Engagement with, and accountability to, the community is at the heart of the new Local Government Act 2020. Its implementation should transform the relationship between the Council and its community.
As the local government election looms (October 2020) current and potential Port Phillip Councillors would do well to take a look at the Local Government Act 2020 (Act). It’s all about community.
An objective of the Act is that Councils are accountable, transparent, collaborative, efficient and engaged with their communities.
It is a principles based Act - rather than one of prescription. This means that our Council is bound by principles which it must implement with the community engaged in decisions.
It is an Act that makes achieving the best outcomes for the community a defining priority, and insists Councils must take into account impacts from decisions on future generations. An Act that demands genuine community engagement and decision making. An Act that requires public transparency. An Act that centres services on the needs of the community and expects they will be provided equitably.
The Act says the role of a Council is to provide good governance for the benefit and wellbeing of the community according to the Overarching and Supporting principles (Section 9 of the Act) that ask Councils to:
prioritise the best outcome for the community including future generations
promote economic, social and environmental sustainability, including mitigation and planning for climate change risks
ensure community engagement in strategic planning and decision making
pursue innovation and continuous improvement
collaborate with others, particularly Councils
provide ongoing financial viability
take account of regional, state and national plans in strategic planning
be transparent in decision making
However, the most exciting shift, with the potential to transform how Councils deliver, is the Act’s expectation that Councils realise these principles through Community Engagement.
Engagement with, and accountability to, the Community is at the heart of the new Act.
Council must develop a community engagement policy in consultation with the community (Section 55 of the Act) by March 2021.
The Act defines the Community Engagement Policy as including deliberative engagement practices which are capable of being applied to the local laws, the budget proposal, policy development and the development of the community vision, council plan, financial plan and asset plan.
The Policy must also describe the form of engagement having regard to the significance and complexity of the matter the level of resourcing required as well as specifying a process for informing the community of the outcome of the engagement.
Community engagement principles require that the process is clearly defined and represents people affected by the matters, that participants are given objective, relevant, and timely information, provided with reasonable support to enable meaningful and informed engagement, and advised of the ways the community engagement will influence Council decision making.
A booklet prepared for Local Councils by MosaicLab defines Deliberation as follows:
‘Deliberation is a long and careful consideration or discussion. Public deliberation, when used with the term ‘democracy’ describes a group of everyday people considering relevant facts from multiple points of view, identifying options, and coming to a group decision. The deliberative group is randomly selected through an independent process that ensures they are descriptively representative of the demographics of the general population.’ https://www.mosaiclab.com.au/deliberation-victorian-councils
Currently Port Phillip Council conducts community engagement through a range of channels. In the Council Plan that was revised in August 2020 they listed the following: Council websites, social media, advertisements, surveys, pop up conversations, targeted focus groups, focus workshops and targeted conversations.
Questions for the community: Are the current consultation approaches sufficiently representative, informative, and effective? How do they influence Council decisions? What does the Port Phillip community want from deliberative engagement? How can current engagement be improved? What is the most effective way for us to be engaged in decisions? When and what do we want the deliberative engagement process to be used for?
This short piece highlights the principles that now govern the way our Council should work. There is much more detail in the Act but the principles of governance, if carried out well, will give the community the opportunity to be truly consulted and engaged in what our Council provides our community. The implementation of these principles is challenging and their implementation should change the relationship between the Council and the community.
If this transition is to be successful it is imperative that we understand the Act’s requirements and are willing to participate in engagement and decision making.
For those wishing to get into the detail of the Act: https://www.localgovernment.vic.gov.au/council-governance/local-government-act-2020