|LEAD Action News vol 11 Number 2, December
2010, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times (ISSN 1440-4966) & Lead Advisory Service News (ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
Guest Editor, Dr Chrissie Pickin. Editor-in-Chief: Anne Roberts
Community Consultation: How community members can control their role
By Isla Macgregor and Dr Alison Bleaney of the Tasmanian Public and Environmental Health Network; Brian Martin, Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong; Elizabeth O’Brien of The LEAD Group and National Toxics Network; and Mariann Lloyd-Smith of the National Toxics Network, December 2010
Community Discussion and Information Gathering
Community members need to get together to meet and supportively participate in identifying and discussing openly and constructively the issues of concern. It is important to discuss what are the outcomes different individuals and groups want.
Community members need to identify what information/data is already publicly available and what information/data needs to be made publicly available. Frequently, information can be found online or sometimes in State archives or libraries.
Those people in the community who want to work on the issue need to be supported by others in the community as much as possible. Having a website where requests for support can be listed, and taking all other opportunities, such as at public meetings, to request specific support is recommended.
It can be useful to phone, write and/or email relevant authorities, companies or organisations and request all information that is not currently publicly available. It is important to find out what information is being withheld under commercial confidentiality regimes.
It is worthwhile to make contact with other community organisations or non-government organisations (National Toxics Network, LEAD Group Inc, Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), etc.), in your state or nationally, that work on similar issues or that can provide you with legal advice. Seek their advice and study all their relevant information. If possible, ask them to work with you on the issues. No need to re-invent the wheel.
When all available information has been collated and summarised, distribute the most relevant information widely in the community by whatever means possible and then hold a community meeting to discuss it. After discussion and agreement on the appropriate consultation process necessary, invite relevant government officials to attend a community meeting to provide their views, information and action proposals on the issues.
All community consultation meetings must be open to all people, with no confidentiality requirements, and minutes moved and agreed to and posted on a dedicated website (which may be government-funded) immediately afterwards. All new information that becomes available should be posted on the dedicated website also. It could also be useful to indentify possible stakeholders – e.g., unions, researchers – who are not yet involved in the issue, in order to guage their support.
Consulting with Government
Community members need to listen to what government officials have to say without feeling they need to respond immediately to any government proposals. The first meeting with government representatives is an opportunity to let the government representatives have their say, ask questions and clarify any issues of concern. Use the chance to find out what is known, what has been decided and why.
Following the presentation by government representatives, community members need to discuss a way forward, including: seeking expert knowledge in their own community as well as outside independent expert opinions, developing a time line for action and formulating proposals for resolving the problems with a big-picture long-term perspective. Public health needs to be the priority.
Public and Environmental Health Investigations
When an independent population-based public and environmental health investigation needs to be established, this should include an investigation into people's health as well as the wellbeing of domestic animals, wildlife, aquatic species, the environment, vegetables and crops.
Proposals by government bodies to conduct health investigations need to be reviewed by community members at all stages in relation to other similar or best practice health investigations. Health investigations that will be thorough and robust are better than those that fail and waste taxpayers’ money. Seek critical expertise and experience to review what is being done.
If community members want to have a Health Advocate the position needs to funded by government, with community members approving any appointment. A pamphlet from the Office of the Health Complaints Commissioner needs to be made publicly available to all participating residents so that they fully understand the rights and responsibilities of patients and medical providers.
The government needs to fund all medical expenses and treatments required by participants involved in any investigation that relate to the contamination issues under investigation.
Community members need to set protocols (a set of guidelines to be followed) for environmental sampling procedures inside or outside of homes on private property.
Community members have a right to expect government-funded peer review of all medical and scientific reports by experts chosen by community representatives.
To minimise the risk of exposure to environmental contaminants, community members can design a government-funded Household Audit Service to advise residents on how best to reduce these risks.
National Toxics Network (NTN) (2006) Community Engagement [Extensive information on effective community engagement with supporting documents], NTN, 15 November 2006, http://ntn.org.au/2006/11/15/community-engagement-2/
NICNAS (National Industrial Chemicals Notification & Assessment Scheme) (undated) NICNAS Community Engagement Charter 2005-06, Australian Government, Department of Health and Ageing, www.nicnas.gov.au/community/cef_charter_pdf.pdf
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Updated 24 January 2012