How to write a conservation submission, letter or email

By Dan Clarke, Rhonda Daniels, Dr Eddy Wajon

Impact of bush fires, image Heather Miles

With so many ongoing issues of environmental concern, there are many opportunities to write a submission or letter expressing your views. Issues affecting our native vegetation include:

  • residential development
  • infrastructure proposals such as roads and dams
  • legislation on land clearing and development
  • government policies and responses to climate change, bushfires and flooding.

1. Be aware of closing dates

Sometimes you may want to write a letter on an issue without a specific public consultation process. However, generally, if you are responding as part of the planning process, there will be closing dates. It is important to be aware of closing dates so your submission is counted.

Before drafting a submission or letter, be aware of the closing date for any consultation period. It is better to get a short letter in by the deadline, than delay in a getting a long one perfect and miss the deadline.

Note: Sometimes, the submission webpage or “box” can be clunky. You may write a letter and then have to paste it into a text box. Sometimes, formatting can be lost which is frustrating. However, most submission pages allow you to attach a document. You can often opt to receive a response to your submission or letter.

2. Decide who to send it to

If there is a specific consultation process, the person to send it to, and the methods for making a submission, should be clear. There should be an email address and a postal address, and sometimes an online survey or other online portal.

For other issues, it is important to identify the most likely person and/or organisation to target. This can include the level of government – whether it is a local, state or federal government issue.

For local government issues, you can contact local councillors, local government staff and the local newspaper.

For state government issues, you can contact the Premier, Ministers, your local MP and state government agencies, and media such as The Sydney Morning Herald. The Sydney Morning Herald provides some tips to get letters published here: smh.com.au/letters-tips

For federal government issues, you can contact the Prime Minister, relevant Ministers, your local federal MP, and national media.

For issues associated with private companies, consider contacting the chair of the board, he directors, the CEO and senior staff, and also the relevant government regulatory agency.

For all issues, use the social media you are most comfortable with. For some conservation issues, a well-chosen photo or image, with a short caption, can be very effective in drawing attention.

To find names and addresses, try some googling.

3. Make your objection very clear, factual and polite

It seems obvious to state, but your submission or letter should clearly state your views on a proposal or project, particularly that you object to a proposal. This can be the heading or first sentence of a letter. Include reasons why you object, with accurate facts and sources where you can. Add personal observations or data that the organisation or person to whom you are you are writing may not be aware. Your objection does not have to cover all points of concern, only the ones of most concern to you.
You can mention other organisations that are also objecting on the same issue. These may include peak organisations representing many other groups, such as the Nature Conservation Council of NSW or Bushwalking NSW, a local environmental group with specific local knowledge such as the Wolli Creek Preservation Society, or other community organisations which have a specific focus such as birds or koalas. APS NSW is a member of the Nature Conservation Council. Many peak or large organisations such as the Australian Conservation Foundation send material to their members to use in advocacy.

If you have the knowledge, check whether the appropriate flora and fauna surveys have been conducted (and at the correct time), and whether all the expected species have been documented. Comment specifically on any impacts on Threatened or Listed flora, fauna or vegetation communities as these are protected under legislation.

Remember to keep your language factual and polite. Any submissions that carry tones of anger or abuse, or worse, threats, are likely to be discarded or ignored. Furthermore, threatening submissions may be referred to law enforcement agencies. You may be upset about a particular environmental issue, for example, a local patch of bushland being cleared. In such cases, you can use polite but strong everyday persuasive language to the relevant bodies, to try to bring about change and common sense. Remember that many other local people may feel the same way. There is also an onus on submitters to ensure that their submissions are factual and do not contain lies or misleading statements.

4. Specify some action

Be clear about what outcome you seek. This may be as strong as calling for a proposal to be rejected, or you may want to make specific suggestions on specific aspects of a proposal.

If your submission is lengthy, summarise the main points (including recommended actions) at the end of the submission.

5. Personalise your submission or letter

If you are writing as an individual, you can include a statement like “I am an active member of the Australian Plants Society”. Include information about your interest and connection to the issue such as your length of time in or familiarity with an area, whether from volunteering or other work. Individually worded submissions do have more weight with decision-makers than a form letter or petition.

If a community organisation has provided some suggested advocacy points on an issue, try to express these in your own words, or change the order to reflect your concerns.

If you are writing on behalf of an APS District Group, include some background about the Australian Plants Society and your District Group, such as the relationship between your group and the issue, your membership and your support of conservation and native plants.

When the APS NSW Conservation Officer Dan Clarke makes a submission, he refers to how many members we have, and our aims and objectives to protect and conserve Australian flora. Our objectives are to:

  • Promote the appreciation, study and participation in growing, conserving and propagating Australian native plants and their habitats
  • Encourage the use of Australian native plants in home gardens and public places
  • Interest nursery owners and managers to propagate and sell Australian native plants to the public
  • Increase and disseminate general knowledge of Australian native plants

6. Maintain interest and follow up

Many complex proposals and policies take time to go through the various stages of the planning and approval process. Be alert to the next stage of the decision-making process, so you can participate at the right time. Often summaries of feedback are sent to people who make a submission. Read these consultation summaries to see if and how your concerns have been addressed, and to be aware of the next steps.

One great letter can achieve change. However, it is more likely to take many letters from many people over a long time. Sometimes, one individual seems to be ignored. Don’t give up. Remember, major projects and many council developments will produce a “Response to Submissions”, where your submission may be given a number and may be referred to in any Response to Submissions document. You may choose to follow up with a letter or phone call to the people or department responsible.

Meeting your local council, state or federal representative to discuss the issue is very powerful as this demonstrates your commitment to achieving the best outcome.

More information

If you want some help with submissions, contact Rhonda Daniels on rhdaniels@bigpond.com or Dan Clarke, the APS NSW Conservation Officer on conservation@austplants.com.au

You can also contact the ANPSA Conservation Officer, Dr Eddy Wajon: wajonpub@bigpond.com

Other suggestions:

Here is a link to recent APS NSW conservation submissions: https://resources.austplants.com.au/information/conserving-native-plants-and-habitats/