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Kylie Cochrane: Public Participation, Community Outrage, and Water Security

Chair of IAP2 International, Kylie Cochrane, attended a Webinar held by GWP SEA and IAP2 Indonesia  (11/11/2021) as a keynote speaker. She gave a short presentation about “Public Participation, Community Outrage, and Water Security”. She stated that Australia didn’t have an issue with trying to get people involved in water security and water policy, so the actual issue is where people are very involved and very unhappy with government decisions on water security. Through this webinar, she explained public participation details and talk about some of the community outrage trends.

First of all, water security is a big issue in Australia, they have a lack of water and when they’re droughts, it can get very severe. Australia has a boom or bust climate, that’s why they go from very dry for years to having full water in a dam, it was so full they had to deliberately let the water flow and make it flood in some areas. Related to this issue, Kylie try to link the problem with IAP2’s core values. IAP2 has seven core values, and the main one which is public participation is based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process. This is fascinating in Australia because the level of involvement is what people argue about.

The condition of water security issues in Australia now is that they are not in a drought and they have a lot of water, but people still arguing with the government and arguing with communities around on how water security can be obtained in Australia, how the existing water can be allocated and can be shared to several people who are using it. They are also discussed how water should be recycled, reused, or when should the region have dams or not, and their arguments go on and on. The cause of community outrage can be explained by the social triangle theory. This theory stated that there are three elements to make up a society, the first one is political leaders’ institutions, the second is the religious institutions, and the third is a community (people and place). Kylie explained that :

“Now the social triangle theory says that they don’t longer have trust in their political leaders, so put a big cross through that one and they also didn’t have trust in religious institutions, so put a big cross through that. So, all we have left that makes up society is people and place, it’s like myself, my family, my friends, my house, my land, and my town. So, for everything that threatens themself, their families, friends, and their places, they going to greet with suspicion, with anger, and with tension. In Australia water is necessary and important, because without water nothing can grow, so without water people’s lives and livelihoods in Australia are under threat”

Furthermore, Kylie talked through a few of the trends we’re seeing at the moment. First of all, the community is seen by governments and the private sector as the biggest threat to water infrastructure projects around the country. Kylie personally working on three dam projects and each of the three is in different stages of development, from that there is no guarantee that the three will go ahead with construction. That is because of the different levels of outrage around government policy and the different ways of water security.

For example, Kylie shows the images of a whole bunch of environmentalists joining with some very traditional farmers in the northern part of New South Wales on the east coast of Australia and they’re fighting a dam from being put into their area.

“Maybe we would think that farmers would be happy to have a dam, but they were not in this instance or maybe we think that the environmentalists would be happy to have a dam. The fact is, most environmentalists didn’t like the dams because they think it will impact the environment downstream. Even the function of dams to irrigating or anything in good ways for water security, they still think that the dams will threaten the livelihood of the environment. Kylie stated that water projects are political, she showed us the photo of a group of women that are known affectionately in Australia as the knitting nanas or knitting grandmas. These ladies in the photo never protested before in their lives, just because the coal scene gas industry came to Australia and because there was a lot of fear in their farming communities that will impact the coal gas would have on water security in the area”.

The Final slide is mainly concerned with evidence and data. So one of the things that Kylie has found in Australia by working on water security projects is the more evidence and data that can be shared with the community, the more reassured community will be in what and how we are doing. Kylie showed the community dashboard for one of her water projects Dungow and Dam, she shared with us the engagement statistics of data and the evidence.

this article is written by Pundarika Vidya Andika