Catchment Management Authorities managing political buffer zones

The Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) were set up on July 1st 1997 to oversee the management of Victoria’s river catchments. It’s been described as regionalising environment problems to let country people deal with them. It has since broadened its scope from the narrow ‘bed and banks’ focus to incorporate whole of catchment – from the bed of streams to the tops of ridges. This is a good move.
 

How they work

The government picks their ‘higher-order’ community reps to sit on each regions’ CMA Boards. Those Boards pick the ‘lower-order’ community groups that ‘advise’ the Board on issues of importance. In East Gippsland we have four groups that cover all the main river catchments. I sit on the Snowy River Group. Despite being ‘community reps’, the CMA will not advertise the fact that we exist – so the public have no idea what we do (or are supposed to do) or who to contact with a catchment issue. I have been told they are too busy writing reports and strategies to raise our community profile.

How serious are they about “community engagement”?CMAs have in the past been criticised for being an alliance of exploiters and National Party cronies. Developers and farmers have dominated the organization in the past. You can guess what impact that had on management. They’re still there, but a few small changes have seen the CMAs encompass wider community interests that are not always based on financial gain. Management is still dictated by the Board and staff, with the community reps merely being given the task of pretending to be consulted, ticking off the staff’s plans and being duly ignored when hard issues are raised.

Heads in sand

For three years now I have sat on this group (the only surviving female and only conservationist) trying to get the CMA to seriously look at the effects of broad-scale clearfelling on water quantity and quality. I have been promised it will be acknowledged in their next five year strategy. But alas, the draft is out, and not one mention of those scary words logging or clearfelling, and not even the effects of plantations on water yield! The rest of the world may know about this, but our CMA would rather keep its head in erosion gullies.

Fuff and fluff

This DSE ‘division’ is supposed to be there to maintain and improve the health of water catchments. Their documents are full of fluffy motherhood statements and contradictions. They are careful not to upset farmers, the logging or gas industry, developers or in fact anyone. Their minimal on-ground works are costly and occasionally effective. Mostly though they comprise of report writing and employing consultants.

To be fair though, trying to drag itself out of massive debt for the past two years has hampered works. As well as the groups being fed cheaper sandwiches at meetings, works crews have been sacked and little real work has been done. The last CEO (with some office staff and board help) let the books get in a real mess.

Bandaids preferred

Our CMA’s focus seems to be on revegetating the lower Snowy River, willow eradication and erosion control on farmland. All are important works. But by far the major catchment disturbance is clearfell logging. But admitting this would damage the political comfort zones of the CMAs.
 

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