Saturday, 19 October 2019

Big Shifts: Governance

‘I won’t be putting pen to paper. I’ve been ‘commenting’ for years, and it doesn’t make any difference.’ He’s old, grizzled, and disaffected. I’m in a hall in Colac, talking to people who have driven into town to be part of rethinking how we protect the health of the rivers of the Barwon. It’s the same examination of governance arrangements that is underway now for the Waterways of the West – the Maribrynong, the Werribee and the smaller creeks that run directly to Port Phillip Bay.

The room swarms with government employees. They are bringing government decision making into the public realm. Around the walls are the objectives and process of each study. Assessing long-term water availability, deciding water allocated for the next 10 years between human and environmental use, planning 50 years ahead for Geelong’s water supply – these are big topics. The machinery of government is on display.

The table where I’m sitting is for a Ministerial Committee considering how to improve the regulation and planning that affects rivers and wetlands. I’m listening to Daryl, who is disappointed that there’s no mention in the discussion paper just released about educating young people about the rivers and catchment. ‘It’s the quickest way to change attitudes, and that’s what we need,’ he says.

I have to agree, for here we are, talking with a few while the rest of the community guzzles its way through ridiculously cheap water without knowing that the real cost of water is born by rivers choked by weeds and stagnant in summer, without their natural flow. Low cost to consumers, and politicians deliver on their promises to keep the cost of government service down, but the true cost is hidden.

We use the water that rivers need for their life, and the rivers die. We choose low cost over the full cost of caring for waterways, and government agencies whose job is to look after rivers struggle on underfunded. Overloaded community groups plug holes in the dyke, while the rest of us blithely live out our days in ignorance.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Smart, educated, technical experts were going to get the facts, and guide governments, and we were going to leave them to it. But the facts of science tell a story that politicians find hard to act on, and here informed public opinion has an influence.

A little education would bring these dilemmas to children and adolescents. Part of being a responsible person, living in a specific landscape and benefiting from the services provided by government, is to understand the physical and governance processes that support your life. 

Perhaps if children learned where their water comes from and the choices involved, come 2030, those children will show up at information days like this, to say what they think, and even to put pen to paper, finger to keyboard. 

It's a big shift, to participate in decisions for the public good that were once left to our elders and betters. Our children’s education could do more to prepare them for this responsibility.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare.

Big Shifts: Water

Climate change is front page news, but now it’s the climate emergency, and in some parts of the world, the climate catastrophe. 

The northern summer started with the Californian bushfires, then moved to the Arctic fires, smouldering circles of peat burning underground, impossible to control. I followed links to local newspaper articles in the Arctic Circle, to read what people there were thinking. I learned about methane released as the permafrost thaws and the feedback loop between more carbon and more thawing. By the time the Amazon started burning, I hadn’t exactly lost interest, but I was exhausted.

A graph of rainy days in Sunbury woke me up. Sunbury now has 3.5 fewer rainy days in August than it did 50 years ago. I thought August was pretty wet this year, but the trendline is down. Inflows to Roslyn Reservoir are headed the same way.

And it’s getting hotter. As last summer lingered, my body told me ‘This is wrong.’ It was too hot too late into autumn. The Japanese Maple told me too: in that hot weather in May, half its leaves shrivelled up and dropped to the ground, brown. Then when it got properly cold, the leaves didn’t turn their deepest purple/crimson.

Life has changed for that maple tree, and for us. We have wasted the last three decades letting the ultra-rich set the agenda; now we must completely redesign our energy and food systems, fast. If we can get these shifts started in the next decade, then we will leave our kids a habitable future. If we don’t, us old folk will be gone, but they and their kids will have a really difficult time.

There’s a lot for the big end of town to do, but a small town like Riddell what each individual does makes a difference. Over the next few editions of Riddell Roundup, I will tell you about projects that are part of the big shifts, leaning into these shifts and learning as we go.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Pick your fights

I’m in North Fitzroy on a cold Saturday morning. My companion is hunting for organic this and free-range that, and I’m tucked into a little nook outside Wild Things, browsing through the noticeboard. Yoga classes, baby sitters, life coaching. Yup, I’m in North Fitzroy. Here’s a post-partum doula to lend a helping hand as you bond with your new-born and hold down your job and squeeze in the singing lessons. And there, right at the top –

have ignored your concerns about height

Seven stories sure looks a lot bigger than two, but when a city goes from 5 to 9 million in 30 years, expect a lot more of this. And when a planet puts more heat into its climate systems, expect disruption to regular business. Things we’ve take for granted will require a rethink. 

But pick your fights. Last week, I was invited to facilitate discussion between residents in Lancefield. They’re concerned about the way their town is developing. Recent Development Planning Overlays (DPOs) from the Shire are red flags, they said. Higher density isn’t in the right place. Community submissions on a draft DPO made no difference. Unlike Riddells, there isn’t a Structure Plan for the town, but the Shire’s Settlement Strategy allows for growth from under 2,000 to 6,000 by 2030.

We sat there and talked over it, and around it, and over it again, until we settled on this: if the Shire isn’t doing planning for Lancefield’s future, then those who care about the town had better get started. Where should higher density go? Where should facilities for 6,000 people be placed? How will people move around, by car, bike and on foot?

Influencing planning decisions requires sustained effort. ‘Power never concedes anything without a demand. It never did and it never will.’ Frederic Douglass nailed that in 1857.[1] Resistance to business-as-usual is needed, but marching down Main Road with placards is just part of what’s needed. Fighting only suits some people. If you want to make a contribution, get serious:

Pick the issue that’s close to your heart. Be ready to make time in your already busy life to run with it. Make sure it’s something where you can get out of your depth and enjoy it. Be ready to learn.

Find a crew. You will need companions. Be ready to work with interesting, passionate people who will change your life. Go looking for like-minded people, and invite them to join you. Expect to learn a lot about yourself and those you work with.

Choose what you do. What’s your talent and expertise? What do you want to do that you haven’t ever done before? This issue is going to move into your life, so welcome it and make it an adventure.

Let’s say your passion is connectivity – a town where it’s easy to get around by car, on foot, by bicycle, on a scooter, pushing a pram. There’s the expertise needed, but there’s also organising, education, publicity and advocacy. 

If you’re a fighter by nature, then you’re the right person for advocacy. But that might not be you. 

How will people absorb the technical detail, talk, meet others and encounter their differing views around that issue. That’s education

How do you get that issue out to more people, grab their interest, address their reservations? That’s publicity

Who’s going to set the timelines, arrange the venues, get the flyers printed, make sure the invited speaker is well briefed? That’s organising.

This about the world we’re creating, but it’s your life too. Make it work for you.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare. For environmental questions on the Amess Road development, see                             

[1] The full quote: ‘Power never concedes anything without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.’