Assessing the views of those who don’t want to get involved

It should not be assumed that all those who have an interest in an area or the planning process will necessarily provide a written submission. Around 1 million people live adjacent to the GBR and many millions of people elsewhere in Australia and internationally are concerned for the future of the GBR. However the 31,600 written public submissions represented only a small proportion of all those concerned citizens (noting many individual submissions were prepared on behalf of groups representing many hundreds of members). At many public events during the planning or in the media, it was a small ‘noisy minority’ who dominated the discussions. Different techniques were therefore applied to determine the views of the ‘silent majority’, many of whom were interested or concerned but did not bother to write a public submission. This included commissioning telephone polling of major population centres elsewhere in Australia to determine the ‘real’ level of the wider public understanding and support. In addition, community attitudes and awareness were monitored through public surveys. These showed that many stakeholders were misinformed about the key issues/pressures and what could, or should, be done to address their concerns.

Telephone polling in major population centres around Australia is an approach used by political parties for political purposes. The same polling companies who undertake these surveys were used in the rezoning, with the planners working closely with them to determine the most useful questions. The results helped politicians to understand the wider public perspective, not just the noisy minority or the media reports. Community attitudes were also monitored through public surveys.

  1. Don’t ignore those stakeholders who choose to remain silent.
  2. Remember that politicians are usually more interested in what the wider community thinks than just those who send submissions.
  3. Recognise the ‘noisy minority’ usually does not represent the silent majority comprising all those with an interest in the future of the MPA.
  4. Public meetings are often dominated by a few – ways are needed to allow wider concerns to also be heard.
  5. Some stakeholders ‘leave it to others’ to send a submission – either because they think everything is fine, or else they believe changes are unlikely and so are not motivated to act.
  6. Telephone polling of the wider public or internet surveys can determine the real level of understanding and support.
  7. Tailor your key messages for different target audiences (take a strategic approach).
  8. Monitor wider community attitudes and awareness through media analysis, via the internet (e.g. Survey Monkey) or face-to-face interviews or surveys.