Tips from our Experts
In this section, we provide insider perspectives from current and former government employees on what constitutes effective engagement, and case studies of successful community engagement.
Communicating with your community and government
Use diverse methods of communication. I used every method available. Different methods of communication suited different purposes.
- Cherie Saxby, Coordinator, Save Cooper’s Paddock Share information
Remember your contacts
I started a database of State and Australian government contacts, company contacts, media, councillors, environmental groups, and individuals and I keep adding to it. If anything happens here I send an email to the appropriate group but I only use it when I have something new to report. We work with and share information with other communities on issues that affect us all.
- Kathy McKenzie, Putty Community Association Work with others
Work as a team
Step up and lead when you need to, but step back and rest and let others have the experience as well. If one group doesn’t work for you find another one, or better still start your own, and then form coalitions with others when urgent issues arise.
- Sharyn Cullis, Secretary, Georges River Environmental Alliance
Arrange a meeting with the Department
There is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting, even if you have already made a written submission. Try to meet with the Department to discuss your submission. Have they read it? What do they think? Get some feedback about the effectiveness of your submission. This meeting is a second opportunity for you to explain your position, and respond to what the Department thinks about it.
- Warwick Giblin, Environmental & Social Adviser, OzEnvironmental Pty. Ltd.
Information was key in our issue. We needed to talk to the right people and ask the right questions. Policy and legislation had to be understood, or as best we could. Information from Council, correspondence and file notes in regards to the dealings with the sand mining company were obtained under access to information laws. The AustLII library was helpful in reviewing how the Land and Environment Court had determined other matters involving a sand mining operation. The internet was a valuable resource. I found conference notes posted by some of the government employees which gave insight into what was important to them. Information such as survey maps were obtained from the Historical Society. Basically we had enough information to support our position and have informed conversations with the various officers.
- Sue Chivers, Terara resident
Government, Local Councils and the Court
Writing submissions is not a popularity contest. Decision-makers will take a good idea from one person over a bad idea from many people every day.Pro-forma submissions can be effective at the start of a campaign, for example if you are trying to change the views of politicians so that they understand the depth of feeling across a community that an idea is not supported.
However, you need to follow this up by writing your own submission to engage people and tell them what idea would be better. So, pro-forma then written submission.
- Tom Grosskopf, Director Metropolitan Branch, Regional Operations,Office of Environment and Heritage
How do I make submissions to a State Government Department?
Keep submissions on-topic. Give insights into analysis or experiences from elsewhere that make your case. Point to innovative ideas. Make your submission short and punchy. Get the reader engaged early.Be objective and outcome focussed.Have a civilised and interesting conversation.Include a summary at the top of your submission.Use headings within your submission to structure your argument.Use clear language. One idea per paragraph. Put your idea in the first sentence, then explain it in the rest of the paragraph.Think about your strategy. What will motivate people?
- Tom Grosskopf, Director Metropolitan Branch, Regional Operations, Office of Environment and Heritage
Planning Assessment Commission Meetings & Hearings
The purpose of a public meeting is to allow the PAC hear from people interested in the proposed development in the context of the Director-General’s Environmental Assessment Report and Recommendations before a decision is made on the application. Therefore people should look at these before attending a public meeting. Do these documents actually address your concerns? If not, where are the shortfalls and inadequacies? The PAC also wants people to look at the approval conditions proposed by the Department. Have your concerns been adequately covered and reflected in those conditions?
Public hearings generally occur as part of a review of a major development proposal. The purpose of a public hearing is to allow interested parties, particularly those who are potentially affected by the development, with an opportunity to present their views to the PAC. The scope of what can be discussed depends on the terms of reference for the review and the public hearing. The review and public hearings are part of the assessment process. The PAC review report and recommendation will be referred back to the Department for it to finalise its assessment of the proposal.
Public meeting – 5 minutes for individuals and 15 minutes for groups.
Public hearing – 5-10 minutes for individuals and 15 minutes for groups.
Given the time limitation to speak, your speech/presentation should be concise and focus on the key issues. Additional information can be provided in writing.
- Paula Poon, Director, Commission Secretariat,Planning Assessment Commission
Engaging with your local council
Council engages in decision-making that influences environmental outcomes almost on a daily basis. We have in-house expertise but also engage with external partners, including universities, community groups, industry and State Government Departments.
- Jenny Dowell, Mayor, Lismore City Council
Working with your local council
It is helpful to council if you can put forward a realistic alternative. For example, say that you are opposed to a development of this scale, and that you would like to see a smaller alternative. Give councillors a way forward that is workable and acceptable.
- Simon Clough, Deputy Mayor, Lismore City Council
Running for local council
I was unhappy about council’s decisions on environmental issues so I ran for local council. I also joined Landcare so that I can make a practical difference in the local area. Lobbying for strategies to be put in place then lobbying for the funds to implement these strategies takes years. I work with other councillors to get support for a council decision.
- Vanessa Ekins, Councillor, Lismore City Council
How do I make a submission to council?
Offer constructive criticism. Keep to the topic and be concise in your arguments. Council officers sometimes have to sift through hundreds of letters giving feedback. Short, relevant, and timely points of view are appreciated and have a better chance of being prioritised.
Earn your right to criticise. This means your arguments need to be validated by good quality research and understanding of the subject area which you seek to influence. Make reference to key documents to support your argument rather than relying on personal opinion or hearsay.
Avoid emotive language. Try to remain objective in your assessment of a situation. If it is distressing you or someone else simply state that. If you are passionate about a particular issue try to remain passive in your language and be factual.
- Dr Jenny Scott, Sustainability Program Leader, Ku-ring-gai Council
Appearing before the Court
Use photographs, maps, and diagrams if they will help you explain your position, but use them sparingly. Statements should be written in conversational English, and you should avoid jargon.
In addition to opposing something without compromising your position, it is sensible to also submit changes that you consider to be desirable if an application is approved. You don’t have to abandon an outright opposition to a particular project, but if there are ways of improving it, it is cutting off your nose to spite your face if you don’t engage in that process.
At the hearing
If you don’t know or have forgotten something don’t hesitate to admit it. Always answer the question that is asked of you. Don’t object to questions, that’s what the lawyers are there for. Don’t be aggressive.Don’t adhere stubbornly to matters that are clearly wrong because you think they will assist you in your case. Adhering to something that is clearly wrong will in fact damage the value of the remainder of what you are trying to say. Don’t try to anticipate where the questions are seeking to take you and tailor your answer in response.
- Senior Commissioner Moore, Senior Commissioner of the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales