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February 27, 2021

Drowning in a river of documents

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Michael McDonald

I’m in the habit of directing readers to plans put on public exhibition by statutory authorities in the belief that it’s worthwhile having a say on them, or at least knowing what is about to be imposed on the local reality.

With the latest offering from the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority (http://www.northern.cma.nsw.gov.au/), I’m not so sure.

The NRCMA is a local authority which usually slips under the public radar. It doesn’t seem to create as much controversy as local councils, Rous Water, or the much-dreaded Livestock Health and Pest Authority, unless of course there is a fish kill or some bright spark dumps toxic chemicals into a river. And yet the NRCMA has nominal domain over our waterways, which are vital to the health of our natural environment, our drinking water and important industries such as fisheries and agriculture.

A new draft Northern Rivers Catchment Action Plan (CAP) for 2013–2023 is the authority’s latest outing, on public exhibition until November 9. It will replace the first CAP created in 2004 and thus is thrillingly named CAP2.

Problem is, there is a lot of words and not much action. In the words of the plan itself: ‘CAP2 does not provide a detailed action plan for the community, nor does it describe detailed actions and budgets for local on-ground activities. Rather, it provides a strategic framework for the strategies and priority actions in CAP2 that will guide the development of annual investment and implementation plans and programs which will be tailored to both regional and local scales.’

What the? CAP2 reminds me a lot of the 1970s buzz phrase MBO – Management By Objectives. All very well having management and objectives to manage, but why bore the public senseless with a strategic framework studded with acronyms and coded numbers and letters, while at the same time not mentioning any actual future actions worth commenting on? Has the consultation industry disappeared entirely up its own fundament?

In line with the CAP’s aspirations – local psychopaths may be excused – most of us wish all the ecological best for the rivers and their surrounds. But as CAP2 notes, ‘Drivers of change and shocks originate from outside of the Region’.

These include not only unpredictable natural events but also the meddling nature of state government, intent on promoting, for example, CSG mining, uranium exploration and denser housing development. It is these forces which must be dealt with directly by the public, catchment authority or not.

Where the NRCMA seems more effective is in handing out money and help on a case-by-case basis through its current Incentive Program. It is most heartening to read the list of recipients and the good work they are doing. It is also worth visiting the NRCMA site for its educational content.

Read CAP2 by all means, and correct me if you think I’ve been too harsh on the document. However, I think you’ll feel you’ve disappeared into an episode of Yes Minister while out here in the real world, people are busy planting out river edges or learning about conservation farming.


• Meetings on CAP2 will be held on Thursday October 25 at the Bangalow RSL Hall at 10am, Kyogle Memorial Hall at 1.30pm, and on Monday October 29 at 5.30pm meeting at Murwillumbah Civic Centre. The meetings will be presented by the NRCMA in conjunction with Richmond Landcare, Brunswick Valley Landcare, Tweed Landcare and Northern Landcare Support Services.

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