31 May 2023

Community councils funding safe, says government

| Ian Bushnell
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Chief Minister Andrew Barr in the Legislative Assembly

Chief Minister Andrew Barr may not be a fan of community councils, but the government says it will not cut their funding. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The ACT Government has denied it is about to axe funding to Canberra’s community councils in the June Budget in retaliation for their stance on the planning reforms and third-party appeals.

Rumours have been circulating about the funding, but a government spokesperson said the current arrangements would continue.

The spokesperson said a total of $102,568 is available to Canberra’s eight community councils each financial year, divided evenly among them, with each receiving $12,821.

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The ACT Government, through a deed of agreement, provided each community council with funding to support community participation in council activities and services, communicate to government the views, expectations and concerns of community members, and hold community meetings that are open to the public and publicly advertised.

Speculation has been rife that the government has been positioning to defund the eight community councils by attempting to cut them out of the conversation or at least reduce their relevance and influence.

In recent times, the government has expanded its consultation methods to reach beyond the “usual suspects” who traditionally make the most noise about planning and development issues.

City Renewal Authority CEO Malcolm Snow set the tone when he took up the role in 2017, telling Region the challenge in Canberra is to engage a broader cross-section of the community in the urban renewal discussion.

“Too often in cities, it is often a very vocal minority that tends to take the centre ground,” he said.

The government has increasingly deployed more digital tools to reach more people, particularly younger residents. These include the YourSay website and online surveys, as well as holding pop-up stands on the ground.

But the government’s approach has been labelled sham consultation, including allegedly massaging Listening Reports to reflect more positive responses.

One council chair says it is well known that Chief Minister Andrew Barr is not a fan of community councils, which continue to be a thorn in the government’s side.

“He is pretty incensed about some of the ACAT appeals on public housing,” the chair said.

The ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal has thrown out a series of approved supportive housing proposals in the inner south at the instigation of the Griffith Narrabundah Community Association, a member of the Inner South Canberra Community Council.

The Association supports more public housing but says the government should not be trying to build projects that do not comply with the planning rules.

The community councils fear the planning reforms will create a looser system that will result in a development free-for-all which will change the character of neighbourhoods and reduce green space.

The government denies this, but it is seeking to make it easier to provide much-needed housing, particularly in established suburbs, which Mr Barr calls “gentle urbanism”.

Removing roadblocks, including community group appeals to ACAT in certain issues or avenues, such as applications for Controlled Activity Orders are in the government’s sights through the Planning Bill that will be up for debate in June.

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The funding is not a great deal of money and the volunteer councils remain significantly outgunned but the speculation reflects the lack of trust between them and the government.

The eight community councils are Belconnen Community Council, Gungahlin Community Council, North Canberra Community Council, Inner South Canberra Community Council, Weston Creek Community Council, Woden Valley Community Council, Tuggeranong Community Council and Molonglo Valley Community Council.

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William Newby8:15 pm 01 Jun 23

Of course Barr will forcibly remove any funding and voice that dares to challenge the Dear Leader.

Housing ACT is and should continue to be subject to the same provisions of the Territory Plan as other developers. If Housing followed the rules they would not be challenged in ACAT.

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