How does an American lobby group, bursting with $7 billion of fossil fuel wealth originating from a family of Pennsylvania oil barons, get to have a major say in where people can fish in West Australian waters? Well, the simple answer is that WA’s Labor Government has allowed such foreign intervention into our domestic decision-making. In fact, invited it. The interloper is known as Pew and it’s on the nose with the local commercial fishing industry. Pew has become the tail wagging the Labor dog on environmental issues, particularly the establishment of marine parks replete with no-fishing sanctuary zones even where there is no threat to sustainability. The Pew Charitable Trusts were formed in 1948 by the children of the founders of the Sun Oil Company, Joseph Newton Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew, to do good works around Philadelphia where their parents made a fortune. The move also avoided inheritance taxes. “Early priorities included cancer research, the Red Cross and a pioneering project to assist historically black colleges,” Pew’s official history says. Its peculiar evolution since the 1990s into an international behemoth using the family’s money to fund “progressive” causes around the world has been well documented in America. A New York Times article about Pew’s efforts to close US forests to economic activity reported how timber communities “are being crushed by an inaccessible and faceless movement wielding great power and influence”. So let’s put the boot on the other foot. Would the US tolerate Australians interfering in their domestic political affairs? Would they allow our philanthropists to use their wealth to buy influence over their political system? Don’t expect the Australian Greens to object to this foreign interference in local politics. They’re masters of the means justifying the ends. But if it’s obnoxious for the communist Chinese to meddle in Australian politics, as the Greens stridently assert, why isn’t it equally so for rich woke Americans? There is a clear line between foreign money doing good works abroad and when it is spent on something that has the real prospect of destroying Australian family businesses, causing job losses, widespread financial hardship and reduced access to sustainable food sources. Which is what will likely happen to commercial fishing in WA thanks to Pew. Pew’s influence in the Cook Government’s proposed south coast marine park, which extends almost 1200km from Bremer Bay to the South Australian border and 5.5km offshore, has been attacked by the WA Fishing Industry Council. WAFIC’s chief executive, Darryl Hockey, has criticised the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions for allowing Pew, and a group of Australian pressure groups that it funds, to dominate the process. Hockey bases much of his criticism on documents WAFIC obtained from freedom of information requests on DBCA’s marine parks process. “On Friday May 15, 2020, a meeting to discuss south coast marine park consultation was held at DBCA headquarters,” Hockey says. “Attendees included Recfishwest, Pew and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (who are funded by Pew). WAFIC, of course, was fully excluded from attendance. “At the meeting, DBCA was advised that the attendees supported ‘the creation of a larger, rather than smaller, marine park’. And that they have ‘aligned to prepare a series of principles for a new way of approaching marine park planning and management’, none of which is based on science.” Hockey outlines a series of DBCA consultation meetings throughout 2020 without WAFIC present while Pew and a big group of activist bodies it funds were intimately involved in drawing up plans. He details a meeting on November 18 at which DBCA director-general Mark Webb was recorded saying that WAFIC should be involved in the future, “even though we had been excluded for the previous six months of their planning”. “You see, they had already set the foundations in concrete so it was now safe to let those nasty fishers in,” Hockey says. Minutes of the November 18 meeting, involving six of the most senior officers of DBCA and representatives of Pew and two of the environmental lobby groups it funds, record comments around the strategies being adopted for the proposed marine parks. One was that “putting the maps on the table too early is a risky tactic” and “needs to keeps maps and lines out of it” (sic). Remember that these were public servants developing government policy that impacts all West Australians. So foreign-funded lobby groups were allowed inside the highly politicised process, while directly affected locals were in the dark. Another noted comment was “raised the problem of how fishing management issues are dealt with in this process. It leads to a messy process. Fishing issues get brought in and the marine park process is not the right process to deal with them.” Hockey says: “They were talking tactics about how to circumvent the interests of fishing, right from the get-go, and given it has been an almighty mess since day one, they were absolutely right. “The question that should have been asked at this stage is, why is DBCA prepared to risk its previously good reputation, as well as that of its Minister and the Premier, to achieve an outcome that is not popular ... and is not based on any known science?” So this week I asked DBCA 10 questions based on the matters raised by WAFIC. The department confirms it approached Pew, along with other parties, to form sector advisory groups under its ministerially approved community engagement strategy. “Western Australian-based Pew staff chaired the conservation SAG to represent national conservation interests,” a DCBA spokesperson said. Which nation? Wasn’t this a WA issue? Regarding WAFIC’s exclusion: “Recfishwest and Pew requested a joint meeting with DBCA. Given the subject matter that was being discussed, WAFIC was invited to subsequent meetings.” Q: WAFIC alleges DBCA “have deliberately excluded WAFIC at every opportunity and provided gold passage favouritism to the US-based Pew group throughout, while shutting out any input from WA regional communities, recreational fishers and many indigenous people”. What’s your response? A: This is untrue. All SAGs were provided with the same information, had the same opportunity to provide written input to, and present to, the community reference committee during the planning process. Q: Can the department point to any other environmental consultation process where a foreign lobby group has had such prominent access? A: Pew is one of many stakeholders that have had input into marine planning processes in WA over the last decade. Hockey says that at a CRC meeting on December 15, 2021, the Pew representative chairing the conservation SAG said it comprised Australian Marine Conservation Society, Pew, Save Our Marine Park, the Conservation Council and the Centre for Conservation Geography “All of which we understand are recipients of significant support from the Pew honeypot, or should that be money pot,” Hockey said. So Pew owned the SAG process. Americans understand that Pew has morphed into a battering ram for “progressive” issues. It gets little scrutiny here. “With its deep pockets and focus on aggressive political advocacy, Pew is not only the most important new player but the most controversial among opponents in industry,” the New York Times reported in 2001. The naivete of the DBCA in incorporating Pew deeply into its decision-making process is worrying. Even other parts of the WA bureaucracy are critical. Internal documents from the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development obtained under FoI by the Nationals’ Colin de Grussa are damning. “Noting inadequate time was provided for DPIRD to properly analyse and provide well-considered feedback on a marine park of such size and complexity, this rushed approach poses serious risks to the planning and outcomes of the South Coast Marine Park,” the department wrote. “Based on the draft zoning scheme it does not appear that DBCA has adopted a pragmatic approach to the zoning of the proposed SCMP . . . “The current draft zoning scheme will likely result in the loss of several south coast fisheries and impact on the livelihoods of numerous fishers. “It is DPIRD’s view that these impacts are not in the community’s best interests and that the impacts can be largely avoided or minimised if DBCA are genuinely serious about doing that in designing the zoning scheme for the SCMP. “Despite overwhelming feedback and agreement on recommendations to specific areas across numerous stakeholder groups their recommendations have not been taken on board and changes made to candidate areas.” Which shoots down DBCA’s arguments about its consultations process. This is a fully-fledged scandal. Why did a wealthy foreign lobby group have such influence over our bureaucracy? Why are local voices shunned?