Best practice environmental planning and decision-making, especially where communities live close to sources of serious contamination and pollution, always includes public participation. Community involvement is critical to make sure that planning and decisions are made to thoroughly protect environmental and community health.
It is so important that international law was made about it 30 years ago.
This is known as the Arhaus Convention.
It’s founded on the principals of participatory democracy, and aims to protect both environmental and human rights by holding governments and public authorities to account by obliging them to make sure that access to information, public participation, and access to justice is embedded in environmental planning and decision making.
ACCESS TO INFORMATION
ACCESS TO JUSTICE
Access to information
The public must be able to request and be provided with information about the environment from government bodies and public authorities. It also means that government bodies and public authorities must collect information, such as water and air monitoring data, without the public having to ask for it.
Access to accurate and up-to-date information is fundamental to proper public participation. There are three parts to public participation. First, public participation for people who may be affected by or interested in decisions related to an activity – such as an ash dam rehabilitation plan, or power station licence. Secondly, public participation in the development of plans, programmes and policies related to the environment, such as the Latrobe Valley Regional Rehabilitation Strategy. Finally, the public should be involved in the preparation of laws and rules, such as the new Environment Protection Act, and the Declared Mines Regulations.
Access to justice
Public participation must occur without obstruction, and enforce community access to information by including review process for denials of access to information or regarding decisions about the environment or an industrial facility. This is a way for the public to directly enforce environmental law.
Power and Pollution Summit, Newcastle – February 2020
Best practice mine and coal ash rehabilitation is directly tied to best practice community engagement. The local community must have the opportunity to contribute to and participate in decision-making and we must have access to the information we need to do so.
Best practice public engagement is much more than people writing submissions that may or may not form part of the EPA, or the operators, planning and decision-making processes. Our views and solutions can’t be treated as a tick-the-box exercise. We must have a seat at the table in the planning, design, and outcome of the ash dam rehabilitation plans.
It’s also important in the context of a just transition for Latrobe Valley. A just and fair transition isn’t just about workers and the economy, even though these are really important. A fair transition is one that leaves no-one behind.