UTS Library

Tallebudgera Creek Dam: At what price a life?


Gold Coast Water

PR Company: 

Phillips Group

Award Category: 

Award Type: 

Call Number: 

2007 C6 - 13



Executive Summary: 

The Tallebudgera Creek Dam project demonstrates just how responsive a Council can be to community concerns and issues by changing its decision to better reflect community needs and expectations.

The project team faced a number of complex challenges. Consultation two years previously about the dam upgrade had not resulted in an outcome and there was significant community mistrust in the proposed, new consultation process.

The complex dam ownership and operational issues also posed a challenge. The dam structure is owned by Gold Coast City Council, the water owned by the Department of Natural Resources and the access land owned by two private property owners. Twenty residences are within a 500 metre radius of the dam. Negotiation with the two property owners and primary group of 20 residences near the dam during the consultation process had major political ramifications if not managed correctly. These complexities were intensified by the project’s extremely limited budget which required innovative, budget-conscious solutions to issues management and consultation.

Phillips Group had to build new working relationships, and position the project appropriately in order to regain community trust, participation and confidence that the study would result in actions that supported the community’s dam upgrade preference.

Situation Analysis: 

Originally constructed in the 1950’s, Tallebudgera Creek Dam was one of the Gold Coast region’s earliest water sources. In the early 1970’s, Tallebudgera Creek Dam became redundant as a water supply and was then used for fire-fighting purposes. Due to new federal legislative requirements, an Impact Assessment highlighted the need for an upgrade of the dam. Phillips Group was required to undertake a consultation program that informed, educated and engaged residents and stakeholders on the five engineering options for the dam upgrade, one of which was the removal of the dam. The strategy had to be sure the option selected met the needs of all interested parties. Phillips Group needed to achieve maximum participation from primary residents and the local community in the consultation process and manage their issues and concerns.

The key issues for the project team were:



Impact on reputation

Complex ownership dam

structure, water and land

» The dam structure isowned by Gold Coast City Council, the water owned by the Department of National Resources and the land owned by two residents (a legacy of  planning in the 50’s)

» Consultation process would be extremely sensitive with major political ramifications if not managed correctly

Resident mistrust

» 20 key households around the dam had been consulted two years previously concerning apotential dam upgrade but the project had then not progressed

» Two landowners keen to keep dam and not have it removed

» New consultation process had to be positioned appropriately to rebuild trust and confidence that this study would result in action and that the community’s preference

was supported

Strategic communication was required to manage the varied concerns, issues and expectations of stakeholders involved in this project. Before the project started, the client’s reputation with the community regarding the highly contentious Tallebudgera Creek Dam had been tarnished due to the perception of the Council’s poor communication and consultation.

Phillips Group was charged with the complex task of turning this situation around.


Quantitative, qualitative and desk-top research was undertaken to identify primary and secondary stakeholders and determine the frequency and type of communication required.

This analysis helped the project team identify key opinion leaders and communication channels, as well as shaping project key messages and tactics. Ongoing research, a mail-out survey, focus groups, media analysis and informal feedback from stakeholders, was crucial to determining community dam upgrade preferences and in refining communication messages and tactics.

Target Policies: 

The campaign’s success was contingent on the identified stakeholders being appropriately engaged. An analysis is below:



Communication assessment



Gold Coast City Council

» Information sharing needed to enable

appropriate and timely communication to be disseminated and emerging issues quickly resolved

Elected representatives/Government Departments

and Agencies

Local State and Federal members and various government


» Clear communication essential to ensure project efficiency and consistent communication of key messages

» Information sharing needed to enable appropriate and timely information to be disseminated and emerging issues quickly resolved

» Specific interest in this project, due to the upgrade’s potential impact on the dam’s ecosystem

Primary residents, Secondary residents and Gold Coast Community

20 Tallebudgera Creek Dam primary residents (those who own properties adjoining the dam), 4,300 secondary residents (those who live close to the locality of the dam)

» Primary residents affluent and keen to protect their own ‘piece of paradise’

» Significant resident concern/opposition to the dam upgrade

» Research revealed a high level of distrust and scepticism

» Experienced in consultation and keen for active participation in decision making

» Messaging was kept active and progress driven

» Addressed community concerns regarding project work and environment personally and with empathy to build trust and confidence

Interest and

action groups

GECKO, Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, Environmental and conservation groups » Provided information to ensure groups were fully informed on project progress and impact on dam’s ecosystem


» GECKO consulted by project team to build the credibility of this group among key stakeholders and primary residents


Local/suburbannewspapers, radio and


» Possessed means to communicate news of upgrade progress to other stakeholder groups as well as influence public opinion on the value and need for the upgrade

» Had potential to focus on negative impacts of the upgrade on the dam’s ecosystem

» Local suburban media keen to report on issues underpinned by political agenda

» Required timely, accurate and newsworthy information

Communication Strategy: 

Working within a distrusting, affluent community keen to protect their own piece of paradise, Phillips Group delivered a confidence-building communication strategy focused on maximising participation in the consultation process. The program’s success was contingent on ensuring participants felt ownership of the decisions and outcomes regarding the dam’s upgrade. This was done by providing stakeholders and residents with a number of ways in which to provide input.

The strategic positioning of the project occurred through key stakeholder meetings (elected representative, property owners around the dam, and the local environment groups) about the consultation process and key messaging in collateral. This pro-active engagement, prior to formal public consultation about the design options assisted in building confidence in the process, which invited participation.


The implementation methodology involved a two-year, proactive communication and consultation strategy delivered in four stages:

» Stage 1: Community Confidence Building

» Stage 2: Information and Consultation

» Stage 3: Research (Identifying stakeholders’ decision-making drivers)

» Stage 4: Revisit and redesign of options.

As the campaign’s success was contingent on generating maximum stakeholder participation, providing stakeholders and residents with a number of ways in which to provide input was essential.

Once stakeholders had selected their preferred upgrade options, the project team undertook focus group research to ascertain the behavioural and attitudinal drivers behind their decisions. The focus group participants believed the dam should continue to be used as a water resource for fire-fighting with many commenting “you can’t put a dollar value on a life”. The project team’s tactics were tailored to address the program’s objectives. These tactics are overviewed below:

STAGE 1: Community confidence building




One-on-one meetings

» Letters to 20 households around the dam offering meetings

» Primary stakeholders

» Environmental groups –met with GECKO, Wildlife Preservation Society of Qld and Natural Management (bush re-veg Tallebudgera Creek)

» Introduce project and team

» Begin developing relationships with key stakeholders


» Engender confidence and trust

STAGE 2: Information and consultation


RationaleOutcomeStakeholder meetings -community» Regular meetings with key residents and environmental groups priorto and throughoutconsultation period» Provide information on the options and methods of contacting the team/ provide feedbackAdvertising Five newspaper advertisements in total:» Gold Coast Sun (23/2, 2/3)» Gold Coast Bulletin (23/2, 26/2, 2/3)» Advertise public display dates, locations and feedback mechanisms» Broad awareness ofproject generatedStatement by Councillor Daphne McDonald Initiated by Gold Coast Mail – published 12/2/05» Promotion of project» Build credibility for project

Media release

» Distributed 16/02/05 toGCW to local media

» Generate media coverage

» Key stakeholders informed about the project

» Locals participated indecision making process


» Distributed week of14/2/05 to 4,300 local residents and businesses

» Provide project background, rationale and invite to participateAs above

Public display

» 2 displays held in Feb and March 05

» 80 people attended in total

» Showcase five dam options and provide an opportunity for stakeholders to interact with project teamAs above

Letters to primaryStakeholders

» 20 letters sent on 15/2/05inviting stakeholders toattend information displays

» Personally provideinformation regarding theproject.As above

Website updates

» Continual information updates throughout project life

» Uploaded communication materials (newsletter, factsheets, etc) as prepared.

» Enhance information accessibility, keep project top-of-mindAs above

Community news

» Sent to secondary stakeholders in week of14/2/05

» Provide the latest information on the project’sprogressAs above


» Community open day notice – Gold Coast Sun,26/2/05 and 2/3/05

» Media release distributedby GCW (14/2/05) to localmedia

» Appeared in Gold Coast Sun (2/3/05), Albert & Logan News (23/2/05) and Life Gold Coast (24/2/05)

» Release appeared in GoldCoast Sun (2/3/05), Albert& Logan News (23/2/05) and Life Gold Coast(24/2/05)

» Additional articles in Gold Coast Mail (12/2/05) and Coolangatta/ Tweed Border Mail (12/2/05), Channel 9 Gold Coast (26/2/05)

» Broad messages disseminated to a mass audience» Positive, local coverage generated in various publications.

Display comment forms

» 47 completed at publicdisplay sessions on 26/2/05 and 2/3/05

» Quick, convenient opportunity for residents to

provide feedback

» Feedback mechanisms used to inform and engage the community about Tallebudgera Creek Dam


Fact sheets/ Reply paid survey card

Sent to 4,300 residents on 7/3/05

» 256 responses

» Provide project updates, milestones and communicate key


As above

GCW customer contact centre

» Contact centre managedmost calls, with complex questions managed by the project team

» Provided a communication

channel to the project team

» Issues tracked and monitored to ensure they were dealt with effectively, within a pre-determined timeframe

GCW emails

» Six emails received andresponded to by the project team

» Provided a communicationchannel to the project team


As above

Reply paid facility

» 256 residents respondedto the survey (5.9% response rate)

» Provided a communication channel to the project team– reply paid increased

inclination to respond

As above

GCW customer contact centre

» Reporting issues raised by stakeholders to the project team to aid the development of suitable to address them.

» Stakeholder issues reported and circulated to project team on a needsbasis

» Concerns and enquiries communicated to staff –corrective action taken (ifrequired)

» Key messages, protocolsand refined strategy and evaluation methods

Meetings between Philips Group and project team

» As above

As above

Development of risk

management matrix

» As above

As above

STAGE 3: Research (Identifying stakeholders’ decision-making drivers)




Focus groups x 3

» Survey respondents

targeted to participate.

» Uncover the underlying attitudes to dam upgrade 

STAGE 4: Revisit and redesign of options

No communication activities undertaken during this stage.Re design of options undertaken by project engineers.Recommendations adopted by council.


Stage 1 transformed a sceptical and distrusting community to a community, willing to participate in the consultation activities of the subsequent stages. Through frequent, positive one-on-one meetings with the key residents and environmental groups, confidence and a genuine relationship were fostered that provided a solid foundation for the rest of the campaign.

Stage 4 built on the relationships established in the subsequent stages and also of the impact of the statement ‘you can’t put a dollar value on a life’ to achieve an amalgam of the two community-favoured upgrade design options. The amalgamated design was adopted byCouncil. This outcome was very well received by the community and effectively demonstrated to them the benefits of participating in the process.




1: Illustrate design options
and components for dam
upgrade and ensure the
community’s views/
concerns are heard/considered in the decision making process

Evaluation Status: ACHIEVED

Media analysis revealed design option coverage was balanced and positive and contained at least one project key message
Quantitative research into 259 survey responses and 47 comment forms for the design options revealed:

» Community safety as their highest priority (46.4%)

» Environment was the highest or second highest preference

» Majority did not support removal of the dam.

These preferences were supported by the project team.

2: Obtain community input
on the chosen upgrade option

Evaluation Status: ACHIEVED

» The community’s input on the preferred options for the
upgrade enabled Gold Coast City Council to endorse the redesign of two options supported by the community and give approval for construction to commence.

» The result is a dam upgrade that meets Australian design requirements for extreme weather events.