28 Feb 2016 COMMUNITY ACTIVISM – CONTEXTUAL REALITIES
This statement dates from 2003, although I feel the original version may have been written a few years earlier. It was prompted by my experience challenging the local government/developer nexus’s approval of a procession of inappropriate development applications on Tamborine Mountain in the 1990s. From memory it was circulated to environmental organisations and bureaucrats.
1. It is the responsibility of this generation of Queensland’s opinion leaders and decision makers to secure the state’s exceptional biodiversity largely in its current form, for present and future generations. The concept of sustainable development is widely cited, but seems little understood. At heart is the question of deciding what is to be sustained, assuming that whatever it is, is sustainable. Following on from that, is the implied capacity to keep whatever this is, going indefinitely, as per my opening sentence.
2. The unpalatable reality for a political culture which has long espoused the mantra of development and growth, seen as a measure of their achievement by Queensland governments of both left and right, is that protecting the environment requires prohibiting development. By development I mean placing buildings and other infrastructure on the land. One would think that it is absurdly obvious that development of vacant open space, whether a house block or a green field site, must at the very least compromise the integrity of the ecology of the land and at worst utterly destroy it. But planning applications, reports, documents and legislation seek to convince all and sundry that development is somehow in keeping with preserving, and can even enhance, the environment. The proposition really is simple. Development, other than unavoidable strategic infrastructure provision, must be prohibited by law in environmentally significant areas, eg areas of outstanding biodiversity. Currently in Queensland developers have it all their own way in that they can as readily develop in an environmentally significant area as in the heart of a city.
3. There is a strong, enduring tradition in Queensland culture of upholding personal freedom at the expense of fostering the public good. The whole question of land use is bedevilled by landowners with a proprietorial, exploitative attitude to the land. They seem exclusively interested in their rights, preferring to overlook their responsibilities and have an expectation that no-one can tell them what they should or should not do on or with their land. The contrast with ‘owners’ who have a custodial sense of the land could not be greater.
4. Time and again environmental activists, acting for the greater good out of a sense of personal responsibility, confront people who are self-serving, are motivated by greed and are not remotely concerned about the public good. Put differently, what I have in mind is people exercising responsibility without power up against people exercising power without responsibility. It is vital that decision makers recognise and acknowledge the moral distinction between the two groups, by making it a priority to identify and uphold the public good.
5.Most community groups attempt to square up to bureaucracies and businesses with only a fraction of the resources such entities can command. Far too many groups are forced to spread themselves thinly to detrimental effect. Characteristically, they tend to be adept at stretching the dollar. It is a heroic and unequal struggle which is not sufficiently acknowledged either by decision makers or by the wider community. Their indifference needs to be replaced by empathy so that all involved in a particular issue can benefit from the improved contact and interaction that would result.