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Libs defend Community Council system

By Charlotte Harper - 18 November 2015 20

Nicole Lawder

The Canberra Liberals have attacked Chief Minister Andrew Barr over comments he made earlier this month about the territory’s district community councils.

The ACT Government funds seven community councils, in Belconnen, Gungahlin, North Canberra, Inner South Canberra, Woden Valley, Weston Creek and Tuggeranong.

The councils are voluntary, not-for-profit, community-based associations and currently the peak community representative bodies for their districts.

Addressing a Public Accounts Committee Hearing on November 4, Mr Barr dismissed “the idea that a community council is in any way representative, given that most of the attendees are of one particular gender in some councils and, again, way out of connect with the demographic distribution of people living in particular regions”.

Member for Brindabella Nicole Lawder (pictured) said the councils played a vital role promoting democracy and citizenship in Canberra.

“It’s a put-down to the members of these councils who volunteer their time and energy standing up for their region of the ACT,” she said.

“Community Councils play a fundamental role in promoting and engaging in grassroots democracy. I can speak for the members of the Tuggeranong Community Council for whom I deal with regularly; they are proud advocates for the community.

“Mr Barr’s position is also highly hypocritical given the government provides resources for the councils.

“The Canberra Liberals believe in greater representation and the vital role of community councils.”

Andrew Barr has responded to the criticisms, acknowledging the role community councils play in providing an outlet for people to discuss issues in their area and have an input into public policy development.

“However, the vast majority of Canberrans do not attend meetings, nor receive their information, so we must find more ways to engage with the community to ensure we hear get a representative range of voices,” he said.

“The Government is committed to improving our communication with all Canberrans. It’s important therefore that we look at new measures to engage with individuals across different age groups by utilising a range of communication methods and forums.

“Our focus on improved consultation isn’t about replacing old engagement methods, but about also using other methods.”

Do you receive communication from your district community council? Do you feel they represent you and your community? How could they communicate better with residents in your area? Let us know in the comments below.

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20 Responses to
Libs defend Community Council system
rommeldog56 4:55 pm 21 Nov 15

John Hargreaves said :

It is a simple fact that the Community Councils are NOT representative, are NOT engaged with their communities, ARE controlled by political interests………

As one observer has said, the demographic of Councils is usually older than is healthy for organisations which should have a good spread of age groups, gender and employment expertise. Not to have it so is to invite NIMBYism.

Are Not Representative ? : Anyone can stand as a member. Anyone can attend meeting and put a view forward. The office holders are voluntary. If they are seen as not “representative”, then that is more a failing of the community to contribute.

In any event, arguably, the ACT Labor Government is also not “representative” either as they rely on the Greens to hold Government. Nor do elected members of the ACT Legislative Assembly or the Federal Parliament necessarily “represent” the views of their constituents either – they usually vote along party lines.

So, coming from an ex Labor Legislative member, the claim that Community Councils are not “representative”, is a bit rich.

Older demographics & Nimbyism : Its really up to the Community to engage – as posted earlier, some are trying but have limited resources. I would encourage everyone to contact their community council (via websites ?) and join an eMail mailing list – its a start to engaging. Tuggeranong Community Council has one and sends out newsletters if you subscribe. “Nimbyism” – again, that claim continues to be used where there is any opposition to anything – particularly about development. What rubbish and quite frankly, its an insult to those who are working in a voluntary capacity to help the community.

Community Councils can be critical of ACT Government decisions – particularly on planning. The ACT Government is now attacking the source of that, in this case by their proxy. Expect to see more of this sort of unhelpful contribution in the run up to next years Legislative Assembly election.

miz 11:16 am 21 Nov 15

John, I understand that there was a problematic ‘old guard’ at Tuggeranong Community Council but they moved on some years ago. I attend from time to time and certainly there can be problems – eg it is now dominated by a person who bangs on about the lake all the time. But it is worth going because you also find out about stuff and engage with representatives.
I note that of all the MLAs who attend, the ALP MLAs are far less inclined to turn up. Sure they might get asked a few hard questions by constituents, but that is because THEY are the government – they are supposed to mingle with the hoi polloi, not just hear what they want to hear from their own toadying sycophants!
It seems to me that one of the huge difficulties facing Councils is that the roles are voluntary yet highly demanding – and people are generally time poor, so it is a huge commitment mostly based on good will and a fervent motivation to prevent the local community from being overlooked or bullied. Oftentimes the Council is the only recognised group taking a stand about certain crap government decisions and its (unfortunately now standard) faux ‘consultation’ style. This is because a large proportion of the community do not personally have time to take a stand or make a submission; and have learned that if they did, ‘what difference would it make, they will do it anyway.’
It appears that this government is hell bent on getting rid of the Community Councils because, inconveniently, they sometimes disagree with the government!

JC 10:44 am 21 Nov 15

Paul Costigan said :

Any good government depends on listening to all sources but should not just use terms of inequity, such as ageism, to reject views it disagrees with. It is time for our governments to be transparent and openly encourage a range of voices and participation in honest debates.

Ever stopped to think that they do listen to you, but don’t agree. Just because you have something to say doesn’t mean it is representative of the community as a whole, and doesn’t mean the government should do as you say and if they don’t they are useless, not transparent and every other thing you accuse them of in your posts.

Paul Costigan 7:45 am 21 Nov 15

Dear John

Your public persona as the positive ambassador for Tuggeranong has just been damaged – by your own words. I suggest you should not view everyone else through your bad experiences locally.

As I said earlier, there are many people of various age groups putting in many hours to represent a set of views back to this current government. Sadly this government does not like to hear alternate views and so slams the messengers instead of dealing with the message.

Planning does dominate. Why? Because this government is constantly throwing stuff their way to deal with. And from my observations the council members are deluged by people wanting something done about planning. I often see these representatives bailed up at shopping centres by residents wanting to talk to someone – anyone – about planning issues.

Any good government depends on listening to all sources but should not just use terms of inequity, such as ageism, to reject views it disagrees with. It is time for our governments to be transparent and openly encourage a range of voices and participation in honest debates.

A good government does not try to close down debates and does not use their hollow men to smother residents with spin – as this ACT Government does so often.

dungfungus 1:36 pm 20 Nov 15

John Hargreaves said :

I was a member of the Tuggeranong Community Council for nearly 20 years and left because of a number of issues. One was that contrary to its then constitution, it was dominated by a particular political party, even thought those around then will deny it.

Another was the lack of involvement by the general community. Most meetings were attended by the Executive, their supporting families, a couple of MLAs and their staff and supporters, a few visiting reporting individuals like someone from the Police or TAMS or Planning, and about three or so non connected members of the community at large.

the Executive was elected democratically but no-one knew that the elections were on so most positions were filled unopposed by the same people year in and year out.

apart from hearing from the Police and some bureaucrats, the business of the TCC was generally around planning or road issues. it rarely made pronouncements or recommendations to government about such things as domestic violence, education quality, community safety, employment opportunity or economic development.

They just complained about planning decisions and road quality, including criticising the construction of roundabouts and traffic lights.

In essence, it was boring.

At one time there existed in Canberra Community Councils and they received money from the Government to do consultation processes, venue hire, newsletters and the like. Also existing at the time were LAPACs, (Land and Planning Advisory Councils (or committees, I’m not sure) which received money from another part of Government for its community involvement.

The LAPACs were dissolved and their raison d’etre transferred to the Community Councils which were already operating in the planning space. Both sources of funds went to the Community Councils.

It is a simple fact that the Community Councils are NOT representative, are NOT engaged with their communities, ARE controlled by political interests and ARE focussed solely on planning matters.

As one observer has said, the demographic of Councils is usually older than is healthy for organisations which should have a good spread of age groups, gender and employment expertise. Not to have it so is to invite NIMBYism.

If Councils want the community to engage with them, they need to have a good long look at themselves and fix the insular and inward looking malaise that they have , get rid of political influence and start using the media opportunities for pleading cases to Government in addition to making meaningful recommendations to the Government.

John, I am sure there are many community organisations in Canberra that are dominated by particular political parties. The “Friends of the ALPBC” is a good example.

John Hargreaves 10:06 am 20 Nov 15

I was a member of the Tuggeranong Community Council for nearly 20 years and left because of a number of issues. One was that contrary to its then constitution, it was dominated by a particular political party, even thought those around then will deny it.

Another was the lack of involvement by the general community. Most meetings were attended by the Executive, their supporting families, a couple of MLAs and their staff and supporters, a few visiting reporting individuals like someone from the Police or TAMS or Planning, and about three or so non connected members of the community at large.

the Executive was elected democratically but no-one knew that the elections were on so most positions were filled unopposed by the same people year in and year out.

apart from hearing from the Police and some bureaucrats, the business of the TCC was generally around planning or road issues. it rarely made pronouncements or recommendations to government about such things as domestic violence, education quality, community safety, employment opportunity or economic development.

They just complained about planning decisions and road quality, including criticising the construction of roundabouts and traffic lights.

In essence, it was boring.

At one time there existed in Canberra Community Councils and they received money from the Government to do consultation processes, venue hire, newsletters and the like. Also existing at the time were LAPACs, (Land and Planning Advisory Councils (or committees, I’m not sure) which received money from another part of Government for its community involvement.

The LAPACs were dissolved and their raison d’etre transferred to the Community Councils which were already operating in the planning space. Both sources of funds went to the Community Councils.

It is a simple fact that the Community Councils are NOT representative, are NOT engaged with their communities, ARE controlled by political interests and ARE focussed solely on planning matters.

As one observer has said, the demographic of Councils is usually older than is healthy for organisations which should have a good spread of age groups, gender and employment expertise. Not to have it so is to invite NIMBYism.

If Councils want the community to engage with them, they need to have a good long look at themselves and fix the insular and inward looking malaise that they have , get rid of political influence and start using the media opportunities for pleading cases to Government in addition to making meaningful recommendations to the Government.

rommeldog56 6:53 am 20 Nov 15

dlenihan said :

How on Earth are we going to remove the current incumbents from office. Out of touch and focused on meaningless issues.

After reading report on the most likely outcome of the next election, it disheartens me that the current crop holding the reins will most likely remain.

Like all governments, I feel this one has come to the end of its time and change is needed simply to stop the complacent rot that seems to of set in and bring on some new ideas.

However, for most voters its seems to be Team Red v Team Blue and they will cast their vote along their traditional lines.

Is that a comment about Turnbull & Co or Barr/Rattenbury & Co ? Both elections will be next year.

I suppose it doesn’t matter much re the sentiment though my perception is that things have improved slightly at the Federal level now that Turnbull is in the chair. But it is still the honeymoon period…….

If about the ACT Legislative Assembly, I agree with u re rusted on Labor support here. ACT voters reluctance to send a protest vote to the incumbent ACT Labor/Greens Gov’t is quite frankly, stuffing up this place. The ACT Labor/Greens Government can essentially do what they want – and they know it too.

Bennop 11:45 am 19 Nov 15

miz said :

People involved in Community Councils are volunteers give freely of their time for their local community.
Frankly ageism is unacceptable. Many people find it difficult to volunteer while working full time with family commitments, and the contribution of older people working for their community should be valued.
There is no doubt, however, that it can be difficult to get younger people along to consultations etc (including Community Council meetings), but that is because they either don’t care or are busy with mountains of study and ‘extra curricular activities.’
These days it is harder to engage people generally (of all demographics) because there are so many alternatives to communications. Newspapers are not read by everyone anymore; people hate junk mail; social media is scattered (and you don’t have to be an older person to think ‘Insta-Twit’ [as coined by Dylan Moran] is daft); people choose their own music and TV via podcast and on demand services, so radio is less effective. So I am not sure what Mr Barr thinks would be more effective than a community meeting.

Community meetings have their place clearly, but they aren’t the be all and end all of engagement. The response by Belco community council was encouraging in showing their use of new social media and other ways to engage with those who don’t/can’t attend meetings.

Its important for any “representative” organisation to ensure that it has ways of ensuring it is truly reflecting those it advocates for, rather than just being an echo chamber for those in the loop/room.

dlenihan 11:25 am 19 Nov 15

How on Earth are we going to remove the current incumbents from office. Out of touch and focused on meaningless issues.

After reading report on the most likely outcome of the next election, it disheartens me that the current crop holding the reins will most likely remain.

Like all governments, I feel this one has come to the end of its time and change is needed simply to stop the complacent rot that seems to of set in and bring on some new ideas.

However, for most voters its seems to be Team Red v Team Blue and they will cast their vote along their traditional lines.

Ghettosmurf87 10:40 am 19 Nov 15

While no doubt the people involved in community councils mean well and think they know best for their communities, they are hardly a representative subset of the communities that they claim to represent. It is clear that the demographics of these councils does not bear any resemblance to that of their regions, nor are they elected by the people of these regions to represent them

As with most of this sorts of endeavours, they are the squeaky wheels, the vocal minority. Good on them for making the time to speak up and try to get their way, just don’t claim that their opinions are anything other than their own.

Maya123 10:21 am 19 Nov 15

I find them well meaning people, but it is true they tend to be overwhelmingly older males, with certain set opinions. Same with neighbourhood watch, where is still exists (does it still exist?).
I have only attended one meeting of a local council, which was discussing a housing development. The things the council members were objecting to I didn’t think they were as justified as they were stressing. However I could see another more serious problem with the development and tried to voice it. My comments were ignored, as they kept harping on about height, which I thought was ridiculous, given that where the development was, another storey wouldn’t effect anyone. But apparently this height issue was a bug bear of the group, or at least the dominant members of the group. I never went back. If I had been keener I could have been more persistent with my ideas, but I did respect the time and effort many members put in; time and effort I hadn’t been willing to expend. Besides, being my first meeting, I could have been seen as a ‘blow in’. I do feel that a person needs to attend a few meetings and not come over too aggressively and as a know-all the first time you attend. You need to be known and gain respect.
Anyway, the issue I was trying to raise and that wasn’t getting a hearing, was what the development was finally rejected on. Not the height issue, the group seemed to me to be so fanatical about.

miz 7:26 am 19 Nov 15

People involved in Community Councils are volunteers give freely of their time for their local community.
Frankly ageism is unacceptable. Many people find it difficult to volunteer while working full time with family commitments, and the contribution of older people working for their community should be valued.
There is no doubt, however, that it can be difficult to get younger people along to consultations etc (including Community Council meetings), but that is because they either don’t care or are busy with mountains of study and ‘extra curricular activities.’
These days it is harder to engage people generally (of all demographics) because there are so many alternatives to communications. Newspapers are not read by everyone anymore; people hate junk mail; social media is scattered (and you don’t have to be an older person to think ‘Insta-Twit’ [as coined by Dylan Moran] is daft); people choose their own music and TV via podcast and on demand services, so radio is less effective. So I am not sure what Mr Barr thinks would be more effective than a community meeting.

in_the_taratory 10:18 pm 18 Nov 15

I’m the Chair of the Belconnen Community Council. I thought this would be a good opportunity to let rioters know ways you can engage with us.

The Belconnen Community Council has an active website (www.belcouncil.org.au), a monthly newsletter (just enter your e-mail address on our website to receive it – we’d prefer people opt in!) which details our regular public meetings, and a Facebook (facebook.com/belcouncil), Twitter (@belcouncil) and Instagram (@belcocommunitycouncil) presence. We post to Facebook several times a day and regularly engage with comments.

In 2015 we hosted meetings in the Belconnen Town Centre, Kippax and Jamison. In addition to our public meetings we also hosted public discussion forums, including with the BCS on employment in the Town Centre; with BCS and Belconnen Arts Centre on the Belconnen Town Centre Master Plan; and on the Statement of Planning Intent.

We’re implementing video streaming/recording of our public meetings for those who can’t attend the meetings in person.

We’re always keen to hear how we can better engage with the community. If you have suggestions, please send them to hello@belcouncil.org.au.

Paul Costigan 2:04 pm 18 Nov 15

Full marks to Nicole Lawder for calling out Andrew Barr for making yet another ill-considered statement.

Every time this Chief Minister opens his mouth about dealing with locals he seems to put his foot in it. Doesn’t he have any political minders?

I heard a theory recently that maybe Andrew Barr is suffering from some sort of paranoia about getting old himself, being well and truly on the older side of middle age.

And for the record the government does not ‘fund’ the community councils – which sounds as if they fully finance them. Last time I asked, the annual grant was for $12,000 which is very small when it is judged alongside the huge contributions the council members make through the amount of hours required.

I suspect the annual grant may cover venue costs and a few other admin things – but not much else.

In short – this low level of funding is a very mean amount of money for the advice constantly sought and provided. If the government were to buy such advice on the open market – they would need to add a few more zeros to that figure.

I am planning a post some time soon on the quality of the current bunch of local politicians and their misunderstandings of and disconnect with the electorate.

PS: I am not on a community council executive – but do occasional attend their meetings. They are a hard working and dedicated bunch of people – but, despite Mr Barr’s statements, they are not of one age bracket – and so what if they were?

Bennop 11:41 am 18 Nov 15

I don’t receive communication from my district community council. I have attended one of their meetings and found them to be a very well meaning group of people, overwhelmingly in or near the retired age bracket.

They could provide better updates to their webpage, or invite people to their meetings.

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