South Australian Community Panel on the South East Drainage Network
- Specific Topics
- Natural Resource Management
- Natural Resource Management
- Scope of Influence
- Start Date
- End Date
- Total Number of Participants
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Decision Methods
- If Voting
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- Public Report
- Public Hearings/Meetings
- Traditional Media
- New Media
The South East Drainage Network Management Board, a government agency of South Australia, convened a community panel in 2015 to deliberate on funding the ongoing management of a combinations of drains and floodways that underpin agriculture and infrastructure in the region.
Problems and Purpose
The South Australian government has commited to investing $2.2million (AUD) per year for the ongoing management and operations of the South East drainage system. In June 2014, the Minister for Water, Environment and Natural Resources asked the South East Natural Resources Management Board (SE NRM) to convene a community panel to delib erate on the issue of who should pay for the future management of the drainage network.
The jury were tasked with addressing the following:
- How Should We Pay For Maintaining Our Largest Local Infrastructure Asset – The South East Drainage Network?
- The State Government Will Commit $2.2M pa. Do we want to spend more than that, and if so, how do we fairly share this cost across the region?
In essence, this required the jury to consider whether a regional levy should be established to fund future management of the network, and to decide the extent to which the region could contribute in this way.
Background History and Context
Historically, the SE region of South Australia was a wetland, swamp-like area. Over the years it has undergone a huge amount of human-instigated modifications to the landscape. A drainage system was established to drain waterlogged areas and improve potential for agriculture as early as 1863. 
The South East drainage network is a network of drains and floodways in the SE region of South Austrlia. It comprises a variety of infrastructure including weirs, surface water crossovers, animal crossings and protection of natural habitats.  The network is an important part of the region's landscape and most significantly supports agriculture through controlled flooding, providing water to wetland areas and helping to address dryland salinity. Salinity occurs when soil is degraded by higher levels of salt and is prevalent in this region of Australia.
The network comprises over 2,600km of drains and includes more than 520 infrastructure elements such as bridges and crossings. These structures are intertwined with the region's road network, which obviously supports related tourism, business and industry operations within the region. 
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The community panel was convened and funded by the South East Natural Resource Management Board. The initiative was organised by newDemocracy Foundation, an independent research organisation.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
newDemocracy Foundation organised the recruitment of participants. An initial random draw of 7,000 people from across the South East. From those who expressed interest, a further sample was drawn to reflect the diversity of the region's community with the final jury comprising 26 citizens.
Methods and Tools Used
This initiative used a citizens' jury, broadly defined as a small group of randomly-selected individuals who come together to deliberate on an issue after hearing from experts in order to provide recommendations on future action for decision-makers.  The deliberative democratic process is intended to result in consensus.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The community panel met over two full weekends in January and February 2015. Following the same format as a citizens' jury, the panel heard from a range of witnesses and received 38 submissions from organisations and the public. The panel also undertook a tour to see the drainage network and related challenges firsthand, including aging infrastructure and flood storage. The jury also made a number of information requests to SE NRM. An online survey was also used to help decide who the jury should hear from first during their first weekends of deliberation.
During the jury process, speed dialogue was used as a way for jurors to interview different experts in a similar way to speed dating. Around 17 members of the public, including SE NRM staff, attended the jury sessions as observers.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The jury met with the MInister for Water, Environment and Natural Resources at a community meeting on March 28th 2015. Also present were representatives from SE NRM. The jury's final report produced seven recommendations, outlined below:
- The State Government should pay for the ongoing maintenance of the South East Drainage Network. The panel specifically opposed the introduction of a regional based levy.
- The current offering of $2.2m is not sufficient and the panel recommended that funding be set at the OECD Industry Standard which is 3% of capital value.
- The State Government should credit the value of South East water which will be delivered to the Coorong via the SE Flows Restoration project, in line with the market value of the Murray River Water market prices and allocates the savings/funds directly for the maintenance of the South East Drainage Network.
- All water management works should be kept in a good state of cleanliness and repair.
- The government should source sufficient annual funding for the drains without increasing rates.
- State Government should only accept funding for future capital drainage works with a provision to adequately fund the maintenance.
- The existing drainage network should be assessed to make sure maintenance is properly prioritised.
The most notable thing about the jury's decisions is the complete rejection of any sort of regional funding for the drainage network. This was informed by the jury's conclusion that the South East Drainage Network provides benefits beyond the local community and SE region, but that the whole state of South Australia benefitted from the network through the agriculture, economical wealth and environmental value.
The government response did not support or pursue all of the jury's recommendations. From the outset of the process it was made clear that the state government would not offer more than $2.2m (AUD) for ongoing management of the drainage network. They did however agree to look into funding sources other than increased levies. The government also agreed to undertake a comprehensive review of how the network is operated and maintained. Under this auspice it will investigate the jury's other recommendations. The government remains committed to undertaking this review in collaboration with stakeholders and the community.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
A review of the process was carried out by Simply Speaking, the consultancy who led the facilitation of the panel, in March 2015. The review points out that, as a result of the extensive information and understanding garned during the jury process, the jury decided to go beyond their original remit, which was to consider how much the region should put towards the management of the drainage network. Instead from the outset of the process, the panel were focussed on how to prevent the SE community incurring additional cost. This set the tone for the panel's deliberations throughout the process. 
A possible recommendation for avoiding this in the future is to use a collaborative process to construct the remit of a jury. In this scenario, a range of perspectives could be used to inform the remit and it can be given a trial run with the community before forging ahead with the jury process.
Another key role is that of the media in relaying information about the issue at hand and the process itself. The review commented that:
"Natural Resource South East directed the contracted facilitators to develop a comprehensive communication and engagement strategy that identified key messages for target audiences and deadlines aligned with key dates throughout the process. The coordination and implementation of the communication strategies uncovered a number of logistical issues that created intense challenges for staff and will require attention if communications for any future Community Panels are to be improved.
Government policies and procedures that extend across departments and agencies have the potential to create miscommunication; which in the case of the Community Panel process resulted in a number of missed opportunities to gain media coverage. In addition to this, the capacity for media coverage through the local press was contingent on the papers picking up the media releases from Natural Resources South East.
Interestingly, in the lead up to the stakeholder meetings a number of community members gained media coverage through the local press and radio; and at the conclusion of the Community Panel deliberations, a number of members gave interviews and had articles printed. This level of initiative from jury members is not unusual and as such it may present a way for organisers to increase the transparency of the process and input from the broader community. The risk may lie in jurors speaking on behalf of the rest of the jury without their input and approval." 
Some jurors were critical of the way in which their interaction with expert witnesses was managed. It was recommended that this could be mitigated by providing the panel with a list of experts so they can select who they want to hear more from. In addition to this, communication could have been clearer between organisers, facilitators and witnesses, so that more information could be made available to the panel.
Due to the perceived limited awareness of the community panel process, the review questioned the representativeness of the 36 public submissions received by the jury; many of whom iterated the opposition to any sort of regional levy. There was also concern that the 34 stakeholders who attended the panel sessions as observers were not representative. It was suggested that stakeholders be engaged through a random selection process in the same way as jury members are.
A number of logistical issues were also raised, such as the importance of having a suitable space for meetings to take place in: in two of the venues panel members complained they could not hear clearly, and in one location air conditioning failed to mitigate high temperatures which made a negative impact on some jurors' ability to work. These somewhat mundane considerations are easy to forget in the vast checklist of 'things to get right' during a deliberative process, but in reality are extremely important for ensuring happy, comfortable jurors with the right environment for deliberation.
The role of the various groups involved in the process: SE NRM, newDemocracy, facilitators and others was not immediately clear to the panel and resulted in some confusion. This was later clarified in writing for the panel, but highlights the importance of laying out roles and responsibilities from the outset.
The primary problem, according to the review, was the role of the remit and its perceived ambiguity. The panel challenged the state government's $2.2m commitment and entirely rejected the notion of a regional levy, which although mentioned in the project proposal is not specifically detailed in the remit.
Overall it appears that the community panel process was particularly challenging on a number of fronts, including the panel's understanding of the process on the first meeting, the level of information and understanding required, and the ambiguity of the remit.
 Simply Speaking (2015) South East Drainage Community Panel Process Review Summary, available at: http://www.acef.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/South-East-Drainage-Co...
 Department for Water, Environment and Natural Resources (2016), South East Drainage Network, South Australian Government,available at: http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/managing-natural-resources/water-use/wa...
 Natural Resources SA (2015) Why did we have a community panel?, South Australian Government, available at: http://www.naturalresources.sa.gov.au/southeast/projects/community-panel...
All reports, documents and submissions related to the community panel can be found here: http://www.naturalresources.sa.gov.au/southeast/projects/community-panel [dead link]
newDemocracy Foundation: http://newdemocracy.com.au/ndf-work/180-south-australian-minister-for-th...
Report from Simply Speaking: http://www.acef.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/South-East-Drainage-Co...
Lead Image: Community Panel https://goo.gl/JhJmkr
Secondary Image: Swamp Drain (Credit: P Rasenberg) https://goo.gl/KEwnWW