Sustainability – How the laws contradict Climate emergency declaration & Z-net goals.

by Dr David Holmgren | Dec 6, 2019 | Public meeting presentation notes | 0 comments

I have the task of explaining the big picture sustainability context of the existing and proposed local laws, in 7mins!

I want to do that with reference to the historical context and two significant sources of advice to Council that reinforce the need for all council decisions to to reflect the sustainability crisis.

In the past local households provided much of their own needs informally, outside the monetary economy and government regulation. Consequently our communities were much more self organised and  self governing in use of both private and public resources. The carbon footprint was a fraction of todays and the community was more resilient.

Over the last 50 years there has been a decline in resilience to natural disasters or the prospect of hard times, as debt fuelled affluence and government services took on a greater load.  In the process carbon footprint has accelerated despite decades of rising environmental awareness. Inappropriate interpretations of the duty of care increasingly prevent our institutions and formal businesses from doing anything without huge costs (and more carbon emissions)

The climate emergency and related challenges demand that our communities regain at least the levels of self and collective reliance that were common 50 years ago, while at the same time achieving Net Zero emissions. To do this we will have to take more, not less responsibility for ourselves and demand less from government and the courts.

We are fortunate our communities include many people who have for decades been going in that direction and many of these actions and behaviours now have wider acceptance and support in the community.

Reskilling in food growing, animal husbandry, retrofitting and repurposing are booming. A sense of ownership at home has seen residents often ignore regulations, but red tape remains a major inhibitor to spread of the best examples, while action in more formal contexts in public domain is still lagging well behind what was normal 50 years ago when the community treated public land as the Common.

Back in 2011 our Energy Descent Action Planning consultancy to Council focused on ways to radically reduce our shire’s contribution to climate change in ways that simultaneously built resilience to shocks and disruptions from climate chaos, resource depletion or other looming challenges.

This project was the vision of the late Rod May when he was mayor and built on years of local action at the individual, household and community level that ranged from permaculture inspired landcare (without the paperwork and the poisons) that some of us have been doing on public land for decades, to the nationally recognised model for community owned energy in Hepburn Wind.  The report also identified local businesses building on more traditional rural  self reliance, as examples relevant to Energy Descent Action Planning.

Our report and even the subject material was deemed too radical for council to consider and was left to gather digital dust in the councils files.

While the threats of peak oil, financial and geo-political instability keep bubbling away in the background, the unfolding climate emergency has been the driver of a much larger initiative, The Hepburn Shire Zero Net Emission Transition;  a plan, process and projects to achieve this goal by 2030. Hepburn Z NET is supported by Sustainability Victoria, Hepburn Shire, Hepburn Wind, overseas foundations and a wide spectrum of local groups.

In my submission to council on the proposed local law I wrote;

In light of the recommendations made in our Energy Descent Action Planning consultancy to council and the more recent declaration of a climate emergency, the proposed Local Law is a stunning example of governance dysfunction, that sets up Hepburn Shire Council for an unwinnable collision with household and community self-provision and self-regulation.

The ZNet submission on the local laws was more diplomatic than mine.

“Hepburn Z NET seeks to further unlock the volunteer and financial value across the community of citizens participating in and leading a transition. Enabling and supporting citizen action in this way also provide important support and resource savings for Council in a climate emergency future. Having Local Laws that best support the community to be responsible for its assets is strongly recommended rather than Local Laws that seek to penalise and prevent community leadership”

This review of local laws is an opportunity to reframe regulations that encourage existing household and community leadership towards self organising, resilient and low carbon living.

By reducing red tape for residents doing small sensible stuff, council can focus its limited resources on real regulation of larger scale, bank financed commercial development to ensure these projects reflect sustainability objectives. By cutting red tape for residents, council could gain support from locals who philosophically reject regulation and those who support stronger regulation (of big business and corporations)

A radically redrafted law could encourage local residents to proactively manage adjacent and nearby public land without permits.

if they are;

  • natural persons (rather than corporations)
  • have liaised with other local residents potentially affected by the activity
  • are not making monetary gain as part of a formal business
  • are not using bank finance and/or machines greater than 5kw power? in the activity

Council could retain the right to retrospectively require a permit (or prohibit) a particular activity undertaken if it;

  • received substantial objection from local residents adversely affected by the action


  • could identify significant adverse impacts on Council infrastructure,  ecological values, public amenity and/or safety, greater than any community and environmental benefits.

On some occasions this would require council officers to adjudicate in contentious cases, but this is what we pay officers for, rather than charging fees to tick boxes. This would create meaningful work for staff rather than more of what is technically described as “bullshit jobs”.

In the absence of a serious reform of local laws to reflect Council’s declaration of a climate emergency and its important role in Hepburn ZNet, residents committed to self organised household and community non monetary economies, will have to ignore the regulations, focus more effort on gaining the social licence from neighbours, and build solidarity networks to defend our actions and territory from dysfunctional governance (by our own council).


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