BASS Coast Council’s draft natural environment sustainability strategy document has been around for a number of months marked “confidential”. Why, you might ask, would such a draft be confidential? Could you possibly argue “commercial in confidence” or such other sensitive reason?
To be fair, it’s been out for community comment and the period for submissions only closed on January 31. But I object to the process whereby council officers, or a consultant acting on behalf of the council, prepares such a document, then seeks input from the “community”.
Before a draft is prepared, interested parties should be informed that a strategy is to be prepared, issued with background material on the current strategy and advised how other councils in similar areas are managing their environmental sustainability.
The council should also offer facilitators to visit groups to explain the potential implications of a strategy and to capture their views and aspirations for Bass Coast’s sustainable future. This process should seek to establish a contact list of interested parties so issues can be communicated to them as they arise.
This sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare and I can hear the groans of our local bureaucrats. But it begs the question as to where in Bass Coast does wisdom and experience lie?
I’m sure council officers have their share but look at our community and you will see an array of exceptionally qualified and experienced people. Some are retired, some are still developing careers and some are exceptional amateurs. We have a wealth of knowledge that is poorly tapped – if at all.
But it can be done. We’ve seen some excellent examples of community planning undertaken here on Phillip Island. The Phillip Island Transport Study is an example where the current consideration of the island’s transport issues sprang directly from community concerns and leadership. It is important to note that the relevant council director played an important support and facilitating role.
By contrast, the natural environment sustainability strategy spent too much time as a confidential draft and would have benefited by stronger community and group input before this current round of consultation commenced.
It should be sent back to the drawing board. The process of considering the council’s objectives and measurable performance should be recommenced with a good deal more community consultation than has occurred to date.
On Tuesday I attended one of the council’s consultation sessions on rate capping. I found it a very worthwhile exercise with an approach that would have been of benefit in developing the sustainability plan.
I noted that facilitators were keen to get email addresses “so that further information could be made available as it becomes available.” This approach and active social media are necessary for sound engagement.
Having said that, I thought some of the council’s proposed exclusions under a budget cap of 2.5 per cent – such as no minor projects being undertaken – were designed to generate concern. However, I had my opportunity to express that view and expect I will have the opportunity to monitor, understand and have input on an ongoing basis as this issue is put before the council.
Michael Whelan’s wife Mary Whelan is spokesperson for the community reference group for the Phillip Island Integrated Transport Study.