The former secretary of the Australian Department of Adventure Tourism, Major Jeremy Billycock-Smythe, has denied he is the prime-mover behind a plan to buy the Pacific Ocean.
"I am merely a consultant for the project," he said yesterday. "I'm just doing what former public servants usually do; they become consultants."
Major Billycock-Smythe (Britain, retired), who is also the principal of adventure travel company Trojan Horse Tours, ended his association with the department yesterday after just six weeks and one day in the job.
"Unfortunately, my vision of how adventure tourism could be an economic fillip to the Australian economy did not correlate with the views of the government," Major Billycock-Smythe said.
"For instance, I thought it would be appropriate for Cabinet to meet just
once in a tree house in the Daintree rainforest in northern Queensland, and
I was quite prepared to help them rig up a flying fox that would hold the
weight of even the heaviest minister but I could not even get the idea past
"I rang the Minister's office and told them I wanted to speak to the Minister but when I said I was Secretary of the Adventure Tourism Department, they put me through to the Minister's secretary.
"She wouldn't believe me when I said I was the head of the Adventure Tourism Department because she said she had never even heard of the Adventure Tourism Department.
"That's because, I told her, it was a new department.
"Well, she said, prove it: 'let me speak to YOUR secretary.'
"I did not have a secretary, I said. I did not have any staff at all —
that's how new the department was. I told her I did not even have a proper
office. I was basing myself in a toilet block on the banks of Lake Burley
Griffin which did not even have a phone, let along a hot line to the
Minister. I was calling from a public phone booth and the last thing I
needed was a Minister's secretary doubting my ability to tie flying fox
knots, wasting my phone-booth money and wanting to jabber on with a
secretary I did not have.
"That's when I resigned.
"I told her to tell the Minister I was quitting because I was sick of having to deal with layers and layers of red tape day in and day out."
Major Billycock-Smythe, a 6 foot 2 Englishman with a giant moustache, who arrived in Australia last year after an aborted adventure tourism venture in war-torn Czechna, in which his whole party was captured and thrown into a prisoner of war camp, was forced to serve out six weeks' notice.
But this, he said, was nothing compared to the torture of being lost in the Nullabor desert with another party in December.
"I do regret not being able to carry out what I set out to achieve but I do take away some positives," Major Billycock-Smythe said.
"For example, one hears time and time again that the public service can learn a lot from the private enterprise world.
"I'm not sure that is true.
"I cannot think where in the private sector you could work for just six weeks and one day and leave with an attractive retirement package, all provided courtesy of the Australian taxpayer.
"And making contacts! I may never have got involved in the Pacific Ocean
purchase plan if I had not been Secretary of the Australian Department of Adventure Tourism.
"The real prime-mover for the project met me the first day I was in the job.
"Actually, it was a bit of a coincidence.
"I was basing myself in the toilet block because we did not have any official digs at that time and I still held the lease to the block, which my company had used while training adventure tourists for the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race.
"Mr X, though that's not really his name, was walking along the banks of Lake Burley Griffin, thinking through his plan, when he felt the need for a call of nature.
"Happily, there was my toilet block and, voila, inside, was me and the start of something I think is going to be really, really big.
"I think clear-thinking people will agree with me when I say that the Pacific Ocean has become a liability to the countries that border it or are in the middle of it.
"Their main problem is that they spend a lot of money they might not have to police their E.E.Zs and keep away illegal fishers.
"Well, we want to change that.
"We are in the process of raising the necessary finance together to buy the
Pacific Ocean and float it on the Australian Stock Exchange.
"I cannot reveal how much it will all cost us. That would be breaking my
client's confidence. But I am quietly confident that the countries involved
will find our proposition very, very attractive. Very mutually advantageous. We are prepared to pay a very good price for a what, you have to admit, is a used commodity.
"How do we propose to make money for this venture?
"Well, we plan to charge a toll on the people who use the Pacific Ocean.
Hundreds of boats can be found in the middle of the Pacific every day — fishing boats, huge passenger ships, freighters, oil tankers and
around-the-world racing yachts. And around the fringes, near various land
masses are thousands of smaller pleasure crafts, ranging from sailboards to ferries to small fishing boats to speed boats. We say: make them pay for the privilege. Let's bring the Pacific into the 21st century. Let's apply user-pays principles to this great expanse of water.
"The beauty for us is that the Pacific Ocean, like all oceans, is growing each year, what with the polar ice caps melting because of the widening hole in the ozone layer.
"In phase two of our operation, we are considering building two or three very smelly factories on high-altitude land masses, belching CFCs into the atmosphere 24 hours a day and seeing if we can hasten global warming.
"We anticipate this will have a two-fold effect:
Major Billycock-Smythe ("Oh, let's not be too formal old boy, call me Major B.S — everyone does") would not be drawn on rumours that his group was also interesting in buying up other oceans.
"Sure we have ambitions, but we're taking it one ocean at a time," he said.
He said that there would be no objection if countries wanted to maintain control over their own former territorial waters.
"We will lease the E.E.Zs back at very reasonable rates," he said. "We do plan a few minor changes in the detail. For instance, we think that E.E.Z. should stand for Everybody-must-pay-to-fish-here or Else Zone.
"But we will not INSIST that countries lease back their former E.E.Z — except for those countries who have EEZs with absolutely no potential for
fishing or recreational use. If we were to be forced to maintain their E.E.Zs we feel that would be grossly unfair to us.
"The arrangement to lease back the E.E.Zs would allow countries like New Zealand, for instance, which has recently decided to do away with its airforce, to now scrap its navy.
"The advantage for them is that WE will take care of illegal fishers in those waters.
"We are already exploring three possible courses of action in this regard.
Major Billycock-Smythe also said that he could not discount adding a
Pacific Ocean string to his adventure tourism bow.
"Polynesian warriors were renowned as great ocean-going seamen long ago," he said.
"They travelled thousands of miles across the ocean in open canoes.
"I do foresee the day when I lead a group of like-minded adventure tourists along the routes of one of the great voyages. For a fee, of course."
©May 15, 2001, John Martin. All Rights Reserved
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