It is encouraging that Hepburn Shire Council has declared a climate emergency and the council is working towards the challenge of climate change in this unprecedented time. However, after reading the draft of the proposed General Local Law No.2 of 2019 – Community Amenity & Municipal Places, I have found this document to be largely working at odds with the declaration. If this law was to be passed the people of the Hepburn Shire who are acting to prepare for or will be subjects of climate change and the associated effects of increased bushfires, collapsing economies, pandemics, food and energy shortages and increasing extreme weather events, will be worse off. Such local laws will hamstring people’s ability to change behaviour and adapt to the challenges we will be facing.
This region is known as a pioneering region of sustainability and localised food systems and many of these proposed laws will reduce the capacity of local people from developing further these new forms of economy and carbon-positive living in a climate changed era. They will reduce the necessary modelling of behaviour changes in the household and community economies, where true resilience will flow from in times of emergency and crises. Some of these laws are in fact equivalent to Enclosure laws that were steadily enacted in the UK from the 12th-19th centuries, which prevented ordinary people from self- and community provisioning in their own cultural and diverse ways.
This submission of suggested changes or removal of items to the draft document (https://www.hepburn.vic.gov.au/hepburn/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/DRAFT-General-Local-Law-No.-2-of-2019-Community-Amenity-and-Municipal-Places.pdf) aims to protect non-institutional activities of localised community food generation, firewood gleaning, salvaging and recycling of unwanted waste material and generally living positive carbon and ecologically sound lifeways, especially by reducing dependency on the heavily polluting industrial food and energy systems. Some of these proposed laws may even diminish the wellbeing of people’s lives in the shire, especially if people feel they are being overwhelmed by bureaucratic red tape and thus unable to express, experiment, create and model new ways of being in a climate changing era. We need to be able to adapt, renew and recreate. These laws reduce the capacity for such activity.
Community and self-provisioning are both key to a future of immense challenges and for people’s ability to cope, adapt and even thrive. Activities such as planting public fruit, shade or habitat trees on nature strips, foraging edible weeds and introduced fungi in public places, collecting fallen firewood to reduce fuel loads in our neighbourhoods, and fishing for and procuring feral animals to include as non-industrial forms of food all contribute to preparing for and building resilient household economies that are not reliant on fossil fuell grids. Self-provisioning and informal community land based activities such as this often have many positive social and environmental benefits such as lessening the dominance of feral species by turning them into valuable local food thus reducing the need for pesticides in our environments, reducing fuel loads (for cooler more regenerative burns, in the event of a bushfire) while maintaining habitats and encouraging biodiversity. Another important aspect is bringing neighbours together to create informal fire guard groups and weed management. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5tzTeM_Xcs
This kind of community provisioning and stewardship work is already going on in the shire saving the council incalculable dollars annually. It seems counterintuitive to try to diminish this labour with laws that would potentially negate it. We need laws that will grow informal community participation. The problem of such community work being under the control of council permits is all the associated OHS burdens that would be placed on people, children and animals to do this work non-monetarily. This will erode the freedoms of non-institutional lifeways and place ever more financial stress on council.
Having to obtain permits for much of the work that is necessary for adaptation to changing climates (and most likely the on-effects of collapsing formal economies) will severely deter a much needed move towards community managed land and provisioning of ferals and weeds such as wild apples, blackberries, pine mushrooms, redfin and rabbits, as an example. I make this case in my local lecture, In praise of weed soup (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcfglzFA2N0&t=206s). Local people are already acting as informal biological controls to such species and being bushfire managers of their neighbourhoods by reducing naturally occurring bonfires that have happened due to extreme wind events. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o42fbTj4LeU as an example.
Across this nation and in many places overseas, people are looking at how we in this shire are performing fairer, climate-safe, innovative and more holistic economies, not only at an institutional level but in the space of informal household and community economies. These economies are designed to lessen dependence on the globalised fossil fuel driven economy responsible for so much environmental damage and climate destabilising. It would be regrettable that a number of the items of the Local Law were included because they would negate much needed non-institutionalised behaviour change being actioned and modelled, and generally choke environmental innovation and a diversity of approaches to the complex predicaments of our time.
These such activities will need to grow as the formal economies collapse in a climate changing era. Allowing local people to informally steward their local environments, which has long held cultural precedent in the area first with Djaara people and then subsequent generations since colonisation, will save council considerable land management funds, as it does today. Because these figures have not been given due acknowledgement by government agencies these costs and the community services provided in informal land care there is no data to show how extensive this work is. I accept that council is caught between institutional ways of working and accounting, and the community’s informal organisations in non-monetary ways of working, and this is why there can be conflict. But considering Council and other agencies cannot currently cope with or afford the immensity of weed and bushfire mitigation work needed on its land, then encouraging people to be local stewards on their own community terms or with agreed council guidelines will be important conversations to have going further down the path of climate change. Once again I state, permits will choke this work. Guidelines for operating, not permits, are required.
In a climate emergency there must be greater encouragement from council for informal household and community groups working towards food and energy security and community land management activities. This is holistic economy that gives meaning and purpose to local lives and helps prepare people for an uncertain future together.
Another consideration is that strict laws such as what is being proposed here, will only fall over once we progress further down the climate chaos path and policing these laws will only create animosity towards council. Working together and being flexible will be key to community resilience in a climate changed era.
Strict laws will favour those who abide by laws rather than those who are seeing the need to create new forms of living that are less damaging to the environment and to the climate, such as moving away from 100% reliance on transported industrial food and energy resources, and reliance upon such things as pesticides as cheap, albeit blunt, land management tools. Many of the proposed laws reduce people’s potential to enact positive changes in their local environments and in their lives without the burden of having to comply to permits and OHS-like rules and regulations.
Flexibility, changes, deletions and exceptions are required to the proposed local laws to protect young people, farmers, First Nation residents, elderly pensioners, traditional families, low income and frugal-living folk, and environmental actors modelling carbon-positive and ecologically sensitive lifeways.
In order to create a much needed ecological culture here in our shire, a culture that respects our environments and looks after the most vulnerable people and species in an era of mounting challenges, we need to work together on projects and put aside the institutional trend for more rules and regulations.