A Bold Blueprint: Steve Davidson Reviews Western Australia's Ambitious, Timely, and Leading State Sustainability Strategy

By Davidson, Steve | Ecos, January-March 2004 | Go to article overview

A Bold Blueprint: Steve Davidson Reviews Western Australia's Ambitious, Timely, and Leading State Sustainability Strategy


Davidson, Steve, Ecos


Western Australia may be behind the eastern States in terms of time, but the WA Government has stolen the march when it comes to sustainability policy. In September 2003, the Government formally and fully committed Western Australians to a sustainable way of doing things with release of a wide-ranging, 300-page sustainability strategy for the next 5 to 10 years, and beyond.

In the words of the WA Premier, the Hon Dr Geoff Gallop MLA, Hope for the future: The Western Australian State Sustainability Strategy is 'Australia's first comprehensive sustainability strategy at the State level.' It recognises the need 'to use sustainability as an integrated, whole of government approach to many deep seated issues.' It is a trail-blazing blueprint that shows the way for other States, if not countries.

The Strategy was developed through government agencies and a two-year public process involving, among other things: the establishment of a WA Collaboration of civil society peak groups; research students who wrote Background Papers and Case Studies; a travelling exhibition; hundreds of public seminars; and, finally, an international sustainability conference where it was launched.

The Strategy is much more than a collection of motherhood statements, although it includes the obligatory definition of sustainability, here: 'meeting the needs of current and future generations through an integration of environmental protection, social advancement, and economic prosperity.'

Principal authors of the Strategy, Professor Peter Newman and Michael Rowe, of the government's Sustainability Policy Unit, add that 'this definition reflects an aspiration and a process to achieve real outcomes.' It is a challenging definition because it goes beyond the much quoted triple bottom line and 'demands that we act together, providing an integrated and mutually reinforcing approach to issues that in the past have been treated more in isolation.'

Sustainability is essentially a way of asking the world to resolve a fundamental tension that has developed between environmental, social and economic improvement. The concept is simple, but implementation is difficult. It can also seem fuzzy until it is applied to real situations.

With this in mind, the Strategy seeks to give sustainability meaning for Western Australia's regions, issues, projects and communities. In particular, its purpose is to illustrate how the State government will adopt a sustainability framework, which is the core of the document. It highlights actions across government agencies that demonstrate the government's leadership role in supporting a transition to a sustainable future.

However, the government is quick to emphasise that it wants to develop partnerships with local government, industry and non-government organisations--including the community. The Strategy was developed in deep consultation with the community and, to its credit, it establishes actual mechanisms to support the active participation of stakeholders in initiatives for sustainability. Of course there is already much innovation by individuals, communities, industry and local government, but more ongoing involvement is needed to implement and further develop the strategy.

Six goals and lots of action

Although it rarely sets deadlines and mostly doesn't attempt to provide specific details, the Strategy clearly sets out a number of actions under each of the Government's six goals for sustainability. The idea is to illustrate how the principles of sustainability, embodied in the framework, can start to be applied across the whole of government and the community. Some key examples of the many actions set out in the Strategy under each of the six broad goals are:

Goal 1: Ensure that the way we govern is driving the transition to a sustainable future. Example actions:

* Develop a Sustainability Act that embeds the principles of sustainability in government actions and processes and supports reporting on the outcomes through a periodic State of Sustainability Report. …

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