We applaud the attempt to begin to resolve this running sore in the body politic of the Tasmanian community, that as lifelong residents of Tasmania, and particularly of rural Tasmania, we have witnessed as part of a community rent asunder for the better part of 30 years. We welcome the fact that traditional adversaries in this conflict have been prepared to sit down and resolve some of their differences.
We note, however, that seven of the ten signatories to the Principles were from one of the cluster of groups with vested interests.
Furthermore, we all know that there are more than two sides to this issue. The major player missing in the roundtable discussion was the Tasmanian community. The point here is that the forestry issue in Tasmania is fundamentally a whole of community issue, because forestry in this State impacts on the lives of all of us, whether it be working in the forestry or related industries, volunteering for an environmental group ….or for that matter, having your fence kicked in because you display signs saying “Save Our Water!”
In Tasmania, then, we are all stakeholders in the forestry issue. The process undertaken here has effectively marginalised the majority of stakeholders. Having been employed in community work for many years, we know that any community consultation process must begin with the identification and participation of all affected stakeholder groups, not merely the cherry picking of selected groups. This is about broad principles of successful community development work, including empowerment and social justice. Otherwise, it just smacks of cronyism, raising the questions of who gets to select the groups and what is the process by which they are selected? It follows that it should not be surprising when the disempowered feel suspicious of a process from which they have been excluded.
We are concerned, therefore, that the process undertaken is not a legitimate process, but merely an exercise by two clusters of the many groups of players in this issue to create, consciously or not, a false consensus around very complex issues in order to meet short-term and expedient aims. This, we believe, is a recipe for failure because such a process cannot hope to meet the complex needs of a community with long-standing and far-reaching interests. Some may claim it is a start, and perhaps it is. Nonetheless, we believe it is an ill-conceived start, and that one needs to start how one means to finish, otherwise actions and solutions to the myriad of issues will be half-baked and superficial.
The principle listed as “Communities Impacted” does not mention consultation with communities that may be impacted; it suggests that communities WILL be impacted by the implementation of these principles. As night follows day, we can be assured that groups excluded from this process will not be happy or supportive of this impact. Additionally, what does “Community Engagement” mean in this context? Principles of community development require that community engagement starts at the beginning of the process, not after the framework has been developed. Having worked in eight different Tasmanian and Federal Government agencies, this smacks too much of the “top down, bottom up” approach encountered in some agencies , which effectively operates as “top down”; forget the “bottom up”. The agenda, at the moment, is set by those at the top to achieve the outcome they want.
Similarly, both of us having worked over many years, with and alongside a number of environmental-based organisations and connected individuals in Tasmania, it would seem that some of these have been rather autocratic in their decision-making processes. It is democratic rather than autocratic processes we would hope to see in place under a community development model.
Curiously, the second last principle is named as “Durability”. That is, the parties to this Statement of Principles want to make any agreements that result from these principles, long-lasting by making sure they stick. The closest community development principle to this is “sustainability”, which is about decisions and actions that hold up over time and which can be maintained because principles have been developed through a valid process that has the agreement of all stakeholders. Durability sounds like something which is a bit of patch-up job; just pop some sticky tape on the issue and hope it all holds together!
Perhaps we are being overly sceptical here; we hope so. However, in terms of a healthy and vibrant community, which is our main focus, we see little to inspire us in the process that led to the signing of this document. This document does not herald a major breakthrough in the 30-year conflict over forestry plaguing our beloved Tasmania, at least in terms of community health and wellbeing. Many of the stakeholders rightly stated that they were made to stand outside the door when they had a right to sit at the table from Day One. From a community development perspective, they are absolutely right to feel disenfranchsied; they were, and the relevant community development principle not applied here was “inclusiveness”.
For this heart-shaped isle riven down the middle, we need more than minor surgery by a small cluster of narrowly focussed groups; this is a major operation and we all have a part to play.