Queanbeyan-Palerang Community Voice

Goals

What is Community Voice?

The Community Voice group originally grew out of the rural residential communities in Wamboin and Bywong, with a view to encouraging participation in local government matters.

The Queanbeyan-Palerang LGA now comprises a unique mix of rural, rural residential and urban settlement that is not seen anywhere else in NSW. Our new Council will be defined by the way in which we address the needs of this diverse population.

Some needs are more obvious than others—roads need to be maintained, rubbish needs to be managed, water and sewerage services need to be provided in our urban areas.

The unique needs of many individual communities, however, are not so easily identified or satisfied, and setting priorities when resources are limited can be a thankless task. Directing resources to one locality without disenfranchising another involves a constant juggling act that demands active engagement from all concerned.

Our Objective

The fundamental objective of the Community Voice team is to continually improve the way that Council engages with individual communities within the Queanbeyan-Palerang region. The aim is to give all communities a genuine voice in local government matters that affect them.

From the outset, the platform for the group has been supported by three pillars:

  • community engagement
  • a culture of service
  • transparent governance

Community Engagement

Regular interaction with the community, at various levels, was the basic tenet of the group. This naturally feeds into the other two pillars of service and transparency.

Since our involvement with council, we have seen a significant improvement in the way council communicates, particularly in the way it is able to respond to the needs of different sectors within the broader community. Exercises like directed surveys, project information meetings with affected community groups and general community engagement forums became a standard element of council’s communications program.

It is heartening that we have come a long way on this front over the last 10 years or so. The state-wide introduction of the Integrated Planning & Reporting system for councils, back in 2011, now provides a formal framework for community engagement. Operations within NSW councils must now be aligned with a Community Strategic Plan that articulates the priorities that communities have set for their respective councils.

The Community Voice team will continue to actively drive this process of engagement.

A Culture of Service

A service culture derives as much from individual attitudes within an organisation as it does from actions. If charity begins at home, then the place to start building a culture of service is within Council.

This can be a challenge for small and large organisations alike. It can be even more challenging in an environment where there are limited economic incentives to maintain or improve service standards. Either way, the culture of an organisation is invariably driven by the behaviours of its board, in our case the Council, and its executive management team.

It is therefore important that the Council sees itself as a role model for the council organisation. If the Council becomes embroiled in internal disputes, ideological or otherwise, the performance of the entire organisation will suffer.

Council is not like other levels of government. There is no government or opposition as such. There are just eleven elected representatives who must work together in the service of their community.

All members of the Community Voice team are actively engaged in delivering service to their respective communities. We will bring this attitude of service to the new Council.

Transparent Governance

Transparent governance is really just one critical aspect of the whole community engagement process and, indeed, it is also embraced by the Integrated Planning & Reporting system under which councils must now operate. Council must not only make good decisions, it must be seen to make good decisions.

We are never going to be able please everyone, nor will everyone even agree with the justification provided in setting particular policies or making particular decisions. It is nonetheless essential that the factors that underpin Council’s policies and decisions are debated openly and articulated in such a way that it is clear to the broader community that they are reasoned and consistent.

The Community Voice team is committed to a sound and transparent process of decision-making.

What's it all about?

Democracy

Democracy is about government by the people, exercised through elected representatives. Because the people are the primary source of political power, democracy comprehends social equality and respect for the individual. But it doesn’t mean that individuals or specific interest groups (noisy or not) can get their demands elevated above the requirements of the majority. What those requirements are, demands close and constant communication with the people to ensure (a) we know what they want and (b) they know what we can realistically provide.

Governance

Being closest to the people—the “retail” level of government—QPRC should be entirely focussed on the services typically provided by local government to the majority of its residents. The less it strays from the basics, the more its resources can be directed towards that end and the less need there will be for unwanted rate increases. This will demand a cooperative, non-partisan concentration on what is best for the majority of residents, leaving the adversarial sparring to federal and state politics. Decisions of local government should not be driven by ideology but by a consensus of the eleven councillors on what best serves the needs of our community.

Amenity

Against that background, the role of local government should be to ensure, as far as possible, that residents can live their lives in the peaceful enjoyment of their domestic and commercial surroundings. Development and amenity are linked but should be undertaken with the amenity of citizens firmly in mind. The greater good is not subordinate to development for reasons only of private gain.

Infrastructure

Local government’s direct influence on the way people live safe, happy and healthy lives also carries through to the essential services it provides: primarily roads, bridges, potable water and waste management. It also provides a range of social services that are directed towards more generally improving the quality of life in the region. These services, while contributing to the social capital within our communities, need to be kept under review to ensure that they remain relevant and do not unnecessarily drain resources away from the provision of essential services.

Ongoing Communication

Please visit our blog, The Voice for comments on specific election topics, and Pete's QPR Blog for the style of communication that we have used to help bring our Council closer to the people it serves.

26-07-2017