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Survey Design: Democracy fails as fig trees fall

For over two years, supporters of Save Our Figs worked to preserve 14 large fig trees in Newcastle’s cultural precinct, opposite City Hall. In the months before the trees were removed, some local media represented the protesters as an unruly rabble.

Coppice Research conducted a survey, both online and paper-based, to identify the reasons people sustained their protest.

This was partly to try out a new kind of survey and partly to gain research evidence about this community group. The Final Report is available here.

The survey worked well. People 18 to 65 responded with a total of 201. Results showed there were more women (73%) than men (27%) and the 45-54 years age group was the most numerous. Supporters of this campaign were also very active across a wide range of sporting, environmental, service and cultural groups in the community. They were a mainstream, not a fringe group.

A surprising finding was that, alongside demands that a city forest be protected, there was equal concern about the lack of democratic process. Supporters were very critical of the way that Council met in secret and made decisions that lacked transparency and evidence-based decision-making.

The 2012 survey made visible Save Our Figs supporters’ concerns about local government and drew attention to the need for reform. Two years later, the findings are more broadly relevant.

In 2014/2015 the findings of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) lead to the resignations of two local members of the New South Wales State Parliament and the local Lord Mayor. Local communities continue to lose public amenities while the need for reform of local democracy is not heeded.