Chapter 4.1 Community Engagement

 

Port Phillip and Western Port Regional Catchment Strategy 

Relevant Objectives:

RCS-PO2          Increase the capacity and participation of people and organis-ations in catchment management.

RCS-PO3          Reduce the overall impact of the regional community on catchment assets.

RCS-LO5          Provide a high-quality network of parks and open space across urban and rural areas managed for community and environmental benefit.

Relevant Regional Targets:

RCS-PT5           Maintain or increase the number and geographic coverage of community groups participating in catchment management in the region, and increase the active membership of community groups by 20 percent (from 2001 levels) by 2008.

RCS-PT6           Increase community awareness and understanding of the condition of catchment assets and associated trends.

RCS-PT7           Maintain the regions total ecological footprint at or below the 2003 level, and reduce the average ecological footprint (per capita) for the region by 25 per cent by 2030.

Background

Since the 1970s there have been high levels of community involvement in a range of activities associated with Merri Creek.  The community sector has been voluntarily involved in the formation and operation of both the Merri Creek Coordinating and Management Committees.  The community has also undertaken research, lobbying and direct action, as well as planting, weeding, rubbish collection and participation in community festivals.  Since its formation in 1988, much of this community involvement has come through Friends of Merri Creek.

The community of the Merri catchment includes a high proportion of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.  It also includes highly motivated individuals active in community life.  Other individuals and communities require programs that acknowledge their values, resources, interests and understanding.  Poorly targeted community engagement programs can do more damage than good.

Community participation is highly desirable in the management of the Merri Creek, its tributaries and their environs.  Potential benefits include:

In order to sustain high levels of community involvement, it is necessary to provide opportunities for involvement to a wide cross-section of the community.  It is also important to design activities targeted at their interests, and their levels of knowledge and experience. 

Significant improvements to the water quality in Merri Creek and its tributaries can only be made through changes to the behaviour of community members living or working in the catchment.  Responses to this challenge may include information provision. However programs that engage the community through participation are more likely to be effective in creating behaviour change than information provision.

It is also important for agencies and others involved in the planning of major works to ensure that the community sector has sufficient opportunities to be consulted about proposals so that these works can be developed to meet the needs of local communities.  It is often necessary for such consultation exercises to deliberately target groups who might normally be unable to access such processes (e.g. CALD communities or the Aboriginal community).

Members of the community can become involved in volunteer groups like Friends of Merri Creek, Friends of Wallan Creek, and Friends of Edwardes Lake, the Merriang and District Landcare Group, or the Upper Merri Plenty Landcare Group which are active environmental groups in the catchment. Other groups have made significant contributions in the past, and new groups will probably form in the future.  After the formation of the Upper Merri Plenty Landcare Group in February 2008, covering that part of Mitchell Shire in the Port Phillip and Westernport catchment, there is only a small gap in Landcare group coverage in the City of Hume between Gunns Gully Road and Donnybrook Road, west of the Hume Highway.  This area abuts the urban growth boundary and is zoned Green Wedge Zone or is part of Melbourne Waters Kalkallo Retarding Basin.    It is not considered a priority to fill this small gap through the formation of a new group.  It may be more effective to encourage an existing group to cover this additional territory.

In order to have the greatest benefit to community health, groups like MCMC, Friends and Landcare Groups need to be inclusive in their membership and management as well as their programs.[253]  A casual look suggests that more could be done to ensure that membership and staff profiles as well as program involvement profiles address the diverse composition of the Merri Creek catchment community.

Member Councils run community involvement programs.  Events include Humes Multicultural Planting Festival, Yarras National Tree Day, Morelands Autumn Planting festivals and their support of the Kingfisher Festival, Darebins Merri Creek Safe Stroll, and Whittleseas events at the Whittlesea Gardens.  Mitchell Shire runs National Tree Day activities, and in June 2008 ran its first Landcare and Friends Group Forum.  Many Councils run their own community planting days.

The MCMC has also conducted a number of community involvement and education programs.  The federally funded JobSkills program in the early to mid 1990s generated much activity, particularly with CALD communities.  Other programs were funded by Parks Victoria. Member Councils continue to fund MCMCs community engagement activities.  These attract interest from a diverse range of groups (especially CALD groups) and focus on issues culturally relevant to the participating group, and those which engender group commitments to activity.  Activity days have also included participation from Scouts, residents groups, school groups, neighbourhood and community houses, volunteer coordinating organisations, Green Corps, Landcare, work placements and corporations.  MCMCs joint project with Whittlesea, Parks Victoria, Office of Women and Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE entitled Bilingual Park Tour Guides Program is a good example of a project involving CALD groups that can be used as a model.

Since 1997, MCMC has hosted a Waterwatch  Coordinator, funded by Councils and Melbourne Water.  The Waterwatch Coordinator works with schools and other community groups to educate them about water quality and empower them to work towards its improvement.  Part of the role is to facilitate community monitoring of waterway health.

Given the length and linear nature of the creek corridor, it is desirable to encourage the formation of new local interest Friends of, and Landcare groups.  Such groups might be helped to form with assistance from Friends of Merri Creek, MCMC, Local Governments, PPWCMAs Landcare Coordinators, or the State Government.

Creek managers also must ensure that the descendents of the original custodians of the Creek (i.e. the Wurundjeri people), as well as the wider Aboriginal community, are respected and have the opportunity to be involved in community activities.  It is especially important that interpretation of Aboriginal cultural heritage be done only in consultation with Wurundjeri elders.

DSE and DPI have published an Effective Community Engagement Workbook which provides good background to the skills and tools which can be used to successfully engage the Merri Creek community.

The proposed new regional park for Merri Creek between Craigieburn and the Ring Road provides many opportunities for engaging the community in the catchments ecology.  Currently there are no plans for an interpretation centre in the park[254], however efforts to engage the community would be much assisted by a well-run centre.

Key References

Dept of Sustainability and Environment and Department of Primary Industries (2004) Effective Community Engagement Workbook and Tools.

Galbally, Rhonda (2008) Community Groups and Social Isolation, Newparadigm Autumn 2008 19-23.

Issues

1.   The community has demonstrated a resource of skills and knowledge and a desire for involvement which should be fostered, expanded and drawn upon to assist the development and management of Merri catchment waterways and their open space.

2.   The Merri catchment includes relatively high numbers of people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who are in many cases disadvantaged in terms of access to information and involvement.

3.   While Councils and MCMC have been able to conduct a number of community education programs in recent years, apart from the voluntary efforts of Friends of Merri Creek, there are few ongoing strategic programs directed to those ends.

4.     In order to involve the local community, education and recreation programs need to be relevant to the communitys interests. 

5.     In order to create effective behaviour change, programs should identify the target communitys existing wants, and craft the message to meet some of these wants.

6.   Adequate resourcing is essential for sustaining community involvement.

7.   Resources may not always be targeted at the most effective programs.

8.   Community understanding of the ecology of the catchment is hampered by the lack of a dedicated natural history interpretation centre in the catchment.

Objectives

1.   To increase the capacity and participation of people and organisations in catchment management.  (From RCS-PO2)

2.   To reduce the overall impact of the regional community on catchment assets (from RCS-PO3)

3.   Encouragement of community custodianship and interest in the Merri catchments creek corridors.

Targets

1.   To develop a greater understanding by agencies of the community in the Merri catchment, their wants, needs and interests, barriers to their involvement, and the most effective ways to engage them.

2.   To develop greater appreciation and understanding of the value of the Merri Creek, its tributaries and open space by the community (particularly within the catchment and especially Creek neighbours) through strategic:

3.   To improve responsiveness by agencies to views from the community.

4.   To provide a high level of involvement of the community in planning, decision making and management processes.

5.   To provide equitable access to information, consultation and involvement for all members of the community through the development and conduct of programs for CALD groups, and other disadvantaged groups.

6.   To consult with and involve relevant Aboriginal groups/agencies e.g.: Aboriginal Affairs Victoria, Aborigines Advancement League, Wurundjeri Tribe Land Compensation and Cultural Heritage Council, and Maya Healing Centre.

7.   To facilitate awareness leading to further community involvement.

8.   To reduce the overall impact of the regional community on catchment assets. (From RCS-PO3)

9.   To create a high level of environmental sustainability by building on current awareness and promotion of a conservation ethic to the community. 

10.  Maintain or increase the number and geographic coverage of community groups participating in catchment management in the catchment and increase the active membership of community groups by 20 per cent from 2001 levels by 2008. (from RCS PT5) and by a further 20% by 2015

11.  Establish a new Friends Group within five years of the establishment of a new suburb on Merri Creek or a tributary.

12.  Increase community awareness and understanding of the condition of catchment assets and associated trends (from RCS PT6)

13.  Maintain the catchments total ecological footprint at or below the 2003 level and reduce the average ecological footprint (per capita) for the catchment by 25 per cent by 2030. (from RCS PT7)

Actions 

See Section E page 202.


[253] E.g. see Galbally (2008)

[254] Letter from Paul Dartnell, Manager Urban Parks, Parks Victoria to MCMC dated 13/11/08.