March 2013

Community consultation counts

19.03.2013 - Posted by Mark Stacey
The Victorian Government has recently released the results of community consultation on their draft Victorian Waterway Management Strategy. This strategy replaces the 2002 Victorian River Health Strategy and will guide the future direction of the management of Victoria’s rivers, estuaries and wetlands for the next eight years. It is a pivotal document for those working in catchment management in Victoria.

The draft Victorian Waterway Management Strategy was released late last year and was followed by a six week consultation period that ran from late October to early December 2012. The consultation has cumulated in the release of a Community Feedback report that outlines the key comments and themes put forward by the community.

Image: Report from the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment

I was involved in a couple of formal submissions, both as an individual and as part of the River Basin Management Society, and have been really impressed to see how the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) have responded to our feedback. The Community Feedback report is one of the best examples I’ve seen of government responding to a formal consultation process.

The Community Feedback report provides a high-level overview of the main themes from submissions and outlines how DSE intends to amend the strategy to reflect the feedback. Some interesting stats in the report include:

• a total of 1,159 individual comments on specific issues were identified from 78 submissions
• there was a pretty even split between positive (29%), mixed (35%) and negative (21%) comments (plus 14% not applicable)
• most of the submissions came from government agencies (37%) and individuals (26%)
• environmental water management was by far the most frequently discussed theme, popping up in about 10% of all comments
• riparian management and community rounded out the top three themes.

But beyond the stats, what was more heartening is seeing how DSE are using the feedback to revise the strategy. The report lists 17 high level changes to the draft strategy in response to common themes. It’s rewarding and comforting to see that many of those 17 changes address the comments raised in the submissions I was involved with.

My only concern is that the submissions have not been published on the DSE website. Publishing submissions online (provided the author hasn't asked that it remain confidential) is a great way of boosting transparency and informed discussion – which is always a good thing. The published submissions on the Murray Darling Basin Plan provided a good example of that.

For those interested in reading more, you can find a selection of publically available submissions below:
River Basin Management Society
Environment Victoria
Municipal Association of Victoria
Barmah, Millewa Collective – Friends of the Earth
Connecting Country (a landscape restoration project in central Victoria)