Lifesavers in Western Australia say they have seen no evidence that shark culling would be effective in reducing attacks and have hit out at claims their mitigation plan is “timid”.
The Senate inquiry into shark deterrence and mitigation began its hearing in Perth on Thursday.
The hearing had been scheduled for some month but is taking place in the aftermath of the death of teenager Laeticia Maree Brouwer on Monday.
Brouwer was surfing with her family at popular surf break Kelp Beds, near Esperance, when she was fatally attacked, possibly by a great white shark.
Her death has reignited the debate over shark deterrence, which in turn prompted a war of words between the federal environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, who appears supportive of culling and drum lines, and the Western Australian government, which has cast doubt on the effectiveness of culling and refused to deploy drum lines after the attack.
The committee’s chairman, the Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson, immediately offered his condolences to Brouwer, her family and friends, and others affected by her death.
Whish-Wilson then hit out at News Corp, for suggesting that any such statement of condolence from the committee would be “breathtaking hypocrisy” because members had previously opposed the culling of sharks.
“I want to put on our record today how insulting this is for members of the committee, who are just doing their job as parliamentarians on a very important matter of public interest,” Whish-Wilson said.
The hearing was marked by heated exchanges from the outset. The Liberal senator Linda Reynolds accused Whish-Wilson of downplaying the deaths of 15 Western Australians since 2000, after he suggested the media overrepresented shark attacks compared with drownings. Whish-Wilson dismissed the suggestion and said Reynolds should win an academy award for her performance.
The inquiry is expected to be dominated by the recurring debate on whether to mitigate the risk of sharks through lethal means – culling, drum lines, or meshing, for example – or to adopt other approaches.
Surf Life Saving Western Australia’s general manager, Chris Peck, said he had not seen any evidence that shark culling or drum lines were effective.
“Our job is to preserve life, that is why we exist as an organisation,” Peck said. “This particular issue… we want to see that there is tried and tested and proven outcomes before we implement anything and we just don’t see that at the moment for meshing, drum lines, or culling.”
Peck said there had only been one fatal shark attack at a patrolled beach in recent years. He said the state had a vastly different coastline than the eastern states and said the experiences in Queensland, where drum lines and culling are used, were not necessarily transferrable.