Stakeholder Engagement – a Case Study: the Victorian Desalination Project

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GES3250 Environmental Assessment and Decision Making
Research Essay- Topic 3

Stakeholder Engagement – A Case Study: The Victorian Desalination Project

Introduction

During environmental debates, the various stakeholders involved often have competing values, motivations and purposes. One example used to demonstrate this is the Victorian Desalination Plant (proposed to be completed 2011) in Wonthaggi, Victoria, Australia. The Victorian Desalination Project is a controversial project involving the Department of Sustainability and Environment, local council, local communities residing in the area and opposing groups such as Watershed. The number of forums available for the different stakeholders are limited and bear both advantages and disadvantages in discussing the environmental decision-making process. In exploring these issues, a number of points need to be discussed: a reference to stakeholder participation and its importance in the environmental decision making process; the main stakeholders involved in the environmental debate; the views and motivations of the stakeholders; the forums available for stakeholder engagement and the benefits and pitfalls of the forums for stakeholder engagement.

Stakeholders and Their Importance in Environmental Decision Making

Harding, et al (2009) broadly refers to a stakeholder as any one who has an interest or stake in something. The object in this case is the Wonthaggi desalination plant. The relevant stakeholders in any case hold a stake or and interest for many different reasons. The importance and core values of stakeholder engagement in the decision making is well outlined by (IAPP, 2009) the fundamental basis for engagement is on the moral belief that those impacted by the decision have a right to be incorporated into the decision making process. Ideally there should be a mechanism in place to demonstrate how stakeholders’ inputs have influenced an environmental decision (Conacher & Conarcher, 2000). Through stakeholder engagement, environmental decisions are more sustainable because participation recognizes and communicates the needs and interests of all involved (Harding et al, 2009; IAPP, 2009). Lastly engaging the stakeholders provides participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way (Harding et al, 2009).

The Main Stakeholders in the Victorian Desalination Plant Project

To illustrate the types of stakeholders involved in an environmental decision the example of the Victorian Desalination Project (VDP) will be examined. The following stakeholders have been identified as examples of key interest groups. They have been categorized in terms of their role in the community and the values and motivations for their involvement in the VDP.

The Proponent

The Wonthaggi Desalination Plant project proponent is the Victorian Government’s Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE), Capital Projects Division. 
The project is a part of Our Water Our Future: The Next Stage of the Government's Water Plan. The DSE using the desalination plant aims to augment Melbourne's water supply, as well as other regional supply systems such as Geelong and South Gippsland. The desalination plant is seen to be the solution to securing a rainfall independent supply, which helps to ensure Victoria’s general economic security (Department of Sustainability and the Environment, 2010; Our Water Our Future, 2009b).

Business

Victorian Government selected the AquaSure consortium to deliver the VDP.
 AquaSure is responsible for financing, designing, building, operating and maintaining the plant. The consortium has brought together three companies. The French company Degrémont, a branch of Suez Environment Company, is one of the leading international companies in reverse-osmosis desalination technology. Thiess is one of Australia's largest construction and...
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