Saturday, 19 October 2019

Big Shifts: Governance

‘I won’t be putting pen to paper.’ 

He’s old, grizzled, and disaffected. 

‘I’ve been ‘commenting’ for years, and it doesn’t make any difference.’ 

Steve has driven into town to be part of thinking how to 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 – our Maribrynong River, 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 for each study: water availability, water allocation for the next 10 years, the coming 50 years of water supply in the region – these are big topics.

The machinery of government is on display. I’m sitting with the Ministerial Advisory Committee that will recommend ways to improve government regulation and planning that affects the rivers, creeks and wetlands of this region. 

Steve says he's disappointed that there’s been no mention in the just released discussion paper 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. Here we are, talking with the few good souls who have turned up on a Wednesday evening, but collectively, we guzzle our way through cheap water while the real cost of that water is born by rivers choked by weeds and stagnant in summer, without their natural flow. 

We use the water that rivers need for their life. Costs are kept low for consumers, politicians deliver on their promises, but as a society, we choose human use over environmental use, and low cost over the full cost of caring for waterways. The government agencies whose job it is to look after rivers are under-funded; community groups do what they can to fill the gaps. Most of us are in ignorance of how badly the collective effort falls short of proper care for living rivers.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Smart technical experts were going to get the facts, and guide governments. We the general public were to leave them to it, trusting that government would do what was needed. But things are not so good, and it turns out that the facts of science may tell a story that politicians find hard to act on. 

Informed public opinion can make a difference, but what are we doing to bring these dilemmas to our children? How well-equipped are they to live responsibly in the natural world? 

This is a big shift, to participate in decisions that were once left to government, and our children’s education could do more to prepare them to be part of decision making. 

If we did, perhaps when the next Ministerial Advisory Committee holds meetings, in 2030 let's say, these children will arrive at their local hall to say what they think, to hear what others think, and to work out what is to be done. 

That’s what Steve thinks, and while he says he's not putting pen to paper, I’m happy to pass it on.

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.’