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Community Resource Management – One Piece of the Pie

1Phillip McCullough and 2Catherine Potter

1Regional Landcare Facilitator, Landcare and Catchment Management,
PO Box 318, Toowoomba, Qld, 4352.. Phone: 07 4688 1085 Fax: 07 4633 2701,
2Coordinator, Condamine Catchment Management Association Inc. PO Box 318, Toowoomba, Qld, 4352. Phone: 07 4688 1157 Fax: 07 4633 2701, Email:


This paper will focus on how rural southwest Queensland communities have identified integrated resource management as a means to ensure their community is viable well into the future.

A shift in government rural advisory services, in the early 1990’s, from one-to-one service to group orientated activities affected rural communities. During this period the government has encouraged greater community participation in decision-making by devolving certain responsibilities to regions. The willingness of communities to participate in natural resource management is illustrated by increasing levels of active participation and the proliferation of organisations such as landcare and catchment groups.

South-west Queensland rural communities have welcomed this challenge of working in partnership with all levels of government by developing and promoting strategic alliances between stakeholder organisations. The main activity for the delivery has been through a sub-catchment action planning process. Sub-catchment action planning considers not only natural resource issues, but embraces the social characteristics and financial implications of local individuals who are involved. The success of this process is reflected in the number of groups and organisations actively involved, the acceleration in expenditure for on-ground works and a focussing of support services provided by government.

Key elements contributing to success are:

  • Skill development of individuals (individual capacity building, supporting rural leaders).
  • Government agencies and community members working within a mutually agreed process.
  • Active participation of all interested parties.
  • Coordination of inter-government support.
  • Integration of resource management into planning processes.
  • Opportunities for group members to explore other successful communities.
  • Sourcing alternative funding opportunities (grant programs, sponsorship, local government).
  • Government supporting the devolvement of decision-making responsibility (project officers, field staff).

South-west Queensland Regional Overview

The Southwest region is about 1100km east west and up to 500km north south, with an area of 413 280 sq km (map 1). It has a population of approximately 230 000 people, about 7% of the state’s total, with over half the population clustered around Toowoomba.

Map 1: South West Queensland Region

A strong specialisation in rural production is a characteristic of the region. The major primary industries are agriculture, timber, and oil and natural gas production. Coal mining and energy generation are emerging industries. Secondary industries dependent on agriculture in the region include: food processing, largely of meat, dairy products, and cereal grains, cotton ginning and the manufacture and servicing of agricultural equipment (Toowoomba Regional Development Corporation Limited, 1995).

The region accounts for 11.1% of Queensland’s exports and imports, with exports exceeding imports by $1250 million. Rural production in the region accounts for about 25% of Queensland’s agricultural exports (Gibson Associates, 1997). The gross regional product (GRP) (defined as the sum of all products and services, including government services, plus exports, minus imports) is $4.175 billion.

A recent report prepared for the Australian Local Government Association ‘State of the Regions 1999’ shows Southwest Queensland has experienced net migration out of the area. This may be due to low skilled rural workers migrating to metropolitan and lifestyle regions as the viability of farming operations declines (National Economics, 2000). This change in population has an impact on the labour and finances available to participate in and complete natural resource management activities.

Table 1: Regional Data For Darling Downs And Southwest Queensland Statistical Divisions


Darling Downs

SW Qld


Population (as at June 30 1998)

200 758

25 919

3 456 345

Annual population growth 1993-98




Total Employed (1996 Census)

81 000

12 000


Change in persons employed (1991-96)




Median income per week




(Source: University of Southern Queensland, 1999)

It is the view of the State of the Regions report (National Economics, 2000) that to improve economic performance in the future, rural based regions such as DDSWQ will need to (among other things):

  • Improve the ecological health of land and water resources
  • Build knowledge-intensive industries and the farming sector
  • Manage the exodus from less viable and ecologically damaging forms of agriculture
  • Increase investment in value added industries such as dairying, horticulture, meat etc

The community planning processes outlined below highlight some of the key ingredients that have proven successful for Southwest Queensland – forming a necessary piece of the pie.

Developing community capacity

Extension Officers in southwest Queensland are actively building and enhancing community capacity by promoting participation and negotiation when dealing with natural resource management (NRM) issues. Building the capacity of community leaders to coordinate, plan and question the direction of NRM helps to build confidence in people to challenge the norms that require long-term planning.

We are seeing increased motivation by many sectors of the community to be involved in participatory processes as a direct result of declining catchment health, limited support services, lack of coordinated information and the absence of agreed long-term planning.

Integration of planning processes

Structural impediments need to be overcome to enable the management of complex ecological systems (Department of Environment, 1998). There is a recognised need to realign the structure of government authorities to ‘match up’ management scales so they are conducive to cooperative action. QMDBCC (1998) identified that many government programs and policies often conflict with each other and are often uncoordinated in delivering community development needs. They further highlight the lack of consideration taken of the long-term political, social and economic implications of short-term decisions, emphasising the fact that program goals are rarely integrated or sympathetic to those of other programs.

Government department’s have recognised this issue and now actively seek community input into government planning processes. Community leaders have responded favourably resulting in an established commitment by both parties to integrate their short and long-term planning activities. This has resulted in the integration of community needs into government programs.

Government/community partnerships

Government/community partnerships are developed through the need for cooperation rather than confrontation. It is a recognised fact that one group is unable to successfully tackle the plethora and extent of resource management issues without enlisting the ideas and support from all key stakeholders.

Community and government have recognised that to implement effective NRM, ‘good’ planning needs to take place, rather than using a salt and pepper approach to implementation. NRM planning in the Southwest Queensland focuses on the action planning process and can be roughly defined at four levels. Each of these planning levels represents a partnership between community and government. These levels are critical to progressing effective NRM in a manner that generates long-term commitment to well-planned, strategic and local actions.

Planning for NRM has become a vital activity in southwest Queensland, since Landcare Groups began to establish in 1986. Local farm planning, Property Management Planning groups, and catchment planning activities have progressed to local landholders meeting as sub-catchment planning groups to develop local action plans. Landcare groups, industry committees, local government, state government departments and community resource users, are recognising the benefit of utilising these processes to develop and implement strategic plans providing local ownership of the problem and the solution.

Planning Stages

To be effective, policy and management responses must occur at the catchment level and biophysical regions and have a cross-sectoral (multiple-use) approach (Department of Environment, 1998). The NRM Strategy for the Murray-Darling Basin (1990) promotes the implementation of planning and management programs to tackle NRM by providing a framework within which such issues may be addressed.

An integrated regional approach to NRM began in the early 1990’s. Key developments since then has included:

The development of a regional strategic plan. This regional document provides strategic direction for regional NRM issues as defined by each of the Catchment Management Associations.


Catchment Management Committees have undertaken a strategic planning process that has resulted in state endorsed catchment strategies. These Catchment Strategies provide a framework of issues and priority actions for catchment activities.

Catchment Level

Sub-catchment action planning groups and Landcare groups utilise the catchment strategies to assist them in determining local actions resulting in the implementation of catchment and local priorities.

Sub-catchment action planning

The Property Management Planning process is one example, which consists of an integrated workshop series to assist farming families to develop a property plan whilst importantly developing long term planning skills.

Property level

Action planning

Action planning principles are employed at each planning level. Action planning is a tool used by community groups to identify the causes and possible solutions to address a range of natural resource management issues within a sub-catchment or small district. Action plans can be integrated or issue based. Integrated is the preferred option because all potential issues are considered, linkages between issues are identified and detailed work plans for action are developed.

Key components of the action planning process include:

  • Considering the capacity of existing facilities and services provided in the local area to assess local needs;
  • Consulting with the key members of the community to determine perceived community needs;
  • Identification of key elements that may be incorporated to ensure the ongoing commitment and involvement of the community in the future development of their area;
  • Determining a range of strategies and recommendations that are appropriate to the community they serve.

By focussing planning, landholders are able to implement their actions, leading to increased awareness of the range of issues involved for on ground activity. It allows landholders to target the actual cause of the issues thus enabling real change to take place. Landholders who meet using a sub-catchment planning process are in a better position to see the impacts of their management practices. By looking at the bigger picture as well as the local farm level situation better enables landholders to evaluate the potential impact of their management practices.

At present there are over 60 sub-catchment planning groups at various levels of development covering more than 35% of the area and involving over 30% of the farmers in the region. The number of groups involved in landcare and integrated catchment management (ICM) has increased from 22 in 1994 to over 120 now (McCullough and Brown, 1997). The demand for support to sub-catchment planning groups will increase as more and more people become aware of how landholders are successfully approaching the current issues.

1Government Coordination and Support

An integral component to the action planning process has been the coordination, at the management level, of state government to secure support of technical staff to actively work with community groups to explore opportunities to address. The support for community groups comes from a range of agencies and non-government groups and from within the farming community itself.

0Devolved decision-making responsibility

Another example of government support has been the devolution of responsibility enabling the community to have greater input when determining future planning and activities. Typical examples of mechanisms employed in this region:

  • The establishment of Project Management Committee’s that enable a number of key stakeholder representatives to openly discuss issues and suggestions for resolution. In many instances government provide technical advice and support to assist these Committee’s to make the informed decisions needed for catchment-based solutions.
  • Community strategic planning processes are starting to guide the cooperative development of operational plans for agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources. This shared interaction is only possible when the community and agencies respect the contribution that each can make to the process.
  • Sub-catchment Action planning groups are a good example of how agency knowledge is used to seek funding and advice external to government by keeping a focus of good resource management as the main objective when conducting on ground works.

2Community Development

One of the best examples of such an approach is the Landcare and ICM model. The most critical components of the model are highlighted below.


It is important to allow the community to be part of the decision-making processes, by asking and allowing them to explore what they think rather than presenting them with the answer. Community members value decisions that they have developed and have ownership of.

Group process methodologies allow groups to use the experience of extension officers to assist in the deliberations of the catchment community. People are more aware of the need for good planning processes to be used when contemplating individual or group action.

1Skill development of individuals

Enhancing the skill levels of individuals has proven an effective tool in securing commitment and ongoing action. Extension Officers regularly make training opportunities available to groups and individuals such as organising field days, attendance to training courses such as Building Rural Leaders, facilitation training and group skills. The region supports sponsorship for community members to attend conferences such as the National ICM conference and weed symposiums.

2Exploring successful communities

The region has been successful in providing opportunities for delegations of community members to visit other areas to learn how other groups are solving long-term NRM issues. Delegations have visited areas in Australia to investigate catchment management activities in New South Wales and Victoria and salinity issues in Western Australia. In addition, community members have participated in hosting delegations from interstate and overseas such as India and South Africa.

3Sourcing alternative funding

Community groups have been actively involved in linking with major development projects to secure resources and to establish partnerships to implement local community initiatives. Local groups are implementing activities such as tree corridors on creek lines, reestablishment of habitat areas and botanical indigenous gardens, which foster wider community pride.

Some groups are using employment-based programs such as Green Corps, prison crews and work for the dole to accelerate on-ground work activity. These activities benefit individual farms, community areas, and provide local people with opportunities to improve their skills through the provision of training and development.

4Role of the Support Officer

The role of a project officer is proving critical in this process to coordinate external speakers, specialist advice etc. There is evidence to suggest that with a large number of the farming community obtaining off farm income there is little time to coordinate those issues that go across farm boundaries (McKee 2000). The vital role the project officer plays in supporting rural groups largely focuses on accelerating change.

The region has some very active groups. The groups have been able to mature at their own pace and support is provided to suit group needs. As group members gain confidence in planning and implementing their own vision, they become increasingly confident in their ability to approach and deal with the complex deliberations needed for successful natural resource management. Going through such a process allows them to become comfortable working in small groups, comfortable to share their concerns and ideas and to work on addressing issues collectively rather than as individuals.

Some groups are specifically addressing their own immediate needs, while other groups have used their maturity to explore the broader landscape and social issues affecting their livelihoods. This has resulted in some of the mature groups exploring activities such as revenue raising, rate levies, employment of people, managing work crews, handling large devolved grant programs and developing community strategic plans.


Community development allows the sharing of ideas, knowledge and learning’s from all individuals’ experiences to enhance the shared understanding that each person brings to the discussion table. The increasing demands on available resources to maintain community viability means that a coordinated and cooperative approach is essential for maximum benefit to the wider community.

Action planning has been successful in this region as it provides an opportunity for all community members to have input into the decision making process. Action planning promotes cooperation amongst the community to solve NRM problems. This results in targeted plans demonstrating strategic on-ground projects, which are effective and resource efficient.

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