29 August 2023

Reform urged as indifferent ACT Government accused of letting community councils wither

| Ian Bushnell
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Mick Gentleman standing outside the Legislative Assembly

Planning and Police Minister Mick Gentleman won’t turn up, says Weston Creek Community Council chair Bill Gemmell. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

The ACT’s community council system may be in peril with at least one deciding to go it alone without government support and another accusing the government of ghosting it and blocking access to directorate officials.

Both the Molonglo Valley Community Forum and the Weston Creek Community Council are proposing a new system of district directors or ‘champions’ within the bureaucracy to engage with the public and representative district committees.

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In a letter to his community, WCCC chair Bill Gemmell said the community council consultation model between the government and the nine ACT Districts is clearly broken and should be reformed or replaced.

Mr Gemmell said the system was withering due to government indifference and a shrinking volunteer base.

He said MLAs, officials and ministers, particularly Mick Gentleman and Yvette Berry, ignore invitations to attend the public meetings which the councils are mandated to hold.

“Most recently, we now find government directorates denying council office holders access to the telephone numbers of officials in directorates, making the simplest of inquiries a journey through a proverbial labyrinth of shared email boxes,” he said.

“This is both time-consuming and frustrating.”

Councils were being provided with half-baked proposals from government, especially the recent Planning Reform Process, but were expected to respond in ever-diminishing timeframes and responses that countered the government’s agenda were often ignored.

“Perhaps a better consultation model could involve a ‘district champion’ being appointed within government to manage engagement, including organising periodic town hall-style meetings. This could be bolstered by the formation of a district advisory committee to advise on defined issues,” Mr Gemmell proposed.

Mr Gemmell told Region that he hoped the government would take notice of the increasing community frustration.

“Are we into good government and listening to what people think, or have we [government] decided what’s good for the people?” Mr Gemmell said.

Molonglo Valley Community Forum has decided it is no longer tenable to participate in the community council model in its current format and won’t be seeking renewed funding, reverting to being an incorporated association funded by membership fees and community donations.

In a letter to Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Chair Ryan Hemsley echoed Mr Gemmell’s concerns about absent MLAs and ministers, a lack of engagement and support, and the drain on volunteers to keep things going.

He said Molonglo community members had believed the Forum under the community council model would provide a voice to government to get things done, but the experience had been disappointing.

“It has become clear to the MVCF that the support for the community council model is limited, and consequently, so is the effectiveness of community councils as far as meaningful community engagement,” Mr Hemsley said.

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Mr Hemsley proposed that an ACT Government Districts Office be established within the Chief Minister’s office with District Directors running stakeholder engagement and an ACT District Planning Advisory Group made up of representatives from the nine Canberra districts.

He also said community councils should not be used as platforms for people to launch their political careers.

Mr Hemsley argued for the Molonglo Valley to be treated as a distinct district in its own right instead of being lumped in with Weston Creek or Woden Valley.

The ACT’s nine community councils receive $12,800 a year in government funding and are required to hold nine community meetings a year.

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Community Council Presidents/Chairs push their own agenda, not the Communities who are ignored. These people want to be placed in these more high powered paid positions who will continue to push their own agenda, not the communities abusing rate/taxpayers monies that they are already doing with government funding that they’re getting. I hope the Government doesn’t listen to them who will run their own monthly public forums with no gagging, abolish these old unqualified community council committees/subcommittees who have caused devastating problems. Communities complain about them not covering all topics to questions, to fix them

Mick Gentleman is just a lazy seat warmer, and Labor/Greens voters are happy to return this ineffective person at each election

Leon Arundell3:29 pm 29 Aug 23

The Chair of the Molonglo Valley Community Forum is also the Chair of the Canberra Public Transport Association (PTCBR). PTCBR is so rabidly pro-tram that it does not support bus rapid transit (BRT), even though the ACT Government estimates that BRT – at less than half the cost of light rail – would provide more than 90% of the benefits of light rail. The Chair of the Weston Creek Community Council is also a PTCBR committee member.

There’s a conflict of interest

There’s definitely a gap between the power and engagement of the various Community Councils. When I lived back in Tuggeranong, I attended a few community meetings and just before an election a few MLA’s turned up with armed with some empty promises and pretend engagement. The community council members were falling over themselves about the local members and wouldn’t dare ask a probing question. Tuggeranong council were a bit too environmental not community focused.

The inner south community council when attending over the last decade definitely has more effective members and connections at all levels of government.

Agree with Gemmel and Hemsley. Something needs to be done, the current model isn’t working equitably across the entire city.

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