“The core issue facing
the Torrens is that no one individual or organisation is accountable for the
quality of the river. … In general, the river and its health does not appear
to be a central concern or priority for many of the managing authorities.”
Such an extract is
bound to engender a warm and happy feeling [not] among residential property
owners across Adelaide – folks who have no choice but to pay a separate Natural
Resource Management (NRM) Levy when they pay their rates bill. That extract
comes from a consultants’ report that floated to the surface very late last
year. Now, as holiday makers return from the beach to face 2020 business, the
report and its highly topical contents could prompt fresh angst.
That pesky levy could
increase as a result of work this year likely to become the basis of a future
episode of ABC’s Utopia. TV
writers should start taking notes now, because the saga is going to be
The NRM levy has
existed since 1995 when the Liberals ran things. In 2005, when Labor ran
things, the body that depended on it became the Adelaide Mount Lofty Ranges
Natural Resource Management Board (AMLR NRM).
Unless you were inside
the bubble, a member of a river-edge council , or an employee of five state
agencies, you wouldn’t be aware that, behind the scenes, there’s been a reign
of not-my-responsibility buck-passing.
“There is no shared
vision for the river, a lack of clarity about who is responsible […] Current
governance arrangements are reactive, ad hoc, and do not effectively integrate
environmental, economic and social values into outcomes, nor do they deliver
multiple benefits for all […]”
New model proposal
deserves bravery award
As a way of
acknowledging this, the AMLR NRM board did a review, then commissioned a
creative team to imagine a new model. It bravely recommended a round table, to
include 17 council and state-agency folks, plus two Kaurna people (one man and
one woman), and five ‘independent’ people chosen because they have ‘no skin in
the game’. That group should be fun to convene. The current mob don’t much
admire each other’s work anyway, and collaboration appears to be as muddy as
the river. Quote from the creatives: “There is considerable finger-pointing when
issues or problems arise.” (Remember: your NRM levy payment, over many years
totalling tens of millions, has paid for this.) River-edge management comprises
many fiefdoms, from the hills to the sea, including all of those local councils
managing their bit of Linear Park.
The creatives reckon
that a new body could be formalised under draft legislation, perhaps as a
statutory authority via a new Act. A convenor would chair, but have no veto
powers, and perhaps report directly to a minister or at least report as a
sub-committee to another new board (more below). That sounds like fun. It’s not
mentioned, but obviously if it reported to a minister, that minister would not
only have veto powers, but would control this herd of cats like an RSPCA
inspector with a stun gun. So why the necessity for a whole herd of cats? Is
the AMLR NRM board unworkable? No one wrote that, but that’s the implication.
Next – the round table
budget. A convenor, employed full time, would need a tempting salary package to
manage a herd of
cats. Who pays? Could be equal contributions from the organisations
currently represented around the table. Could be unequal contributions,
depending on the size of the catchment area represented. Could be all from the
AMLR NRM board! You can imagine the reception for that idea, funding a round
table that threatens to make you redundant. Whoever manages to lock down the
funding agreement would need the skills of a Beirut diplomat.
New law for old
Under proposed draft
legislation (last year it was a Landscape South Australia Bill 2019), a new
‘Green Adelaide Board’ might replace the old AMLR NRM board. (This replacement
approach also occurred 14 years ago. That delivered no solution, either.) Who’d
be on the new one? No one is saying, but presumably all of the respective
councils’ and agencies’ people currently on the AMLR NRM board. They’ll insist
on a place, if only to protect their bit of river-edge turf. And there are many
turfs – 17 river principalities. A convenor would need a permanent in-house
psychotherapist to treat likely stress. So too would a new chair of the Green
Adelaide Board. Both would have to like each other’s company, because if the
Bill becomes law, Green Adelaide is to shoulder an additional mandate. Urban
Waterways would be added to the load. More principalities. More watery turf.
More likely participants.
By the way, if you’re interested in the mechanics of herding cats, consider how the creative team suggested the five independent members ought to be chosen. Either: 1. Agencies might select (you can imagine the competition to get their choices elected). Or: 2. “Random invitations sent to residents of Adelaide metro area”, with the agencies sorting the applicants. Stand by for an invitation. Is it like empanelling a jury? How will the agencies detect the hidden agendas? Remember – dogs have owners, but cats have staff. And even if you’re elected, there’s no hint that you’d get a discount on your NRM levy. This thing will cost more, not less. Progress always does.
Ash Whitefly is Executive Director of the Adelaide Whitefly Institute of Diplomatic Studies.
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