession and face court. If found guilty they would receive a criminal record.

These changes came despite the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) saying there were was no link between harsher penalties and decreased drug use, the changes were likely to encourage further drug and anti-social behaviour in those that received a criminal record.

The NDRI accused the government of manipulating the issue for political gain, with WA marijuana usage remaining constant with national averages for several years despite government claims it had increased due to the previous government’s policies.

Indeed, the great white and the casual pot smoker might seem like strange bed fellows. Yet each have gone from being roguish threats, tolerated if not largely avoided by the general public, to a whole new class of criminal. And once again the advice of experts in the respective field is being sidelined, seemingly for the sake of short term political gains.

There may be a common solution, in the form of a shared public awareness campaign between great whites and casual pot smokers to bring national attention to Barnett’s policies.

The Australian HEMP Party, a group seeking the legalisation of marijuana, told NM it stands ready to support the sharks in their struggle. "I thought (Barnett) was just shocking with the changes to the cannabis laws, he was just swimming in the face of all the research… (and) how are they going to catch the shark, do they even know?," president Michael Balderstone said.

"It’s just old style politics really. What is our common interest? Well, we love swimming. But weed is very dreamy and peaceful you know. The great white shark? I’m not sure how that would work for our mascot."


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Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.