Stakeholder engagement or stakeholder estrangement?

The 10/50 vegetation clearing scheme allowed people in certain areas to clear on their property, trees within 10 meters or shrubs within 50 meters of a home without seeking approval. For people like me, who live in a suburban area but are (or were previously) in the 10/50 zone, this meant that I could clear any vegetation on my property. You can understand why this was a developers dream come true.

My neighbour’s yard previously held many native trees. We had possums, tawny frog mouths, powerful owls, gang-gangs, cockatoos, kookaburras and rainbow lorikeets visiting regularly. One day they cut down their trees, and many others followed in their footsteps. While my neighbour had previously applied to council to cut their trees down, council rejected their application. With 10/50, they no longer need permission.

Kookaburra looks on as its old Growth Angophora habitat is felled. Photo credit Save Beecroft & Cheltenham Alliance
A kookaburra looks on as its old Growth Angophora habitat is felled. Photo credit Save Beecroft & Cheltenham Alliance

Due to the law being misused, there was a public outcry, and the public were asked for submissions. Several meetings with the Royal Fire Services were held with community groups, and I was able to witness first hand many individuals sharing their stories of how affected they were by the trees being cut. I could empathise with these people, but I was still surprised to hear so much emotion in relation to trees; some people just completely broke down and openly wept. There were feelings of utter helplessness, of being unable to stop the destruction of valuable resources that we felt belonged to a community rather than a parcel of land.

In other areas, the 10/50 law was used to add value to homes by improving views, but it comes at the cost of native wildlife habitat. Photo credit: The Daily Telegraph
In other areas, the 10/50 law was used to add value to homes by improving views, but it comes at the cost of native wildlife habitat. Photo credit: The Daily Telegraph

The outcome of the 10/50 review resulted in changes to the law, but not, as the majority of stakeholders wanted, an end to the law or at least a moratorium while it was being reviewed. Instead the law reduced the size of the area affected, but unfortunately did not address many of the issues at hand.

With this particular situation, we can see that there were many issues that arose from not engaging stakeholders. It is interesting to see the number of issues and concerns that stakeholders had in relation to 10/50, which would have been addressed far earlier on if stakeholders had been engaged in the decision making process.

Additionally, after the decision was made to initiate the 10/50 law, it was only after much protest that a review took place, and even then they did not undertake a moratorium whilst the review was underway.

When gaining stakeholder feedback, it is also important to address the way in which stakeholders are engaged, with the younger generation easily accessing the internet and social media, and the older generation preferring letters and community groups. Informing the stakeholder groups was also difficult, with many people unsure of the outcome as only select organisations and councils were informed, and constituents left in the dark unless they knew where to get the information.

The frustration felt by residents and stakeholders is understandable; their views were not initially sought, and when they were, they did not feel as though they were really listened to. This causes the public to distrust the organisations that make the decisions. If we really want to change this, then the public’s voice should be given more weight, with their participation in the decision making process incorporated into the decision making framework.

 

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