The ACT government’s search for new ways to both talk to voters and short-circuit their contact with traditional media has taken a new step with the YourSay community panel launch this week.
The panel is a further attempt to connect directly with voters, part of a long and sometimes tense stand-off between the government and many local media outlets.
In 2018, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said that he “hated” journalists and had little time for Canberra’s traditional mastheads, which he believes appeal mostly to older consumers. The speech, made privately, was secretly recorded and then published in the Canberra Times.
Mr Barr later apologised for the vehemence of his statement, which made news headlines nationally. But he’s been firm about his intentions to resource and deliver communications change inside the government.
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Mr Barr said at the time that he wanted to communicate directly with voters, “not through the filter of journalists, and particularly through the filter of print journalists, which is a dying industry”.
Mr Barr also called for more video and creative content to “completely sweep aside the reputation that Canberra has for being bureaucratic and dull”.
The government’s argument is that in a relatively small city, some voices are heard more clearly than others, distorting communications between the government and its citizens. Mr Barr has said repeatedly that the ability of some sections of the community to organise and protest outstrips a more evenly balanced viewpoint from the city as a whole, particularly with regard to development and change.
The Opposition has countered with assertions that the government seeks to avoid being held to account by local media and would rather avoid scrutiny.
There is an existing YourSay online engagement platform where Canberrans share ideas and can have their say on ACT Government projects and initiatives. The YourSay community panel expands the concept: the government says “it will also allow us to test new ideas with a statistically representative sample of the Canberra community”.
Participants will be emailed on what the government says is an occasional basis, asking if they want to participate in an online survey or discussion. The government says they want as many Canberrans as possible to join the YourSay Community Panel “to ensure our community’s diversity is reflected in the feedback we hear.
“Input we receive through the YourSay Community Panel will help shape the policies, programs and services that make Canberra a great place to live,” a statement says.
“We want as many Canberrans as possible to join the YourSay Community Panel, to ensure our community’s diversity is reflected in the feedback we hear.”
The panel is open to any ACT resident aged 16 years and over and requires users to volunteer demographic details. There’s a carrot in the form of a chance to win one of five $100 e-gift vouchers each time a panel member participates.
The demographic details turn out to be a fairly lengthy series of questions, ranging from age and suburb to whether you have interacted with the government in any way during the last 12 months, what best describes your gender, your current living arrangements, a description of your employment, whether you own a business, what your income range is, whether you have always lived in the ACT, where you lived before and your areas of interest (although there is a “prefer not to say” option for each).
You can sign up for the YourSay community panel at yoursaypanel.act.gov.au.
Will you share your information with the government?