Public participation is a fundamental underlying principle of effective environmental laws. Policies and decisions affecting the environment have the potential to impact the public at large, whether in a positive or a negative manner. It is therefore of significant importance that the public is engaged in the formulation, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, particularly where the public, or a section of the public is directly or indirectly affect by the law or its outcomes.
This essay examines four modes of public participation: consultation; partnership; standing; and consumer choice. Each modes faces its own obstacles in achieving effective public participation, and equally, each mode of participation offers advantages in some areas. Given the importance of public participation in environmental law, it is preferable that not just one mode is perfect and applied across different areas of environmental law, but a suite of effective public participation mechanisms are developed and implemented to maximise public involvement. This will be a challenging task in light of the breadth of environmental laws, the need to balance public and private interests, and the variety of stakeholders and their respective interests.
Models of Public Participation
In March 1998, the New South Wales Cabinet Office release a discussion paper on public participation in the policy process, which outlines a number of public participation mechanisms . While that document specifically focuses on participation in the formulation and implementation of policy, it provides a useful framework for consideration of participatory mechanisms in an environmental law context. In particular, it explicitly ignores value judgments that some modes of participation may or may not be preferable to others in certain contexts, and simply establishes four participation types :