Doing democracy differently: the new Victorian Local Government Act

The introduction of the new Victorian Local Government Act provides a really powerful opportunity for us to consider how we do engagement and democracy differently, and better.

The requirement for councils to undertake deliberative engagement on key council plans and budgets has generated some concern in local government about what it will mean and how the requirement should be implemented. Answers to these questions will become clearer over the coming months as councils start to develop the approach that best suits their needs and those of their community.

However, the introduction of the Act also represents a significant opportunity for us to reconsider what it means to be a citizen, what our responsibilities are, and to improve the community’s influence on matters of importance.

Deliberative processes, such as citizens’ panels, participatory budgeting and 21st Century Town Hall meetings, are robust processes that empower randomly-selected, representative community members to consider complex issues on behalf of the broader community.

When done well, they involve the open sharing of balanced information, provide sufficient time for a deeper exploration of the matters at hand/options available, and facilitate the development of a consensus response that provides more meaningful, constructive community involvement in decision-making.

Like all engagement processes though, there are limitations and challenges to deliberative processes. The most significant being their exclusive nature. Only a small number of people are involved, and there are costs involved in terms of organisational resources, consultant fees and participant stipends (which are needed to ensure a representative sample of the community participate).

In terms of challenges, encouraging the participation of a genuine cross-section of community cohorts and not just those with strong views and a sense of entitlement is the most significant. This is particularly the case with younger adults, culturally and linguistically diverse community members, and first nations peoples.

“The introduction of the Act represents a significant opportunity for us to reconsider what it means to be a citizen and to improve the community’s influence on matters of importance.”

Nicola Wass

Director - Communications and Engagement



So, how can we work together to deliver better decisions that genuinely reflect the range of community views and the interests of the community? How can we improve trust in Government and the participation of politically disengaged and under-represented community members in community decision-making?

There is a compelling argument that reconsidering our responsibilities as citizens is one such way. Citizens and permanent residents have an obligation to vote in federal, state and local government elections: it’s an obligation that the majority of us embrace. We also have an obligation to undertake jury duty - to work together with other jurors to come to a consensus decision on behalf of the rest of the community.

Let’s extend these obligations as citizens to include participating in engagement processes that influence government decision-making when randomly selected to do so. Let’s establish a community expectation that we should all participate when selected. That we all have a legitimate voice and something valuable to bring to decisions that affect the community. And that our rights as citizens come with the responsibility to actively participate in community decision-making processes.

The introduction of the Local Government Act is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for changing how we think about community participation and how we can do things better.

To discuss how you can best leverage the opportunities the new Act provides for you-particularly in the current climate where community connection is more important than ever-please get in touch!



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