The Werribee Toxic Dump – Strategic Planning to
Mobilise a Community

Background to the Werribee Toxic Dump
Harry van Moorst (1999)
In 1995 CSR decided to turn its Werribee quarry into a “prescribed waste landfill”, referred
to by local residents and the media as a “toxic dump”. At the beginning of 1996 the
Minister for Planning, Mr Rob Maclellan, directed CSR to prepare an Environmental
Effects Statement (EES). In March 1996 Werribee residents first learnt of the proposal
and began a lengthy campaign of opposition. This campaign led to an unprecedented
public meeting of 15,000 residents at the Werribee racecourse on a cold Monday evening
in May 1998 which unanimously condemned the proposal. It also led to a major challenge
to traditional industrial waste management policies in Victoria.
At the beginning of the community campaign residents were warned that they would have
little chance of winning: CSR was one of Australia’s largest multinational corporations, and
the Kennett Government was seen as the toughest state government seen in Australia for
some decades. It became a typical ‘David and Goliath’ struggle, with a similar outcome.
Details of the toxic dump proposal
The CSR proposal was to fill the old part of a large quarry hole with prescribed waste
while continuing to quarry at other sections of the site. Prescribed waste is defined by the
EPA as “the most hazardous category of waste. If not managed properly, these wastes
may pose a threat to the life or health of living organisms due to their toxic properties”
(EPA Information Bulletin No. 448, Sept. 1995).
CSR claimed that the facility was needed because the Tullamarine prescribed waste
landfill was due to close and a replacement was required. Opponents argued that CSR
had grossly overestimated the need, ignoring the emphasis on waste minimisation by EPA
policy and ignoring the growing possibilities for alternative recycling and treatment
options. To provide cheap dumping of prescribed waste would be an incentive to continue
to create it.
In its EES CSR claimed that it would dump 120,000 tonnes of prescribed waste into the
double clay-lined quarry hole each year, for 10 to 15 years. It would also construct
Australia’s largest windrow (open mound) composting facility and develop the overall site
as a major ‘waste management facility’.
CSR claimed that the facility would be perfectly safe because it:
• would be protected by a double clay liner and a leachate collection system (this was
later amended to include a plastic membrane for further protection);
• would be ‘world’s best practice’ and ‘state of the art’;
• would accord with all planning and EPA regulations;
• would be monitored by the EPA.

Residents were not convinced, and expressed their reservations at meetings and in
reports. The primary concerns of residents (as outlined in one of the leaflets) were that:
• “It contravenes EPA environmental policies.
• It threatens the health and well being of the families of Werribee and surrounding
• It threatens the Werribee farms and market gardens, both directly  (e.g. in case of
fires, spillages, dust storms, major leakages) and through the public perception of
possible contamination of crops.
• It threatens the growing tourist industry (including the zoo and its international
breeding programme, the Mansion and State Rose Garden).
• It threatens the Werribee and Pt Lillias wetlands, in contravention of international
(Ramsar) treaty obligations and will pollute Port Philip Bay, where the leakages will
eventually end up.
• It is totally unnecessary. We have provided the Government with a ‘win-win’ scenario
which implements EPA’s policies (a win for the environment, a win for the community
and a win for industry) and provides an alternative technology and management

The development of a strategy to confront Goliath
A resident committee was formed in April-May 1996 to organise a campaign to try to stop
the development of the waste facility. The committee, calling itself the Werribee Residents
Against Toxic Dump (WRATD), initially comprised 6 people but rapidly grew to 20 – 30
residents representing most ‘walks of life’ in the area. Academics, scientists and teachers,
farmers, factory workers, estate agents, people engaged in home duties, nurses and
many others became involved during the first few months. A broad range of expertise,
skills and experience was tapped during this time, and considerable contacts and
networks developed over the next months.
Werribee has a strong history of market gardening, and is the major market garden centre
in Victoria. The threat that the proposal created for these market gardens was seen to be
a substantial local issue and a strong alliance was developed with the market gardeners
from the outset.
Understanding the obstacles and opposition
One of the first tasks undertaken by the newly formed committee was to discuss the aims
of the campaign and the nature of the opposition. The aims were principally to prevent the
development of the toxic dump and composting facility in Werribee, but secondary aims
and goals were also articulated, and these became instrumental in the ultimate success of
the campaign.
Several problems were obvious from the outset. Firstly, residents could not count on much
support from their council because it was comprised of government-appointed
commissioners, not elected representatives. Elections were not due until the following
year, and even this was uncertain in view of the State Government’s attempt to control
and limit local government.
Secondly, there was a substantial ‘planning vacuum’ which not only left the Government
at the mercy of proponent-driven ‘planning’, and hence dependent on the CSR proposal
for its ‘solution’, but also left residents without the protection of planning policies and
regulations. It was recognised by WRATD that EPA policy was not adequate to the task of
protecting the community from proposals of this kind. This related to a third problem,
namely the narrow mind-set of all those involved in industrial waste management. There
was a general complacency in industry and the EPA which saw the dumping of prescribed
waste into a lined hole in the ground as perfectly natural, safe and desirable. While such a
mind-set continued it would be very difficult to gain many allies outside the local
community and some sectors of the environmental movement (many residents had no
experience of the environmental movement and were initially very cynical about
Finally, WRATD members were very conscious of the NIMBY accusation that would be
made against them, namely that all they wanted to do was to put it into somebody else’s
backyard instead of their own. It was decided that, while NIMBY concerns were perfectly
valid, and if everyone took this attitude there would be no toxic dumps anywhere, WRATD
would try to do something more than simply be a NIMBY campaign.
The guiding principles
The first strategic principle that was accepted by WRATD was the contention that all
sectors, including government, industry, and even CSR, would be treated as potential
supporters. WRATD decided to invite support from all identifiable stakeholders and
determined that only if stakeholders proved their opposition would they be treated as an
opponent. This approach ensured good relations with most stakeholders even when there
were substantial differences of opinion, and assisted to minimise the support eventually
received by CSR for its proposal. It also served to unite the community (which at the
previous election had become a ‘swinging seat’). CSR became an actual opponent very
early in the campaign, especially after a series of heated EES meetings and refusals to
divulge information to residents. On the other hand, the Government remained a potential
ally, ‘hiding’ behind the EES process to refrain from comment or discussion, until the
beginning of 1998, when the Premier pre-empted the decision-making process by publicly
endorsing the CSR proposal. Even at this late stage, WRATD made numerous attempts to
meet with the Premier and other ministers to try to avoid the looming conflict and discuss
alternatives. Most of these attempts fell on deaf ears and WRATD eventually adopted a
policy of direct opposition to the Government and a demand that the Government be
dismissed at the next election.
The second principle was one of non-violence in all its activities. WRATD was not a
militant or traditional political organisation: it was a group of family people, inexperienced
in political matters and representing a relatively conservative community that had returned
a Labor member in the State elections by the narrow margin of approximately 500 votes.
In this context an overtly non-violent, non-aggressive strategy was crucial for maintaining
local credibility and legitimacy. It was also supported on broader strategic and moral
The third principle was for WRATD to be, and remain, a ‘grass roots’ organisation, always
focussing on developing resident understanding of the issues and mobilising the local
community in opposition to the CSR proposal. Therefore the main thrust of WRATD
activities was towards community education and mobilising instead of lobbying politicians
or begging support from industry or media. From the outset the focus was on developing
community strength as the basis for other forms of opposition. This was not always
adopted by all members, and several differences within WRATD revolved around the
efforts that should be made in lobbying members of Parliament. Compromises were
readily achieved and significant lobbying occurred during several periods of the campaign,
but always as a secondary activity to community mobilising.
The final principle was that WRATD would be pro-active about the issue of industrial
prescribed waste, and would try to develop alternatives to the dumping of waste into
landfill, so that no other community would have to face what Werribee was facing.
WRATD resolved to intervene with the EPA (through its industrial waste management
review) and with the government to develop alternative policies. WRATD wanted to
change the mind-set that saw the landfill disposal of prescribed waste as acceptable, and
that saw any location owned by a large company as worthwhile of consideration,
regardless of community opposition.
Within the first twelve months a further principle was added to the strategic directions of
WRATD. As CSR and government intransigence began to manifest itself it became clear
to the resident group that a major underlying issue, and an issue facing many other
communities, was that of community rights. It appeared to Werribee residents that their
rights were being ignored in favour of the profit desires of CSR. It was resolved to promote
the idea of community rights and to support other community groups facing similar issues.
About a year into the campaign a slogan was developed that encompassed most of the
concerns of the community: The wrong technology, in the wrong location, by the wrong
company. This slogan reflected the strategic work by WRATD to show the weaknesses of
the landfill technology and to develop alternatives, the failure of planners to develop
effective locational criteria for the siting of industrial waste facilities (regulations only
covered municipal waste – there was a deafening silence about prescribed waste), and
the growing concern with CSR’s own environmental record.
Implementing the strategy – 3 years of campaigning
Since April 1996, as the strategy was developed, mounting pressure was placed on CSR
and, later, the state government. The implementation of the strategy went through a
research and educative phase to a mobilising phase. The mobilising phase went from
mobilising residents and local business (including market gardeners) to mobilising people
outside Werribee. And the mobilisation, as discussed below, went from lobbying and
submission writing to protest and eventually to direct resistance.
The first 12 months of the campaign involved substantial research and the use of the local
media to publicise the research findings. Overseas evidence of toxic dump leakages,
health impacts and other problems were obtained and publicised. Reports were printed,
leaflets prepared and public meetings held to develop community awareness and support.
A petition was circulated in the local community and 19,000 residents signed over a period
of two months. The aim of the petition was not primarily to impress the government, but to
engage the local community with the issue.
The committee became heavily involved in the EES process and several members spent
many days as part of the “Community Consultative Committee” which was supposed to
advise CSR about the EES studies being undertaken. Many members of WRATD
believed that the EES process would provide a valuable forum for discussing the
community’s concerns and for obtaining information about the process and its risks. As
the EES process developed it became evident that CSR had no intention of contemplating
any outcome other than support for the project, and its hired consultants provided a
barrage of highly limited data which did little to impress the community representatives.
Long before the EES was finished the community representatives had reported their
dismay in the proceedings, and had developed highly cynical attitudes towards both CSR
and the EES process itself (for further information about the EES process for this
development see van Moorst, 1998).
Nevertheless, WRATD persevered with the EES both as a necessity for retaining
legitimacy amongst the various stakeholders, and to ensure that what little new
information was being provided by CSR was available to the community.
WRATD employed the usual complement of community tactics, including public meetings,
leaflet distribution, rallies, letters to newspapers, etc. to create greater public awareness of
the proposal. At one of the public rallies the Commissioners were obliged to be present
“on behalf of the Council” and were strongly rebuked by residents. The subsequent
elections for the new Council, held 12 months after the commencement of the campaign,
saw every candidate place opposition to the toxic dump as their foremost policy. A strong
alliance developed between WRATD and the Council after the elections.
From mid-1996, WRATD members prepared submissions and held discussions with the
EPA as part of the Industrial Waste Policy Review. WRATD pressured EPA to reject the
notion of “disposal to landfill” in favour of a policy of developing safe and “properly
engineered repositories” for the storage, and possible retrieval (for re-use, recycling or
treatment) of such waste. The EPA adopted this in their final policy, as published in its
Zeroing in on Waste (EPA, 1998). This in turn meant that the EPA would find it difficult to
approve CSR’s “dry tomb” landfill for dumping toxic waste without contravening its own
policy. By this work WRATD had significantly outmanoeuvred CSR (which had failed to
even discuss the matter with the EPA) and had gained a major strategical advantage
during the forthcoming policy debates. On the other hand, WRATD was fully aware of the
pressure that CSR and the Government would place on the EPA to give CSR its approval.
Further visits and dialogue with the EPA ensued, and no final decision was reached.
WRATD and the Council spent considerable energy on showing the ridiculousness of
placing a toxic waste facility in the middle of a growth corridor, adjacent to farms and
internationally protected wetlands, close to vital market gardens and Port Phillip Bay, and
in the middle of a growing tourist area. This “failure of planning” was a theme strongly
promoted by WRATD.
By the end of the first year WRATD was using Freedom of Information legislation to
discover CSR’s environmental record in the area. This led to a report of numerous
breaches of EPA license requirements for the Werribee quarry, some of which reportedly
resulted in the deaths of a number of significant, 200-year-old river red gums. Subsequent
research on CSR’s Wittenoom disaster and its serious spillages at Mt Gambier and
Dartmoor provided a strong argument that CSR was not competent to manage toxic waste
facilities. A report was presented to the community and at the Panel hearings, and was
published in March 1998. At the launch of the Report, undertaken by prominent member
of parliament and ex-Minister of Science, Mr Barry Jones, WRATD called for a public
boycott of CSR products. Although this tactic had been discussed early in the campaign, it
was not utilised until this time, in response to what was now publicly recognised as
irrevocable intransigence by CSR to the community’s wishes and arguments, and to the
growing ability of WRATD to make such a boycott significant.
During the first 18 months of the campaign WRATD had participated in all the ‘formal’
processes, while simultaneously mobilising the community. While there had been
consistent coverage, mostly favourable, in the local newspapers, there had been very little
coverage in the daily media. WRATD spent much of June-July 1997 preparing its written
responses to the EES (3-volume) document. About 10 members of WRATD worked to
prepare a 40,000 word response, showing the unwarranted assumptions, unsupported
modelling inputs, unscientific methods used, and many other flaws in CSR’s consultants’
reports. WRATD also prepared ‘kits’ to assist other residents to prepare their submissions,
and a total of 816 written submissions were received by the EPA in response to the EES,
only 13 of which were favourable to CSR.
From October to December in 1997 WRATD was intensely involved in the public hearings
before the Ministerially appointed Panel. Many residents were involved in the hearings:
about 10 WRATD members spent most of their time during these months at the hearings,
and more than 30 residents gave evidence before the Panel. WRATD had decided to treat
the Panel on its merits, and not to use the Panel hearings for campaigning at a public
level. This decision was based on the belief that no panel, no matter how supportive of the
government or how development oriented, could support such a flawed EES report or
such a stupid proposal as this one. It might have been better for WRATD to have been
more cynical and aggressive in its involvement at these hearings.
By the end of the Panel hearings many residents were optimistic that “justice would be
done” and the proposal would be disallowed. WRATD had made strong submissions to
the Panel showing the flaws in the proposal and providing alternatives for safe waste
management. The Panel began its private deliberations in mid-December and delivered
its report at the end of February 1998. To the dismay of the community, the Panel
dismissed community concerns, calling the community “emotional”, and claiming that,
despite acknowledged weaknesses in the EES, the facility would be safe and should be
acceptable to the community.
It was after this shock report that the past 2 years of campaigning exploded into
community action. Until this time the rallies and activities of WRATD had mobilised no
more than about 2,000 residents at any one time. The public meeting held under the
auspices of the City Council attracted over 5,000 residents, with many turned away. The
meeting was furious and strongly urged the Minister to reject the Panel recommendations.
A strenuous month of activity followed to pressure the Minister to reject the proposal,
including meetings, lobbying, protests, and a flurry of media attention. For the first time
many other Melburnians became aware of the issue. Vigils, letters, petitions and a
blockade of the CSR quarry site all added to the pressure on the government and to the
interest from the media. A “community day of protest” involved many thousands of
residents and students in Werribee in activities against the proposed toxic dump, including
an arts display in shop windows, the opening of an “action centre” for sending letters and
faxes to politicians, a youth concert in the street, and the rapid expansion of the ‘core
group’ of WRATD from the initial 30 or so to nearly 100.
It was at this time that the Premier, Mr Jeff Kennett, entered the fray and gave
unequivocal support to the CSR proposal, despite growing evidence of his own lack of
knowledge of the issues involved. In several radio interviews the Premier appeared foolish
in his ignorance of the waste proposal, but this did not stop him from publicly committing
his government to supporting it.
Even at this stage many residents were hopeful that the Minister for Planning, whose
responsibility it was, would not approve the proposal. This confidence was heightened by
parliamentary assurances from the Minister that he would wait for the EPA policy to be
released and would abide by that policy. In view of the significant input WRATD had to
this policy, there appeared to be good grounds for hope. At a meeting with the Minister he
acknowledged that he was not bound by the Panel and that “Panels sometimes get it
wrong”. It was perhaps the penultimate expression of political cynicism when, 24 hours
after the EPA issued its policy recommending in favour of properly designed repositories
(and hence against “dry tomb’ landfill), the Minister gave approval for the Werribee toxic
dump, simultaneously giving approval to the Niddrie contaminated soil landfill (also the
source of strong resident opposition) and recommending a 5-year extension of
Tullamarine (despite the fact that Tullamarine’s “imminent” closure was the rationale for a
new facility in the first place!).
Werribee residents first learnt of the decision from the media, and immediately responded
with a call for a public meeting the following Monday evening (4 days after the
announcement). At least 15,000 people attended the public meeting, held at the local
racecourse because no other local venue would have been adequate, and a further 5,000
or more were estimated to have turned back due to the traffic jams and lack of space
inside. This unprecedented turnout was an irrefutable expression of the strength of local
opposition to the CSR toxic dump. It was also a total vindication of the strategy and
massive amounts of work done by WRATD in the previous two years.
For the two years prior to this WRATD had been urged by several members to consider
how far they were prepared to go in the event of the Minister approving the project. While
various possibilities were raised, limited attention was given to the development of a “postapproval”
strategy until March 1998. From this
time on, however, considerable

to just such
a strategy. At the “Community
of Protest” a ‘blockade’ of
CSR site was organised, not only as a protest action, but
as a preparation
for more
in the future.
At the large, 15,000-strong
meeting in May, a motion
put to support pickets
of the site
to prevent any construction
or operation
of the
This was strongly supported by acclamation
and cheers,
and by pledges
support from
the meeting.
From Protest to Resistance
The campaign took a qualitative shift beyond the formally acceptable submission writing
and protest activity: a move from protest to resistance. This was possible because
WRATD had retained its credibility throughout the previous period and clearly had full
community support for escalating its campaign. The resistance phase of the campaign
would, from this moment on, provide the backdrop for any discussions, lobbying and
government planning. The full strength of the Werribee opposition was now becoming
apparent. WRATD could have taken a resistance posture early in the campaign, but this
could have been dismissed as a bluff. However, when 15,000 people at a public meeting
vote unanimously to endorse pickets, and residents show their determination through their
organising efforts (a picket report was prepared in July to show the extent of preparations
for the pickets) it is not easily dismissed as a bluff. WRATD decided within the first few
months of its existence that any ‘threats’ or promises made by WRATD would be based
on a genuine belief that WRATD could deliver on such threats or promises. Hence, the
development of the picketing strategy was left until it became absolutely necessary, and
obvious to the whole community that this might prove the only way that Werribee could
protect itself from the proposed toxic dump.
A subsequent meeting to organise a picket committee, at which 30 to 50 people had been
expected, resulted in 150 residents attending, all anxious to stop the dump and willing to
assist with the organisation of pickets. A series of working groups were established and
community pickets could be called at very short notice to stop any trucks or construction
workers from entering the site. The public support of Trades Hall for the campaign, and
the union decision not to cross community picket lines, added a further dimension to the
problems facing CSR and the government.
During this phase of the campaign the pressure on CSR has also been escalated.
Appeals to shareholders, boycotts of products and appeals to industrial waste producers,
were all designed to put pressure on the CSR Board of Directors. Part of the appeal to the
Board was based on the lack of profitability entailed in a proposal encountering this much
opposition. A report was prepared showing the financial problems of the proposal,
including the shrinking market for toxic dumping. Pressure on the government, including
regular protests outside or inside functions attended by them, continues. In addition,
WRATD members continued working to develop the repository designs required for the
alternative technology as well as working with planning organisations and authorities to
develop more effective locational criteria for storing toxic waste. While it would be totally
defensible to argue that it is the government’s and industry’s responsibility to provide such
alternatives, the proactive strategy of WRATD moved beyond such an approach, and
WRATD may prove instrumental in stimulating “world’s best practice” for industrial
prescribed waste management.
During the federal election campaign WRATD developed a National Policy Outline for
Hazardous Waste Management which was subsequently endorsed by the Australian
Democrats and Greens, by most environmental groups, including the ACF, Environment
Victoria, the NSW Environment Council, and by the Victorian Town and Country Planning
Association. The policy is gaining support from the ALP and may become a major aspect
of future developments. Earlier in the year, in June, WRATD had obtained 96,000
signatures (obtained in less than 4 weeks) on a petition to the federal Minister for the
Environment, Senator Hill, calling on the government to protect the Werribee wetlands. A
bus load of children and parents, sponsored by local schools and businesses, delivered
the petition to Canberra. This high-profile event was partly aimed at emphasising the
federal nature of the toxic waste problem, in order to lay the groundwork for a national
policy proposal.
In its strategy to “outflank” CSR on all fronts, WRATD not only mobilised the community to
provide a ‘last line of defense’ on the picket lines, but also placed great pressure on the
powers supporting the CSR toxic dump. However, in the final analysis it might be
WRATD’s efforts to simultaneously stimulate alternative technologies for storing toxic
waste and alternative principles for locating toxic waste facilities that had CSR completely
surrounded, with no way out except surrender.
The WRATD experience over the past few years underscores the need for perseverance,
dedication and determination. In addition, a solid strategy, which moved beyond the
expected forms of protest, proved invaluable in the creation of a high level of community
respect and media credibility. The expertise that was mobilised from within the Werribee
community provided a solid basis for WRATD’s concerns and claims. But underlying the
success of the campaign was a community determination to prevent the toxic dump from
proceeding, no matter what level of resistance was demanded to achieve this. As CSR,
industry and government came to understand this, and to recognise that there would not
be a toxic dump in Werribee (or anywhere else if WRATD proposals are taken seriously),
they had little choice but to develop contingency plans for the management of such waste.
On November 13, 1998 CSR withdrew its proposal, sold the site (below market value and
at significant loss) and left the Kennett Government without any contingency plans.
WRATD members, apart from enagaging in substantial community celebrations,
approached the Premier with a proposal to establish a ‘task force’ to develop a suitable
solution, based on WRATD’s alternative proposals. In February 1999 the Government
announced the establishment of the Hazardous Waste Consultative Committee, with
broad terms of reference (including those proposed by WRATD) and with one of
WRATD’s chief organisers as a member.
Although the victory is far from complete, the growing community opposition in other
urban areas to the establishment of such landfills, and the growing opposition in
Lyndhurst/Cranbourne to the existing prescribed waste landfill in that region, are
maintaining pressure for substantial improvements in Victoria’s hazardous waste
management procedures.
Ironically, the Government most willing to impose a toxic dump on Werribee may yet
become the Government with Australia’s best hazardous waste management policies as a
direct result of the Werribee campaign.
Want to know more:
This Case Study was written by Harry van Moorst of the Western Region Environment
Centre (WREC) in 1999.  If you’d like to know more about the Werribee Toxic Dump
campaign contact WREC at: (03) 9731 0288 or
You can also find out more about WRATD at:
EES Report, 1997, Western Waste Management Precinct Prescribed Waste Landfill and
Composting Facility, Main Report, prepared for CSR by Woodward-Clyde, June 1997.
EPA, 1998, Zeroing in on Waste: Pathways to Cleaner Production for Victorian Industries,
April, 1998.
EPA Information Bulletin No. 448, Sept. 1995.
Panel Report, 1998, Report of a Panel – Amendment L107: Werribee Planning Scheme;
Environmental Effects Inquiry: CSR Western Management Precinct; EPA Works Approval
Application No. WA31982, 27 February 1998.
Van Moorst, H. (1998) “Toxic Dumps: Planning Failure and Community Success” in Shaw,
K. Planning
, People’s Committee for Melbourne, 1998.
WRATD, 1997, In Defense of Our Families, Our Community & Our Environment:
Submission to the Review Panel for the Wests Road Prescribed Waste Landfill proposed
by CSR, prepared by Werribee Residents Against Toxic Dump, 11 August, 1997.
WRATD, 1997, Putting Our Lives On Hold: Impact of Prescribed Waste Landfill Proposal
on Residents in Westleigh Estate, a survey of residents and landowners in the Westleigh
Estate, September 21, 1997.
WRATD, 1998, CSR: A History of Environmental Vandalism, March, 1998.
WRATD, 1997, Toxic Threat to Werribee Wetlands, Submission to International Ramsar
Committee and Australia Minister for the Environment.



The present business scenario has witnessed manifold changes in the manner in which decision are taken and policies implemented. Keeping the growing awareness of the consumer in mind, a corporate house cannot afford to decide a business policy in haste which can render a negative impact upon the society. The profitability of business thereby no longer remains the sole and major focus of management, as ethical attributes have also started demanding equal consideration. The case proposes to understand one such instance when the community benefit was considered flippantly and sugar and building materials giant company CSR decided to dump its toxic waste in the suburb of Werribee. Though the company was backed by the regulatory body approving its action of toxic waste dumping in the suburb, both the parties had to surrender in front of the pressure exerted by the resident committee of Werribee. In order to understand the role of community in fighting back the influence of political bodies, the theory of community engagement is applied along with communication and stakeholders’ theory. The article aims to examine the role of these theories in practical world while establishing the interrelationship between them which when leveraged in the proper manner helps in accomplishing the prime objective. The backdrop of Werribee toxic dumping case is considered in testing and establishing the importance of these theories in practical issues.



The Case of Werribee Toxic Dump

The economic crisis in the present day business world has led the marketers to shove the ethical dimension of business to the farthest corner, such that the focus of business seemed remotely related to the welfare of its shareholders. In such a scenario it becomes indispensable for the stakeholders to strongly voice their opinion and impose the change which they belief is ethical and takes into consideration the welfare of the society at large. The case of Werribee toxic dump is one such instance wherein effective use of communication and community support acted as the catalyst for change which reinstated the power of citizen in fighting with dignity for their society and demanding justice (Waldron, 1993). An individual, being an integral part of a socio-business community is capable of bringing in measures of improvement in the existing system by addressing the concerns at a very local level. The communal fight of the people against CSR and the government, against their decision of toxic dumping would not have been successful had people were not gathered for educating and motivating against the wrong doings of CSR. It was indeed through engagement of the entire community and their relentless commitment in deriving justice that they were capable of exerting pressure onto different regulatory level and attain success. Servicing the community in this context has helped in learning not just the issue but also the manner in which it needs to be resolved and thereby emerge as a harbinger of change (Howard et. al, 2007).

There is little doubt that the role of community engagement is critical medium which is effective in improving the existing system and bringing in constructive changes in the policies and practice of management. It is through the inherent power of the community which strengthens the mass and led them towards action which is effective in driving in local changes. As evident from the Werribee case, it has been argued that the benefits delivered through community engagement was truly helpful in resolution of their issue and deliver quality solution to the problem of toxic dumping. At the same time one cannot fail to ignore the strong sense of community which provides the requisite thrust for implementation of the favorable policies in a more favorable manner, such that even the powerful regulators need to abide by. Though the depiction of a true community still remains vague, these are considered some of the vital aspects considered in the case of any initiative related to community engagement (Carlisle, 2010).

Notwithstanding the multifarious benefits derived through cooperative engagement of the community people, the downside of this practice also demands consideration. The attributes like lack of trust amongst the community members acts as a major determent in driving results (Swainston & Summerbell, 2008). Apart from this there exists an increasing risk that powerful organizations like CSR will develop the tendency of monopolizing these groups by fulfilling their need in terms of financial and infrastructural aid. Such development defeats the purpose of community engagement in welfare of society at large. Further as a community consists of diverse partners, each with a varied background and exposure might display antagonistic traits, which makes it all the more difficult in building the consensus while maintaining their focus towards the goal. Overcoming such challenges emerged another tool which in the present context seems to effectively address the issues with diversity of opinion. There is little doubt that media and communication are considered one of the most effective agents in interrogating regulatory bodies for their unethical actions.

In fact, communication and rhetoric seemingly played a crucial role in fighting against the toxic dumping case. It is the medium of effective communication which has the innate power of shedding light even to the remotest corner of deadlocks and uncertainties. It has therefore been rightly argued that rhetoric forms an importance part of policy making, owing to its capability of projecting the issue in a manner which can influence various people towards cooperative decision making (Duffy, 2010). Communication therefore is one such medium which helps in presentation of the ideas which can lead towards alternative solution of a specific problem. Unless the opinion is voiced and debated upon, discovering the truth and other feasible alternative seems like a remote possibility. It was through proper channels of communication that citizens of Werribee resident committee were capable of highlighting the issue and demanded justice which led them towards their collective success.

At the same time the communicative process also attests the fact that society many a times fails to support the individual and constricts his route for achieving their objective (Duffy et al., 2004). Voicing the concern is seemingly the most practical approach which ensures that citizenship is not put at any unnecessary risk. Communication rhetoric has the potential of directing the people towards the wrong doing and drives them into action; however it tends to avoid detailing an issue which might be sensed as insensitive or has the capability of igniting fear or resistance amongst the public at large. Such an approach if on one hand is suitable in managing the difference of diverse people of the community; on the other hand it tends to withhold certain information which can prove useful in the process of collective decision making.

The Werribee toxic dump has re-established the importance of stakeholders in challenging decisions of both management and regulatory bodies in case of unethical practice. It was evident from the case that when the community engagement resolves to fight against their right and ethical issues, even powerful agencies can be easily surmounted and broken by their collective pressure of demanding justice. Community, which is one of the major stakeholders in a business setup, possesses the innate power of bringing forth an action against the entire management of a company like that of CSR, when they fail to perform their minimal duty of caring for the stakeholders (Freeman 2004). It is essential that any decision company undertakes are ethical in nature as it tends to affect the stakeholders, who are one of the major pillars of the organization. Irrespective of stakeholder being a critical part of organizational decision making, there is a major limitation when the stakeholder theory is followed for decision making.

Owing to the ambiguity of the foundation of stakeholders it tends to limits its role when it comes to representation of the company’s relations and contracts which as observed are the source of conflicts. In order to sort that out it is essential that maximization of interest of every group is taken care of. As argued by Friedman (2006), management should assess the organizational purpose on the basis of ethical attributes, based upon which they should act. The ethical approach is thereby considered as a moral responsibility of the management towards the society in which they function. Though in practice, there does exist significant gaps in implementation of a complete ethical approach and distinguishing good from evil at every stage of business decision making. Irrespective of challenges and gaps, it is essential that an organization of repute like CSR do not haste in determining something as serious as toxic waste dumping. At an individual level the business house might be relenting significant power so as to influence the regulatory body in favor of the dumping policy, however, when the forces of community stand for justice against unethical practices, no force can deny them from justice. The attributes of community engagement, stakeholder value, and role of communication and rhetoric which has been debated by various theorists have depicted their role in this case; not just in providing justice but also in reinstating the relevance of such concepts and their interrelationship. The collective power is so strong that it has the capability of creating a political change not just a local level but also at national and international level.




Changing dynamics of business has brought in major changes in the manner in which a company operates. A corporate house can no longer afford to strengthen its bottom line unless it vows to adhere to ethical attributes of doing business. This is because the growing awareness of the consumers and the development of community have created such powerful forces that it can challenge the unethical practices of any agency. At the same time collective power of such community is so strong that it can shake the regulatory body not just at a local level but also at a national and an international level. The article attempted in using the theories like community engagement, communication, stakeholder and ethics in understanding their collective impact in influencing a business decision making process and in driving actions in practical sense. The relevance of these theories was tested against a backdrop of Werribee toxic dumping case which marked a major success of community effort against the unethical practices of CSR. It became clear from the Werribee’s case that while making a business decision, it is essential that the welfare of the society is given due consideration. Corporate houses should also ensure that their policies doesn’t forget the ethical aspects of business and keeps the significance as well as the importance of stakeholder in mind.




  1. Carlisle, S. (2010). ‘Tackling health inequalities and social exclusion through partnership and community engagement?’, A reality check for policy and practice aspirations from a Social Inclusion Partnership in Scotland. Critical Public Health
  2. Duffy, S. (2010). ‘The Citizenship Theory of social justice: exploring the meaning of personalisation for social workers’, Journal of Social Work Practice, Routledge
  3. Duffy, S., Casey, J., Poll, C., Routledge, M., Sanderson, H. and Stansfield, J. (2004) ‘Introduction to Self-Directed Support’, In Control Publications, London.
  4. Freeman, R.E (2004). ‘A Stakeholder Theory of Modern Corporations’, Ethical Theory and Business, 7th edn.
  5. Friedman, A.L. and Miles, S. (2006). ‘Stakeholders: Theory and Practice’, Oxford University Press
  6. Howard, P., Gervasoni, A. and Butcher, J. (2007). ‘Implementing a University Paradigm for Effective Community Engagement’, Australian Association of Research in Education
  7. Roberts, R. W., Mahoney, L. (2004). ‘Stakeholder Concept of the Corporation: Their Meaning and Influence in Accounting Research’, Business Ethics Quarterly
  8. Swainston, K., and Summerbell, C. (2008). ‘The effectiveness of community engagement approaches and methods for health promotion interventions’
  9. Strangio, P. (2001.). ‘No Toxic Dump! A Triumph for Grassroots Democracy and Environmental Justice’, Pluto Press

10. Waldron, J. (1993). ‘Liberal Rights’, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge


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