The never-ending battle for the commons goes on. It must be one of history’s great continuities.
After failing in November 2016 to persuade the NSW Parliament to abolish the commons, the NSW Government is preparing to again try and convince Parliament to do what it so conspicuously refused to do just three months ago.
Submissions closed on 21 February 2017 for public responses to the latest proposals for ‘reform’ of commons from the NSW Department of Industry’s Crown lands agency. The Government’s ideas of Crown lands as a just a resource to be monetised is illustrated by this administrative arrangement, and it is difficult not to be cynical about any reasons given for wanting to remove the commons from their commoners.
A commoners’ campaign, lead by the commoners of St Albans Common in the Macdonald Valley, north of Sydney, developed a set of basic principles for the future care and control of commons in New South Wales. These include:
- Commons belong to their commoners – they are not Crown land, and their arbitrary confiscation must not be allowed
- Commons must remain under the care and control of representatives elected by the commoners – not ‘managers’ appointed by the minister
- Commons legislation must remain as stand-alone legislation – it should not be repealed or otherwise replaced by Crown lands or other legislation
- The responsibilities of commoners, and their rights of commonage, are of great traditional and historical significance – this should be respected and supported by the State
- Commoners who have managed their commons sustainably, especially over many generations, should not be arbitrarily penalised because some others haven’t.
I made a submission on the Department’s proposals, from the perspective of a historian of commons rather than that of a commoner. My submission is essentially consistent with the commoners’ principles. It also calls for the Department to abandon its attempts to abolish the commons, and instead adopt a ‘common-centred’ approach to revitalising the commons, and increasing local community engagement with their commons, especially commons that are claimed to have been neglected, or for which commoners now seem to be unaware of their traditional rights and responsibilities.
My submission can be dowloaded here and the St Albans Common site contains links to the commoner’s submission, and to several other useful resources in the ongoing battle to save the commons of New South Wales from mammon.