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Wilderness in Western Australia

By Bernie Masters - posted Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Like most political parties, the Liberal Party in Western Australia is a complex organisation, with lay and parliamentary members of varying abilities and expertise acting to further their own or the party’s ambitions. After joining the party in 1984, I was elected the state MP for Vasse (a rural seat centred on Busselton in the south west of the state) in 1996, serving as a backbencher in the Richard Court government until the 2001 election when the Labor government was elected. Having a background in the environmental sciences, I was then appointed by then opposition leader Colin Barnett as the Liberal spokesman on science and the environment.

In the lead-up to the 2005 election, most shadow ministers were busy preparing policy or position statements that the Liberal Party could take to the election. In 2002 and 2003, I produced what I considered to be well-researched and argued documents on establishing an Invasive Species Council to tackle the problems of weeds and feral animals; a management strategy for the Ningaloo Marine Park and Cape Range National Park; a policy on reducing light emissions to the sky in urban environments (light spill); a proposal to introduce a levy to fund Natural Resource Management; a science policy; and a policy on wilderness in Western Australia.

Much to my surprise and frustration, several of these documents never saw the light of day. However, all became clear when I lost Liberal Party endorsement for the seat of Vasse in late 2003, to be replaced by Troy Buswell, a controversial figure who is now treasurer in the Liberal Nationals government that was elected in late 2008. Too late did I discover that certain of Buswell’s parliamentary supporters were actively working to deny me a public profile as a shadow minister, so that they could highlight my lack of public recognition as an argument against me during pre-selection, thereby encouraging delegates to vote for Buswell.


In early 2004, I resigned from the Liberal Party and stood against Buswell in the 2005 election, losing by 209 votes.

I produced the following draft position statement on wilderness in WA in September 2003. The reason why it remained hidden from public view may have been a result of the Liberal hierarchy believing it was not suitable to adopt as policy, although the most likely reason is as explained above - to deny me public exposure. Nonetheless, considering how little policy development has occurred on the important subject of wilderness in WA since the 2005 election, the issues outlined in the position statement remain valid today.

Defining the difference


A strong economy is dependent upon a healthy and diverse environment, but human impacts on the Australian environment now require a strong economy to properly manage our environmental assets. The need to find the correct balance between economic and environmental imperatives is urgent.


The Liberal Party has a long-standing commitment to the conservation of Western Australia’s natural heritage. The previous Coalition Government established five new national parks, five conservation reserves and 59 nature reserves to expand Western Australia’s conservation estate by 920,000 hectares. In addition, 2.6 million hectares of pastoral lands were acquired for conservation in the Gascoyne-Murchison and Pilbara regions.

Important natural areas should be protected from development, such as in National Parks or nature reserves, or through the voluntary actions of private landowners.

Wilderness is internationally defined as an area which is large, remote and natural. Wilderness areas provide significant social and environmental benefits, such as preservation of valuable ecosystems and biodiversity, while providing people with the opportunity to escape from modern society and “experience” nature.

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About the Author

Bernie Masters was the Liberal MP for Vasse from 1996 to 2005 and the shadow minister for science and the environment from 2001 to 2004.

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