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Review of Western Australia's Agricultural Lime Routes
Review of Western Australia's Agricultural Lime Routes
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Problems and Purpose
Agricultural lime is a powder/sand product made out of limestone or chalk. It is used in agriculture to counteract soil acidification. Soil acidification occurs during farming when agricultural products like hay or grain - which are alkaline - are harvested. In the Wheatbelt, a region in the South-West of the state, agriculture is one of the main sources of income and agricultural lime is an imperative. Lime occurs naturally in large deposits to the west of the Wheatbelt, towards the coast. The agricultural industry needs this lime to be transported inland to areas where it is needed for the soil.
It was estimated that between 1 and 5 mllion tonnes of lime would be needed each year, with a significant portion due to come from across the state. The planned transport route for the lime was along Route 1, the main highway that runs around the whole of Western Australia (WA). However, communities along the haulage section of the route expressed concern. In 2002, the Minister for the department of planning and infrastructure decided to undertake a community consultation with the following aims:
- "ensure wide community representation / participation by those communities impacted by the routes as well as industry, state and local government representatives;
- consider the social, environmental and economic impacts of Routes 1 and 2 using a multi-criteria assessment that is inclusive, transparent and accountable;
- assist participants to understand the issues from different perspectives and reach agreement on plans for the lime sand road haulage task from Lancelin; and recommend investment priorities to the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure" (21st Century Dialogue 2011).
When Labor came to power in WA in 2001, one of their key pledges was to enhance community and participatory decision-making. In particular, 'the new Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, Alannah MacTiernan, was determined to champion community engagement as a way of encouraging joint decision making and democratic renewal' (Gregory 2008). In order to achieve this, the Minister employed Janette Hartz-Karp, an deliberative democracy scholar and practitioner, to undertake the task. Between 2001 and 2005, Hartz-Karp - founder of 21st Century Dialogue - delivered nearly 40 deliberative processes in WA. At the time this was pretty much unique - where a politician had so whole-heartedly embraced deliberative and participatory decision-making.
Originating Entities and Funding
The consultation was initiated by the Western Australian department of planning and infrastructure, and organised by 21st Century Dialogue.
Participants were recruited through three different methods. Stakeholder representatives were invited to attend by letter and included farmers, bus operators, environmental groups and haulage contractors. A random sample was also recruited through letters sent to addresses provided by the electoral register. A further group of participants responded to an advert in regional and local newspapers.
A steering group was established to oversee the process, comprised of stakeholder, community and government representatives. The expert panel members were selected by the steering group.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
The multi-criteria analysis requires two face-to-face forums. At the first forum, just over 100 people attended. Prior to the meeting, briefing papers had been circulated to all participants. Participants heard presentations on the key points including the need for agricultural lime, the possibility of using rail, and different road route options. Following this, participants discussed and developed an initial list of criteria against which to rank the different options. These were collated and given to the expert panel.
In between the first and second forums, the expert panel had the task of weighting each option against the criteria; ie. considering how high the impact of Route 1 would have on environmental, social and economic factors. This was achieved using qualitative and quantitative criteria and with additional advice and information from government agencies and other experts.
The second forum took place five weeks after the first. The participants were not given the weightings of the expert panel, but were first asked to come up with weights for the criteria themselves, from 1 to 100 on levels of importance. They were also asked to consider which of the triple bottom line criteria (economic, social and environmental or all of them) was most important for them personally. All the weights were then fed into the computer for analysis. The participant and expert scores were combined to produce the final result.
The final result was a clear preference for Route 2 over Route 1. The results of the analysis were provided immediately to the forum participants.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The steering group developed a final report which suggested that "the government commences work to develop Route 2 as quickly as possible in line with the expressed preferences of the local communities, local governments, representative groups and industries" (21st Century Dialogue 2011).
Following the results of the forum, funding was re-allocated by the department of planning and infrastructure to begin work on upgrading route 2 for lime haulage. $1.5 million was brought forward from a future budget so that work on route 2 could begin immediately (DPI 2002).
Analysis and Lessons Learned
21st Century Dialogue notes that the multi-criteria analysis process enabled discussion to move on from "emotional lobbying of particular positions, to a careful analysis of the component parts of the problem, greater understanding of the complexities, and seeking a resolution" (21st Century Dialogue 2011). Although not everyone was pleased with the final outcome, the result was perceived as fair by the community.
Secondary Sources and External Links
Department of Planning and Infrastructure (2002) Community favours ag lime route 2 option [online], available at: https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/Gallop/2002/09/Community-fav...
Gregory, J, Hartz-Karp J and Watson, R. (2008) Using deliberative techniques to engage the community in policy development, Australia and New Zealand Health Policy, 5(16), available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2500036/
The following entry was summarised from 21st Century Dialogue's website.