By Jackson Russell
The adoption of a draft Mitchell Shire Council Environment Policy caused great debate at last week’s council meeting.
The policy prompted a motion of deferral from north ward councillor Bill Chisholm and an amendment from central ward councillor Annie Goble before it was passed without changes.
The policy sets out to establish long-term goals for environmental sustainability through council services and identifies six goals to achieve.
The goals include: having zero net emissions and sourcing 100 per cent of electricity through renewable sources by 2050; reducing greenhouse gas emissions; practice, promote and encourage sustainable, innovative and adaptive land management that responds to climate change; protect, restore and connect landscapes by increasing the extent and quality of native habitat; reduce water use and increase water quality; build and retrofit infrastructure and development that embraces environmentally sustainable design principles; and to actively promote and participate in the circular economy and seek to avoid and reduce waste.
Cr Chisholm said he wanted to defer adopting the policy due to the lack of input from community groups and the failure of the policy to mention bushfires and emergency management.
“One of the critical factors is the issue of community safety and fire impacts on that significantly,” he said.
“I’d also like to see council and the community carry out significant fuel reduction works each year as well as significant revegetation and planting.
“I think we can really move forward with this if we try to widen it slightly – saying that, I definitely appreciate the work of our staff but I think we can do better.”
The deferral motion was denied five to three as councillors thought Cr Chisholm’s concerns could be addressed through the strategies within the new policy.
While the policy is a draft, it essentially serves as a new policy as it will not be subject to community consultation due to being an internal council policy that guides the organisation’s approach to environmental sustainability.
Cr Goble’s amendment sought to put the policy out for public consultation but was denied by the same tally.
“I think there are some significant concerns and I have those to,o and it might be worthwhile going to the community and letting them have some input on things,” Cr Goble said.
South ward councillor Rob Eldridge said the policy had been before council several times and workshopped by council’s environment advisory committee.
“Policies are adopted without going to the public and the time to go to the public is how we implement this at the strategic level,” he said.
“I won’t swear but I think we’re just going around in circles.”
The original, unamended policy was finally adopted by council with a vote of seven to one, Cr Chisholm being the only vote against.