After another action-packed and exciting year at CCWA it is good to take a moment to reflect how the WA community conservation sector and its peak body is travelling, and what has been achieved during the past year.
One of the key strengths of our sector is that we have a peak body that builds unity of voice from a diversity of potentially competing interests. The Councils members and supporters are right to take this for granted, but it should not be underestimated how important it is in providing a foundation for strong leadership and effective representation.
Building on this strength, a critical role CCWA has in supporting the sector is to invest in its people. This means both growing the number of people participating, and developing in those people the skills and capabilities that are required for community leadership and social change.
Where the for-profit sector invests in business to produce financial returns, we are investing in people and community to produce environmental dividends.
In order to build genuine capacity and power at a community level, CCWA has embraced and invested in the discipline and practice of community organising and engagement as a dedicated portfolio of work supported by a full-time staff member and a number of key volunteer leaders.
While this is a long-term investment, we can already see the efforts we have made in skills training, volunteer recruitment and capacity-building are delivering results for the environment.
It has been particularly pleasing to see existing groups becoming more effective and new community groups forming, often by people who have had no history or background in the conservation sector. CCWA plays a critical role in incubating these groups and helping them become powerful change-agents in their own local communities.
CCWA’s Citizen Science program sits alongside our community engagement work as another important way we are investing in people and knowledge.
The program continues to deliver significant environmental information; to focus attention on important environmental issues; to build partnerships between community, NRM groups and private landholders; and to empower people across the state to better understand and manage their environment.
Demand from community groups and individuals to participate in new and existing Citizen Science projects remains high, and largely unmet. Finding ways to grow and resource the program to fill this demand represents a key opportunity for the Council in the future.
The advocacy work that the Council is delivering directly, through partnerships, or by supporting others continues to deliver strong results that we are proud of.
Our campaigns to protect land, water and livelihoods from gas fracking and uranium mining have both achieved significant momentum this year, capitalising on the opportunity presented by a dip in commodity prices. This has given us time to deepen and strengthen the capacity and resolve of local communities to provide frontline defense while working to shift the policies and market conditions that are necessary to succeed in these campaigns in the longer term.
This year it has been particularly rewarding to build strong partnerships with custodians of the land in the form of both farming and Aboriginal communities. The capacity to work on-ground with local communities and local government has been a key strategy for success in a political environment that promotes the interests of extractive industries at the expense of communities and the environment.
Working in partnerships and with member groups, we have also seen significant progress towards the permanent protection of key marine and terrestrial ecosystems in state waters. During the year the State Government announced major steps towards a world-class network of marine and terrestrial parks in the Kimberley which will be managed jointly with Traditional Owners. At the same time, defense of our Commonwealth network of marine protected areas has so far maintained community and government support for the protections won by CCWA’s Save our Marine Life campaign in 2012/13.
This year has seen the Council formally recognising and supporting the protection of Aboriginal culture and heritage as part of our advocacy agenda.
This has involved supporting the Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance to become established, and adopting a Council position statement on Aboriginal Heritage and Communities. As conservationists we are deeply conscious that we speak about Aboriginal lands and we recognise the importance of respecting and protecting heritage and culture as a critical dimension of any environmental work.
In addition, we have had to respond to a fundamental attack on the democratic rights of citizens to undertake peaceful protest.
We have faced head-on the challenge presented by the State Governments proposed anti-protest laws that were introduced into State Parliament this year without consultation or warning. CCWA has been instrumental in bringing together over 80 organisations including churches, unions, farmers, lawyers, activists and others to resist the passage of this draconian and unnecessary legislation.
We continue to explore new and innovative ways of partnering with business, with a particular emphasis on finding examples of sustainable enterprise that we can support and promote in a way that helps achieve real environmental outcomes. A good example of this is our partnership with Australia’s first fossil-fuel free superannuation fund, Future Super. This relationship has provided income to support our advocacy work while assisting hundreds of CCWA supporters to take real action by divesting from fossil fuels industries.
I am confident that the Council is returning an excellent return on investment provided by our donors and supporters.
Our administrative overheads continue to be very low, allowing a high proportion of donated funds to be directed into effective advocacy and programs that produce an enduring environmental legacy for the future.
Responsible financial management during the year has enabled the Council to continue investing in the growth of the Conservation Trust Endowment Fund, as well as fundraising activities that will place the organisation in a stronger and more independent position in the future.
Finally I would like to thank all of the volunteers, staff, supporters, donors, Executive and member groups who work tirelessly to support our work, our communities and our environment.
Piers Verstegen, Director
Minister Jacob's speech 2015 Annual Conference