Freo's View

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ESSENTIAL FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Posted in city of fremantle, community, democracy, local government, Uncategorized by freoview on August 4, 2017

 

Unlike federal and state government local government is unique by the fact that there is no opposition party in local councils.

There is no shadow front bench, party rooms, whips, or leader of the opposition, so all elected members at local government have a conscience vote on every issue, something we often wish would be the case more at the two other forms of government.

Local government has no oposition, and practically that means that the community becomes the de-facto opposition. That sounds like very good grassroots democracy to me, as long as the community is willing to engage in the process, and that often is the problem.

For a local government like Fremantle Council to perform at its best exceptional community consultation is essential, but that is difficult to achieve because of community apathy.

You can take a horse to water but can’t force it to drink, and that is the case with community consultation where most people don’t bother to engage.

To make local government work community input needs to be pro-active rather than re-active, and it is essential that the elected members treat community input like a discussion in a political party room, with all the respect it deserves.

Unfortunately most people don’t even vote at council elections, let alone engage in the process of consultation, so it is often left to a few who polarise issues and are against most things council decides. That kind of negative engagement is not helpful and divides the community, and both sides are to blame for that.

I believe it would be helpful to get a better understanding of how council works by having regular monthly meetings with community groups, as is already done at the more active precincts around Fremantle.

It would also be helpful if more people attended council meetings, but I have no idea how to achieve that, unless we do live streaming, so people don’t have to leave home to witness the democratic council process.

FICRA, FRRA, the Fremantle Society, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. should all be part of the deliberations and debate and have an input. Not just on one off occasions, but as a matter of monthly routine.

If council engaged earlier and more intensely with the community, a lot of the re-active negativity could be avoided, and positive outcome based dialogue could be had with the community.

That would result in the community being part of the solutions and taking ownership of the issues at hand. It would no longer be us and them, but all of us together shaping the future of Fremantle.

I believe Freo is capable of that kind of mature debate and would love to see it implemented.

The community apathy is happening in most councils in Australia and is not specific to Fremantle though.

While the inevitable future local government reform and council amalgamations might result in more cohesive and effective administrations, there is no guarantee it would result in better community embracing governance.

It could be an interesting project for Notre Dame University students of politics to find creative ways of how to improve local government, how to improve community participation, and how to improve voter participation at council elections.

It is worthwhile to think about this and find ways of accommodating change and progress while respecting our unique city and its history.

Roel Loopers

2 Responses

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  1. freoview said, on August 4, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Yes I agree in parts with that Paula, as Friends groups are important to get a real local perspective, but the danger is that there sometimes is extreme parochialism and not in my backyard attitudes.

    I believe though with proper facilitation that can be overcome, but that probably requires an outside facilitator so it does not become an us and them situation where councillors and staff become defensive about their projects and community groups don’t become too aggressive and negative. It needs maturity and trust.

    Roel

  2. Paula Amaral said, on August 4, 2017 at 10:33 am

    You are right in saying that there is a lot of community apathy in dealing with the City of Fremantle, but there are also lots of community groups, and I’m thinking of the “Friends of” type of groups, who want to engage better with the City but are not allowed to do so. As a member of one such group, I can say from past experience that often community members find themselves pushed out of decisions that will affect them directly, simply because bureaucracy gets in the way. “Friends” groups tend to live locally, and want to improve and look after their area. But they often feel the City does not understand or value that connection enough. Ah well there’s always room for improvement and this is definitely one area that needs it.


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