Politicians the real sharks when it comes to public safety
WHEN it comes to shark bites, public interest and scientific evidence often comes second to political motivations, according to new research.
University of Sydney public policy expert, Dr Christopher Pepin-Neff, has spent the past 10 years investigating public attitudes to sharks and how emotions are pitted against evidence-based policy-making in the wake of incidents where sharks bite humans.
In his new book, Flaws: Shark Bites and Emotional Public Policymaking, Dr Pepin-Neff argues that fear of a shark "attack” is a perfect example of the way politics works against the public.
Dr Pepin-Neff undertook more than a decade's worth of research and has revealed how politicians manipulate highly emotional incidents like shark bites to influence public sentiment and protect their own interests.
"Shark bites can have tragic outcomes that directly affect sections of the public,” he said.
"I have spent two decades working in politics - the public deserves better following tragedies than politicians trying to protect themselves, the real 'sharks' of this story are the politicians.”
His analysis of policy responses to shark bite incidents in Australia, South Africa and the US found a "worrying style of policy-making” where public interest and scientific evidence often came second to political motivations.
"For example, I found that in Florida and New South Wales, sharks had been portrayed as 'the enemy', shark bites were seen as intentional, and policy responses appear to be based on 'public safety',” he said.
"However, this is not reflective of scientific evidence , that shark bites are ungovernable accidents of nature, and that we are 'in the way, not on the menu'.
"This shows how policymakers manipulate these highly emotional situations to make it appear they are protecting the public and doing 'good' work, (it's) a scam to defraud the public for mere political gain.”
Dr Pepin-Neff said of the use of lethal shark control measures, including shark nets in NSW, drum lines in Queensland, and shark hunts in Western Australia he could find no greater purpose for them than political opportunism.
"One of the worst kept secrets in Australia is that lethal shark control programs are a scam,” he said.
He said the NSW and Queensland governments should end all lethal shark control programmes, and instead work with the Federal Government to invest in better education about shark behaviour and human behaviour.