Pastoral leases in Western Australia can be a contentious issue. Aboriginal peoples, tourism activities and the wider public expect to be able to access lands and denial of access provoked an increase in public attention. The aim of the Gascoyne Muster was to provide an opportunity for all those with an interest to have a say on the future of pastoral land use.
Problems and Purpose
Pastoral leases are important to Western Australian history and identity. Pastoral leases usually refer to lands used for agriculture, specifically for sheep and cattle. There are over 500 such leases in Western Australia (WA). In recent years, pastoral leases have become an increasingly contentious issue; additional demands for access to pastoral leases exacerbate this. Aboriginal peoples, tourism activities and the wider public reasonably expect to be able to access lands for various uses, and denial of access provoked an increase in public attention.
The aim of the Gascoyne Muster was to provide an opportunity for all those with an interest to have a say on the future of pastoral land use in WA. The Muster took place in the form of two consensus forums in May 2002.
Background History and Context
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, a 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.
The end of pastoral leases in 2015 provided an opportunity to address some of the challenges arising in the pastoral industry. The WA governnment required that the interests of everyone in WA were considered before any leases were renewed. Thus, the Gascoyne Muster was held to ensure that the voices of all those affected could be heard.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Gascoyne Muster was instigated by the WA government department of Land Administration. The process was organised by 21st Century Dialogue.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Gascyone Muster consisted of two consensus forums. The first was held over two days in May 2002. A follow up event was held the following September. For the first two-day forum, attendance was limited to government representatives, indigenous groups and the pastoral industry. It is not clear how participants were recruited, but it is likely that for this first day at least, participants from relevant groups were invited to attend, or recruited through interest groups and advertising.
On the second day, anyone with an interest in pastoral leases could attend. This included representatives from the mining industry, tourism and indigenous groups. Over the two days, 350 people attended the Gascoyne Muster. 21st Century Dialogue point out that some drove hundreds of kilometres to attend the forums. It is worth noting at this point that Western Australia is the country's largest and most sparsely populated state, with an area of over 2.5 million square kilometres. It is also worth noting that the Minister from the Department of Land Administration was present throughout proceedings and played an active role during the forums.
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Gascoyne Muster followed a consensus forum format. Consensus forums are designed to draw on as wide a pool of evidence and perspectives as possible. They engage with all stakeholders and aim to find points of common ground. The aim is not to achieve overall consensus across the board, but to find points of agreement that can be built upon in policy.
On the first day of the Muster, the agenda was limited to discussing pastoral lease management and related issues; concomitantly participation was limited to the pastoral industry and related stakeholders. The Minister gave an introduction to the issue, followed by introductions on each table of 10 people. The forum proceeded in panel sessions, with experts and stakeholders presenting, followed by questions from participants. This was followed by small groups at each table discussing the what, why and how for each issue covered which was then fed back to the whole group in plenary. This process was repeated in the afternoon covering different issues.
On the second day, with wider participation, the agenda also broadened to cover public access, multiple uses on land, aboriginal access and mining access. The same process was followed on the second day. During both days, both individuals and tables were able to submit potential solutions and suggestions. These were collected so there was a record of all viewpoints.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
21st Century Dialogue (2011) report that despite negative media coverage in the leadup to the Muster, feedback from the two days was overwhelmingly positive. In particular, participants were impressed that the forums were 'a productive discussion of issues where everyone felt their views had been heard'. This is particularly impressive given that pastoral leases had become such a controversial and emotive issue.
All participants were sent a final report following the muster. Five working groups were also established from the diverse range of stakeholders. By June 2003 all five groups submitted final reports to the Department of Land Administration. Recommendations were made by the Minister from these five reports. These recommendations were discussed by 200 participants at the second Gascoyne Muster, held in September 2003. Following this, a final report was prepared encompassing the working groups' recommendations, along with outcomes from the second muster, and additional public submissions.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The Gascoyne Muster demonstrates the value of a deliberative process in facilitating constructive, inclusive debate on a highly emotive and complex issue: 'holders of differing viewpoints are engaged in small group dialogue that is grounded on open information, willingness to listen to other's perspectives and to deliberate issue by issue. This offers the opportunity to forge new understandings and new ground' (21st Century Dialogue 2011). The positive perception of the process is particularly impressive given the cynicism with which it was initially perceived prior to the process.
It is possible that the Muster was particularly successful because the process allocated additional time for deliberation just for the pastoral industry. In this case, it was the pastoral industry who were on the defensive, given external pressure to allow access to their lands. Giving the industry the time and space to discuss specific management issues before introducing additional stakeholders may have increased trust and confidence in the process by giving some sense of security.
In addition, the Minister was praised for being on hand throughout the proceedings and being able and willing to respond to a huge range of questions on what is a fairly broad issue.
21st Century Dialogue also point out the importance of establishing participatory processes that are ongoing and integrated into the political system, rather than one-off events (see also McCoy and Scully 2002):
"Inclusive processes such as this tend to take longer than estimated (years rather than months), and to cost more than the usual community consultation processes (eg advisory groups or one-off workshops). However, the policy and recommendations that eventuate are more likely to be 'owned' by the community, hence implementation is facilitated. In the long run, deliberative, inclusive processes could well be the less costly option"
21st Century Dialogue (2011) The Gascoyne Muster, available at: http://21stcenturydeliberation.com/index.php?package=Initiatives&action=Link&file=gascoyne_muster.html
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/
McCoy, M. & Scully, P. (2002) Deliberative Dialogue to Expand Civic Engagement: What Kind of Talk Does Democracy Need? [pdf], National Civic Review, 91(2), available at: http://ncdd.org/rc/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/McCoy-DD_Expand_CE.pdf