Community Engagement – Without Community Input

Newcastle councillors are being asked to adopt a Community Engagement Policy without even putting the document on public exhibition, according to Newcastle Greens councillors.

The council will be considering the draft Community Engagement Policy and Community Engagement Framework at tomorrow night’s Newcastle City Council meeting.

“It’s a sad reflection and indictment of where this council is at with community engagement” Newcastle Greens councillors said.  “Council’s own 2012 Community Survey revealed that residents want more involvement in council decision-making and they want to be better informed. Instead, since that survey was published, the doors of public engagement with council have been closing” Greens councillors Therese Doyle and Michael Osborne said today.

“The people of Newcastle have told us they want to know more about what council is doing and they want meaningful input into the city’s affairs. Yet this council still isn’t listening and has significantly decreased the avenues through which residents can have an input into council decision-making This council has intensified the use of secret meetings and cut avenues of communication to and from the community.” Cr Doyle said.

“If we are serious about engaging with our community, we should be making sure that residents are notified when their neighbourhoods are affected by council decisions” said Councillor Osborne.  “Decisions like selling off the council-owned plot of land on Glovers Lane at Cooks Hill, or the development approval of yet another McDonalds outlet in Mayfield East have a direct impact on the health and well-being of people living nearby, and council did not bother to inform them” Councillor Osborne pointed out.

“One of the mechanisms residents have to influence council debate is through the institution of ‘Public Voice’, which is held in the council chambers once a month and where members of the community have the opportunity to address council on a variety of issues” Cr Doyle said.

“The conservative dominated Council recently voted, on a recommendation from council officers, not to hear the concerns of a local explosives expert about the danger presented by massive stockpiles of ammonium nitrate at Sandgate and Kooragang Island, despite the fact that a representative of Incitec Pivot, which is planning to store large quantities of this chemical on Kooragang Island, had already addressed a closed council workshop” Cr Doyle said.  “It is now very clear that public right to address this council has been severely curtailed” .

“While Newcastle City Council officers have worked hard to address the Council’s previous commitment to community engagement, the draft document provides only the broadest commitment to communicate with residents. It is short on specifics on how we as a council are going to provide genuine mechanisms through which the community can effectively participate in council decision-making” Cr Osborne stated.

Newcastle City Council dispensed with its Community Forums in 2009 and has not replaced with any similarly effective communication mechanisms. We need to look seriously at establishing structures that will allow community groups to come together to have a two-way dialogue with council; in a way that is respectful of their needs and allows them to be real partners in council’s functioning. We want more than lip-service on community engagement” proposed Cr Osborne..

“At the very least, the council should begin by asking the community what they think about the proposed Community Engagement Policy and Framework! To adopt these key documents without doing that will simply expose the council to community ridicule” say Greens councillors Doyle and Osborne.

For more information, contact Therese Doyle on 0434 257 892  or Michael Osborne on 0439 442 984

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