Apart from coverage in a handful of mining journals and Asian business supplements, Western Australia usually goes unnoticed abroad. This changed in December when the state government announced a au$22m (€14.5m) plan to catch and kill sharks longer than three metres by placing baited hooks around popular swimming spots. The policy, prompted by seven shark-related deaths in three years, has attracted the ire of international scientists and celebrity environmentalists, including Sir Richard Branson and British comic Ricky Gervais.
Western Australia’s fisheries department is responsible for executing the plan in Perth. The task of maintaining the bait lines along the state’s southwestern coastline, notorious for great white sightings, has fallen to a more unlikely figure: an unnamed contractor in his sixties. Known as “The Fisherman”, his identity is a closely guarded secret. “We don’t want him being interviewed; we want him patrolling and fishing,” says Simon Beaumont, media liaison for the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.
Some of The Fisherman’s methods have already fanned the debate further; he was recently photographed shooting a hooked tiger shark in the head with a rifle, for example. Western Australians for Shark Conservation called the killing inhumane. However, the state’s minister for fisheries, Ken Baston, refuses to back down on the controversial policy. “Swimming and surfing at our beaches is part of the culture here and the threat of shark attack has become a real concern,” he says. “Human life must always come first.”
New Zealand prime minister John Key may have called to scrap the Union flag from his country’s ensign but he is still firmly in the monarchist camp. Prince William and family will be welcomed this month with the same fervour as previous visits; in 2010, his stint on the barbecue at Premier House was front-page news.
There’s more: Kiwis have no rights to UK citizenship but the Queen is still their head of state; the government calls itself the Crown; and in 2009, Key reintroduced knighthoods after a previous government removed them. Best of British, after all?
Politics: Most of the nations in Melanesia head to the polls this year but the one to watch will be Fiji. The archipelago is holding its first elections since the coup that saw Frank Bainimarama take power in 2006. That means he is taking off his military uniform and hoping to lead in civilian clothes.
Economy: Tonga’s unbalanced economy – it imports 10 times as much it exports – has the World Trade Organisation (wto) worried. Part of the problem, according to wto, is that no one seems to know who’s in charge of trade: the portfolio moved to a new ministry two years ago but the staff didn’t. Expect external pressure on Tonga to increase this month.
Diplomacy: This year’s Pacific Islands Forum, to be held in Palau in July, will be a test for Australia’s new foreign-policy leadership. Foreign minister Julie Bishop has emphasised the importance of relations with the country’s nearest neighbours but so far there have been fallings out with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Making friends at the forum will be a priority.