November 6th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Why Bush is better for Australia ...

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Labor in shock after its disastrous rout

QUARANTINE: Citrus canker: Biosecurity Australia must be held accountable

ENVIRONMENT: How Howard can neutralise green vote

INTEREST RATES: Myth and reality of Reserve Bank independence

INDONESIA: Yudhoyono's new deal for Australia

TAIWAN: Cross-strait issue a delicate balance

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Not so noble a prize / Wickedness / Demonology / Indonesia

IRAQ WAR: Did Saddam Hussein back al-Qa'ida?

MEDIA: Mark Latham's wrong turns

ABORTION: Facts banish the myth of the 'backyard butcher'

OPINION: How I would tackle poverty

CULTURE: Children's author plumbs new depths

End the shame of ACT pornography (letter)

Unborn child treated as 'a malignant tumour' (letter)

BOOKS: Catholicism, Protestantism And Capitalism, by Amintore Fanfani

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How Howard can neutralise green vote

by Patrick J. Byrne

News Weekly, November 6, 2004
In Victoria, the Barmah-Millewa Forest process provides a ground-breaking model for solving a range of environmental conflicts. This area is an important ecological wetland and forest on the Murray River between Cobram and Echuca.

Over a decade ago, a meeting between the Murray-Darling Basin Commission (MDBC) and local communities bought together a balance of farm irrigators, representatives of the departments of water resources, environmental groups, local councils, river recreational-users' groups, the aboriginal community and local councils. Special recognition was given to the groups that financially supported the management of the system.


The purpose was to find ways to flood the area periodically to regenerate the forest and wildlife, and to improve river health.

When it started, nobody believed the process could work, because of the antipathy between the many diverse groups forming the committee. Yet, after a difficult three-year process, a watering regime was agreed to.

An agreement was struck to periodically add 50 gigalitres of water to the flood flows through the region when the Ovens River flood came through this reach of the Murray. It would require the building of several regulators so that different areas of the forest would be flooded in different years. River gums need periodic, but not annual, floods for regeneration.

This process could be described as a "community cooperative sustainable self-management system":

  • It was a "cooperative" process rooted in the community, so all sides received a full hearing of their concerns.

  • It was based on community-agreed science, not partisan science of a section of the community, providing a common understanding of the needs of this wetlands system.

  • It was "sustainable" in that it was designed to preserve the resources of the region and to manage their use sustainably.

  • It was "self-managed" not government-dictated, in that the management of the process was done by the whole community.

The community cooperative sustainable self-management system process worked because it led to even the most diametrically opposed groups coming to appreciate each other's concerns and the scientifically determined environmental needs of this wetland.

Most importantly, once the committee process started, no one group could make outlandish, overstated claims for their pet issues, without losing credibility in the committee process. Greenies could not overstate their case. Farmer irrigators could not overstate their needs compared to that of the wetlands system.

Contrast this "co-operative" approach to resolving an environmental dispute with the cumbersome way government departments and their statutory authorities try to settle such disputes.

That process ends up with aggrieved parties, themselves lacking comprehensive knowledge of the real issues, venting their anger at opposing stakeholders and governments. The result is that governments can then be left captive to one interest group, regardless of whether that group has sound science to solve the problems.

The cooperative process should be applied to Murray River issues, where the Federal Government has decided to restore to pristine health six icon sites. Environmental issues vary from site to site, and require a large amount of detailed science and comprehensive local historical knowledge.

A "one size fits all" environmental policy won't work. The Government's aim should be to get the process right, to set up individual icon site committees with all stakeholders involved, modelled on the Barmah-Millewa forest process.

Great Barrier Reef

Similarly, the Federal and Queensland governments should be moving on from having the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) trying to manage that huge reef system, and instead apply this cooperative management system.

The management of the Reef and fisheries should be done by regional boards of managers including, but not limited to, commercial fishing, recreational fishing, tourism industry, regional communities/councils, reef science research organisations, land-based marine businesses and environmental groups.

Not only is such a cooperative process the most sensible way of resolving hotly contested environmental disputes, but it extracts governments from making decisions beyond their competence, and it goes a long way towards neutralising the green lobby.

  • Pat Byrne

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