Legislative Assembly “debate” on Community Councils 17-11-15
Extract from DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY FOR THE AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY DAILY HANSARD, Edited proof transcript 17 November 2015
This is an EDITED PROOF TRANSCRIPT of proceedings that is subject to further checking. Members’ suggested corrections for the official Weekly Hansard should be lodged in writing with the Hansard office (facsimile 02 6205 0025) no later than Friday, 27 November 2015. Answers to questions on notice will appear in the Weekly Hansard.
For the corrected version (when it becomes available), go to http://www.parliament.act.gov.au/hansard
Discussion of matter of public importance
MR ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Dr Bourke): Madam Speaker has received letters from Dr Bourke, Mr Coe, Mr Doszpot, Ms Fitzharris, Mr Hanson, Mrs Jones, Ms Lawder, Ms Porter, Mr Smyth and Mr Wall proposing that matters of public importance be submitted to the Assembly. In accordance with standing order 79, she has determined that the matter proposed by Ms Lawder be submitted to the Assembly, namely:
The importance of community councils in the ACT.
MS LAWDER (Brindabella) (4.27): I am pleased to talk about the important role that community councils play in the ACT. We know that they are an important part of our community. There are a number of community councils obviously throughout the ACT and the one I am most familiar with, of course, is the Tuggeranong Community Council. There is also the Woden Valley Community Council, the Gungahlin Community Council and community councils in Weston Creek, the inner north, the inner south and Belconnen. There are quite a range of community councils.
It was disappointing recently to hear the Chief Minister disparage the role of community councils in the ACT because community councils represent a wide range of Canberrans. They have people of all genders, all ages, all ethnic backgrounds involved, and I know that because I go to a number of community council meetings.
During the annual reports hearing on 4 November this year the Chief Minister said:
The idea that a community council is in any way representative, given that most of the attendees are of one particular gender in some councils and, again, way out of connect with the demographic distribution of people living in particular regions, is another example of where communication and consultation need to be much broader.
In essence, the Chief Minister was saying that community councils are not representative or particularly useful in their contribution to debate on planning and other matters in our community.
Community councils have a number of successes under their belt, and I point out that they are run by volunteers. These are people who give up their time and effort in order to improve our communities. There is an old saying that if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. These are people who are trying to be part of a solution. It is very disappointing to see their tireless efforts being run down by the Chief Minister.
This is not the first time. Unfortunately, the ACT Labor government has a bit of a history of community council bashing. Back in 2012 in this place then Labor backbencher Mr Hargreaves called the Tuggeranong Community Council an old persons club and referred to its members as a geriatric mob, nothing but a self-help group that he “would not touch with a barge pole”. That was pretty unfortunate, and even more unfortunate is the fact that Mr Barr is continuing that history of badmouthing community councils. It is plain to see that this ACT Labor government is not supportive of community councils and the work they do and does not value the contribution that they make.
When I attend regular meetings of the Tuggeranong Community Council I see the fantastic work that they do and try to do, sometimes against the wishes of the government, on behalf of Tuggeranong residents. The aim of the Tuggeranong Community Council is to provide a coordinated voice for issues affecting the Tuggeranong Valley, and it represents a wide range of residents in Tuggeranong.
One achievement that the Tuggeranong Community Council is very proud of is the decision of the federal government Department of Social Services to stay in Tuggeranong. I know my federal colleague Senator Seselja lobbied hard for that, but the Tuggeranong Community Council certainly played its part in that decision as well.
The Tuggeranong Community Council also lobbied for a greater CIT presence in Tuggeranong, because approximately 75 per cent of students at Woden came from Tuggeranong. Now there is going to be a CIT in Tuggeranong, on Anketell Street, and a lot of that is thanks to the tireless lobbying of the Tuggeranong Community Council.
It is also an example of how community councils are effective at representing and advocating for a wide range of people in the ACT.
I am not familiar with all the community councils in Canberra but I am sure they all have their role to play in representing the views of a diverse range of people. I have been to the Woden Valley Community Council, for example. They have done a lot of work in lobbying government departments to stay in the Woden area. We heard today about an announcement in that regard.
Community councils are closely involved in planning consultations. The Tuggeranong Community Council has been very much involved in the clean-up of the lake, Lake Tuggeranong, and lobbying for wetlands or other solutions to the problems we have seen in Lake Tuggeranong.
More recently Glenys Putulny was elected president of the Tuggeranong Community Council. Beverly Flint is one of the deputy vice presidents. In relation to Mr Barr’s comment about gender, I am not too sure exactly what he was referring to because, from my experience of the Tuggeranong Community Council, the Tuggeranong Community Council does have a range of genders represented, as are the people who attend the council meetings, which, incidentally, are held on the first Tuesday of each month at the Southern Cross Club in Tuggeranong, if you would like to go.
Many of our Assembly colleagues have attended those meetings. It is hard to understand why they then denigrate the importance of them. Many times I have heard members of the Labor government talk about how they consulted with the community councils. An example earlier this year was when we talked about the closure of Tharwa Drive. One of the defences that the government put up was that they had consulted with the Tuggeranong Community Council. It appears to be one of those things where the government want to have their cake and eat it too. They denigrate councils when it suits them and they use councils to support their argument when it suits them.
We value the role of community councils and think they play an important role. The ACT government provides funding to the seven community councils across the ACT, which are Belconnen, Gungahlin, north Canberra, inner south Canberra, Woden valley, Weston Creek and Tuggeranong. Recently there was a review by the Auditor- General of community funding. I do not understand why, if this Labor government feel that community councils are not contributing and are not fulfilling the role they are supposed to through their funding, the government would keep funding them if the they truly believed the councils were not fulfilling an important role in our community.
It is one of those things where you are trying to have your cake and eat it too.
We value the role of community councils. We are always attending community council meetings so that we hear the views of residents. I think many members of the Assembly value the role of community councils and I am sure do not agree with the views that were expressed by the Chief Minister during the annual reports hearings. I believe that community councils provide a valuable mechanism for representing and advocating the views of everyday Canberrans. They are volunteers who are out there doing their bit, trying their hardest to make our communities better places. I think there have been many successes that we can point to where they have done that.
Perhaps some councils are not as effective as others. I can only base my views on the ones that I have attended. But it is much better to listen and to go and talk with people who are willing to play their part than it is to always hear those people who want to harp, complain and whinge without actually playing a role in trying to achieve something and make communities better. That is what community councils are trying to do. That is what the volunteers who become the executive, the committee, of community councils do. They have a genuine desire to make Canberra a better place, most especially their own local region.
More recently I have seen a number of Labor and Greens candidates suddenly starting to turn up to community council meetings. Those candidates must either believe that there is value in community councils or they have been directed to go there by members of their parties for some reason. Again, if you believe they are not useful why are you going to those meetings?
Mr Coe interjecting—
MR ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Order, members!
MS LAWDER: They even preselect people who have been—
MR ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Ms Lawder, please address your remarks through the chair.
MS LAWDER: I beg your pardon?
MR ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Please address your remarks through the chair.
MS LAWDER: Who was I talking to? I am sorry. I was a bit thrown by that—who I might have been speaking to at the time. Yes, there has been a person preselected who I believe is a chair of a community council. I am sure that person was a bit taken aback by the Chief Minister’s remarks as well.
I believe the councils play an important role in our community. Most especially I believe the Tuggeranong Community Council do a great job in representing the views of their members and the wider community. They have a number of subcommittees, such as an environment one, a transport one and a health and community one. Again, they are all led by volunteers and they undertake enormous hours of work in order to try and represent the views of the community and improve their own communities.
I congratulate those people who are part of community councils. I hope they continue doing that work and do not become discouraged by the words of the Chief Minister. I commend the work of community councils throughout the ACT.
MR GENTLEMAN (Brindabella—Minister for Planning, Minister for Roads and Parking, Minister for Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations, Minister for Children and Young People and Minister for Ageing) (4.38): I thank Ms Lawder for bringing this matter of public importance here today. Canberra is developing into a vibrant capital city, becoming one of the most livable and prosperous cities in the country. As Minister for Planning I hope to see Canberra further mature into a sustainable and more innovative city. Engagement and consultation with the community, I am proud to say, is essential to the work of the Environment and Planning Directorate and, indeed, all functions of the government.
We all know that we have one of the most educated and engaged communities when it comes to planning our city. During the year consultation has occurred on the following projects in my portfolio: the statement of planning intent, the Woden town centre master plan, the Mawson group centre master plan, the Belconnen town centre master plan, the Curtin group centre master plan, the Calwell group centre master plan, the eastern broadacre study, the city and Northbourne urban design framework, the ACT freight strategy and the low emission vehicle strategy. Community councils have made an important contribution to all of these consultations, and continue to do so.
However, it is vitally important that we seek the views of the widest range of Canberrans in demographics, location, age and gender if we are to build a city that is for all Canberrans. Whilst we value the role that all community councils play in the planning of this city, we cannot rely only on their views to guide the city for the future.
No better evidence of this can be found than in the statement of planning intent which outlines the five-year plan for our nation’s capital. The statement is now available online at www.planning.act.gov.au and sets out the short, medium and long-term actions to deliver the best planning outcomes for Canberra.
Throughout a period of six weeks in March to April we were in contact with over 170 members of the community and key stakeholders. This was achieved through workshops, online surveys and feedback forms. Of these, over 120 stakeholders attended six workshops to provide feedback surrounding the statement of planning intent.
We have also been able to successfully harness social media to receive responses from numerous constituents across the ACT. These responses provided by members of the community allow us to address their concerns and update our proposals based on the community’s feedback. We have received steady support for the statement with consistent messages on the importance of urban renewal and place making, prioritisation of the planning framework, pursuit of innovation and, more simply, just to get on with the job of delivering outcomes-based planning options.
We also carried out extensive consultation with several community councils regarding what developments the local community would like to see in the future. Some of the councils who participated in the statement of planning intent workshops were, of course, the community councils around the city, including the Belconnen Community Council, the Gungahlin Community Council and the Tuggeranong Community Council.
I make particular mention of the young planners session we had. It was aimed at engaging them in quick rounds to extract their ideas, their vision and how to make where they live better. These young people are the future of our city, and the decisions we make today are the ones that they will have to live with. We must engage with them in a way they want to be engaged and we must continue not only to hear their ideas but to put them into action. That is what the statement of planning intent has delivered, and only because we engaged in such a diverse range of groups and views.
Leading up to the current proposed town centre master plans we always survey our local constituents. We discuss the relevant proposals and vision for these town centres to gather local intelligence and feedback to our initial plans. Discussions, of course,
also involved vast consultation with community councils regarding the master plans for Belconnen, Curtin and Kippax, to name a few.
Prior to the release of the light rail network plan in recent weeks extensive consultation was carried out across all Canberra on the light rail network as it will be built as leading infrastructure. In addition to discussions with these local community councils, we also contacted a wide range of constituents. These included academics and researchers, government agencies, other community groups, both the young and the elderly, and business groups. Some of the groups contacted included the Housing Industry Association ACT, the Heritage Council ACT, ActewAGL and several CSIRO organisations. We continue to engage through our consultations in the community and online, closing on 11 December this year, for that process.
Perhaps the work of the Tuggeranong Community Council is what I am most familiar with, and I was pleased to hear Ms Lawder’s comments on the council earlier. I mention their engagement, in particular their work on the Tuggeranong waterway program including detailed, continuing studies with Waterwatch, their work on the activation of Anketell Street and Tuggeranong town park, their efforts with footsteps to follow, their support for the Tuggeranong CIT and the walk-in centre and, of course, their great support for Southquay as well.
I am committed to building a sustainable city with a high quality of living. These developments require consultation with community councils, the youth and elderly,
businesses, students, researchers and many other stakeholders. I want to genuinely engage with the community to build a conversation that ensures that Canberra remains the world’s most livable city.
Every group mentioned has a unique and creative view which is relevant to the future of Canberra. By extensively engaging a large demographic, we are able to obtain a more diverse response about the town centre master plans, the light rail network and, of course, the statement of planning intent. The only way to get the broad community knowledge surrounding Canberra’s future is to address and contact all of our constituents, which allows us to receive feedback from all Canberrans.
While of course we value the role of the community councils and the work they continue to do throughout the year, I make no apology for drawing on those in our community beyond the community council structure. Governments must reach out to those who may not naturally step forward to put their views. We must ensure that we capture the hopes and ideas of all Canberrans if we are going to realise the potential of our very bright future.
MRS JONES (Molonglo) (4.45): I want to add a few comments on this matter of public importance around the suggestion that the community councils are unrepresentative. While I understand that the councils have a certain type of person on them, I do rate them for the effort that they put in. In the last few years I have seen regular surveys of their areas. They seem to get a reasonable response from people about the prioritisation of the issues that have been raised and they add other issues and concerns. I think they are very good bodies. They add concerns to the agenda that could easily fall off the agenda of politicians, who perhaps develop agendas that are different, for various reasons.
I particularly want to add a couple of comments about the community councils that I have been involved with or had a close association with. Attending community council meetings has not always been easy for me as a candidate or even as an MLA.
They are not there to make me happy. They are certainly there for very specific outcomes for their community, and I think we are better off for their work and voicing their views.
The Weston Creek Community Council has been around since 1991. It has voiced the needs of the Weston Creek area for some time. I thank the council for its continuous involvement in local issues. Present position holders and generous volunteers include Tom Anderson as chair, Pat McGinn as deputy chair, Jenny Adams as secretary, Chris Wilson as treasurer, and Max Kwiatkowski, Janice Paull and Shelby Schofield as committee members. Many people I meet throughout the community have also been involved in the past. These people raise issues about green space, sporting facilities, road infrastructure needs, public amenities, community meeting places, environmental management, local shop upgrades, TAMS funding, waste disposal, parking and public transport. To me, those are fairly straightforward needs of the community.
The Woden Valley Community Council’s chair and publicity officer at the moment is Martin Miller. The deputy chair is Mike Reddy, the treasurer and publicity officer is Bill O’Brien, the secretary is Archana Boniface, the minutes secretary is Timoshenko Aslanides, and the committee members include Jenny Stewart, Chris Erett and Julian Fitzgerald. They engage widely across Woden seeking comment from the community.
In particular, they are currently pursuing local needs regarding parks, parklands, car parks, ovals, development, the arts, graffiti concerns and facilities for youth and our aged.
I look forward in the upcoming era to also, potentially, be working with the Tuggeranong Community Council. Formed in 1983 and now with over 100,000 residents in Tuggeranong, I think the community council have been working continuously. I remember attending their meetings during the 2010 federal campaign when I stood for the seat of Canberra. They are known pretty well by businesses, residents, schools and community groups, and many of those people benefit from their hard work. I thank the current position holders and principal volunteers—president Glenys Patulny, vice-president Wayne King, treasurer Max Flint, vice-president and publicity officer Beverley Flint, secretary Paul Nichols, minutes secretary Tom Lindenmayer, committee member Darryl Johnson, and all the past volunteers.
I thank those councils in my electorate. We know that the Gungahlin Community Council has done a lot of work over the years and has been led by people with a variety of very strong political views at times. Good on them. Those people put in the hours and they did not get paid. They did not get much of a pat on the back, but they were doing what they believed in. I put on record my thanks to them. They should keep going. If they annoy people in the Assembly, they are probably doing their job.
MR BARR (Molonglo—Chief Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development, Minister for Urban Renewal and Minister for Tourism and Events) (4.50): I welcome the opportunity to talk a little about community councils today. They certainly can play a part in government’s engagement with the Canberra community, particularly on future planning, city resilience and sustainability issues.
To be effective, community councils in the ACT must operate as apolitical organisations that provide a voice for the community on issues affecting particular regions of the ACT at a grassroots level.
As we have heard, there are seven community councils in the territory—Gungahlin, north Canberra, Tuggeranong, Weston Creek, Woden Valley, Belconnen and the inner south community council. They can play a role in helping to inform policy development and program delivery, and to provide community feedback through the planning process, as well as working together to strengthen community spirit by organising events, festivals and activities.
However—and this is the point that I was making in the annual report hearings when I was asked a question about ways to improve community consultation—the point needs to be made that consultation with the community must adapt to people’s changing preferences. This does not mean scrapping old forms of consultation, but it does mean being open to new ways to engage and communicate.
I made the point in the annual report hearings that there is a place for community councils as a form of community engagement, but that was only one form and it could not be the only form. Mrs Jones hit on a very important point in her speech, observing that, from her own experience raising a young family, it was not always easy to get to meetings. That was the exact point that I made in my comments to the committee. The times are not family friendly—
Mr Hanson interjecting—
MR ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Order, members!
MR BARR: I quote from Hansard:
It is incredibly important that community engagement is more reflective of the community at large. That means, in particular, there is a need to find new ways to engage with working age families who, for obvious reasons, will not be attending public meetings during dinner time or putting-the-kids-to-bed time, and younger people who have no interest in hanging out in those sorts of meeting environments but who want to engage with government in different ways.
There is a real need—and I repeat this—to broaden consultation. I make the point, as I did in the annual report hearings, that there is a place for community councils, but it is not the only form and it should not be the only form.
Ms Lawder made an interesting observation in her comments about the issue of engagement with the Tuggeranong Community Council about a road closure. It was very clear from that process that just engaging with the community council was not sufficient. That reinforces the point that I made in annual report hearings and that I will continue to make. Yes there is a role for community councils, but they are not representative; they are not elected by the community at large. They are elected by members of that community council. That is not necessarily reflective of the entire community in the way that this place is, where everyone over the age of 18 who is eligible to enrol to vote and who casts a vote gets to vote for members of this place.
This place is far more representative than a community council will ever be, and that is as it should be.
Mr Doszpot interjecting—
MR BARR: It is important, and I repeat this for Mr Doszpot so that he will stop interjecting, that consultation must adapt—it simply has to—to people’s changing preferences for how they engage with government. It does not mean scrapping old forms of consultation, but it means being open to new ways. How about that? Open to something new, Mr Doszpot. How about that? Why do we not do that? Why do we not acknowledge the community councils that are doing just that? For example, Belconnen Community Council’s involvement in the Belconnen master plan process involved multiple forms of communication to reach out to members of the community who would not or could not attend a public meeting.
What did they do? They conducted some surveys, which they promoted through their mailing list, their website, their Facebook page, their Twitter accounts, as well as in their regular column in the Chronicle and at local events. They did all of this outreach over two months. They got 232 responses, which is probably 200 more than they would have got if they had just held a meeting. It was still only 232 responses, but at least it helped form the basis for a more representative survey report to government.
More generally, the Belconnen Community Council have recognised the need to raise their profile in the community and to not just liaise with the community through public meetings that are often attended by a very small number, as we have all heard, of very dedicated people. Meetings may be held at times that most people cannot attend or in venues that some people are not comfortable attending. Ms Lawder talked about the Southern Cross Club in Tuggeranong. It is a great venue, but there are some people who do not like to attend meetings in gambling venues. There are some people who hold that view, so they will not attend.
Opposition members interjecting—
MR ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Order, Mr Hanson and Mr Coe!
MR BARR: It is a simple statement of fact: some people do not like going to clubs, and they will not go to meetings there. It is as simple as that. More generally, the Belconnen Community Council have recognised this and have sought to increase their liaison with the community outside of just holding public meetings. They have sponsored and held stalls at parties at the shops in Scullin and the Charny Carny. They have sponsored the Hawker fete and partnered with Westfield Belconnen to host a photographic exhibition of Belconnen and judging of an arts competition. They have increased their presence and engagement through social media.
The Belconnen Community Council has also made strong representations by participating in key forums and providing numerous community submissions on issues of local concern. Recent examples include hosting a forum with the Belconnen Community Service on the impact to the Belconnen town centre if the department of immigration leaves Belconnen. It has met with the University of Canberra vice- chancellor on the future of the university and the connections to be made between the University of Canberra and the town centre.
The council have provided a submission on the proposed smart parking trial, and are one of only two councils to engage on this important initiative. They participated in a forum held by the planning minister on the statement of planning intent, and then subsequently hosted their own forum. The Belconnen Community Council’s work online and on the ground shows how community councils can be effective, constructive and influential.
Mr Hanson interjecting—
MR ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Order, Mr Hanson!
MR BARR: I acknowledge that other community councils are also undertaking changes to the way they engage with the community, and this is a great thing. But it will not be and it cannot be the only way that the government engages with the community. We will push ahead with a variety of other consultation mechanisms. I commend the planning minister for specifically seeking to engage with other sectors of the community who are not represented in these forums. That can only be a good thing. What have those opposite got against broader consultation?
Opposition members interjecting—
MR BARR: What have they got against broader consultation that gets them so agitated on this issue? Why are they so agitated on this to bring it forward as a matter of public importance? To interject throughout my entire speech speaks volumes as to the level of agitation that there is. They are trying to score a cheap political point and misrepresent what I said in the committee. Let me be very clear: this government will engage in a much broader form of consultation. We will use a variety of consultation tools. I was particularly pleased to see the data on the time to talk website, which showed that there is particularly strong engagement with people under 50 using that form of consultation, and it is particularly strong with people under 30—people who have not been heard. (Time expired.)
MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (5.00): Mr Assistant Speaker—
Mr Doszpot: A point of order.
MR ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Mr Rattenbury, please be seated. Mr Doszpot, do you have a point of order?
Mr Doszpot: I would like to raise a point of order. I stood way before Mr Rattenbury did. The government has already had two speakers, Mr Assistant Speaker.
MR ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr Doszpot.
Mr Doszpot: But it is the opposition’s turn for a speaker.
MR ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Mr Doszpot, be seated. Mr Doszpot, there is no point of order. Mr Rattenbury, you have the call.
Mr Hanson interjecting—
MR RATTENBURY: It is a cruel world, folks, isn’t it? It is a really cruel world. I would like to thank Ms Lawder for bringing on this matter of public importance on the importance of community councils in the ACT. The community councils do play an important role in our participatory democracy. They do provide a clear and established mechanism for people to work together, to advocate for their community, to raise issues with government, to campaign on local issues and to progress change.
Community councils provide a conduit for people to engage with government processes and to make their views known on issues affecting their local areas.
Through their engagement with the government processes, council members often spend a lot of time researching and understanding complex issues and developing expertise in areas of public policy.
As with many community organisations, groups are often run by a small number of dedicated volunteers working in their own time to advocate for their local community.
Of course, they are by their nature self-selective groups and they rely on people having the time and energy to put up their hands and to do the work. Certainly in my time as an MLA I have developed good relationships with community councils. Just in the past two weeks I have had meetings with both the Woden Valley and Weston Creek community councils and discussed issues of interest with those communities.
I also like to attend meetings of the community councils and residents groups regularly to provide information about government projects and to take questions without notice. I certainly see it as part of my job as a minister and also as an MLA and local member to make myself available at such forums. I also find it very valuable as a better way of understanding community views on a range of issues.
Along with, of course, all the other conversations we have with people in the community, the community councils do provide a particular perspective and a particular focus on a range of issues.
I think it is worth noting here that there was some discussion earlier about the seven community councils. We do, of course, also have a range of other community organisations in particular residential areas. For example, there is the Kingston and Barton Residents Group, who I met with the other day, the Narrabundah Community Council and there are others across the city that have perhaps areas of smaller focus and that nest under those more regional community councils.
I know government directorates regularly engage directly with the community councils as part of their community consultation processes, both to provide information and to take feedback on projects and issues. Again I would like to say that this is an important forum through which to seek community views. Of course, there are other ways for the government to communicate with the community. To garner a broader cross-section of views, the government needs to explore new ways to connect with people from different ages and backgrounds, such as online and through social media.
I think the discussion that has gone on today has been very interesting in that respect.
Having a meeting at 7 or 7.30 at night is necessarily going to be limiting for a range of people. I do think that the community councils tend to attract a certain type of person. It is quite appropriate that they go to those meetings, but I think it is really important—I actually support the comments that the Chief Minister made here—to make sure that there are other ways, in recognition of the fact that there are other groups. The community councils necessarily, because of the time of day they have their meetings, tend to exclude some people out of sheer practicality. It is not because they want to be exclusive but because that is just how people’s lives are.
I know, for example, that the government is starting to successfully use online tools to engage with the community on specific issues. TAMS, for example, conducted a survey last year. We were looking at changing the Nightrider bus service. We had two models in mind but we were not sure which we should go with. We were frankly open to either of them. So we put it out as a community survey, particularly online where our target demographic of younger people who use this service really engaged in it. It helped us make a very clear decision.
Similarly, sport and rec recently used an online survey on the design of the Lakeside Leisure Centre water park, which attracted over 1,000 votes. I think that that was another good example. If we had gone to Tuggeranong Community Council we perhaps would not have got such a comprehensive result, for example.
Certainly online processes can be a way of engaging a larger number of people in government decision-making but, again, these things cannot be exclusive. There is a segment of the community that will not be comfortable dealing with online mechanisms. Also, of course, an online mechanism does not allow for that more in- depth discussion and hearing of other people’s views. It is clearly a case where we need to think about the various channels we can operate through.
I will be interested to see how the community councils adapt and respond to the changing political landscape with the five new electorates. I think that there are real opportunities for the community councils to have a stronger voice in these smaller electorates and there are electorates where there will be more than one council. This may mean working more closely together to advocate at an electorate level or perhaps thinking about how those groups operate going forward.
There are also opportunities for the councils to use new technologies to broaden the scope and depth of engagement in their communities and to use online tools—the sorts of things I have been talking about—to open up conversations with a larger audience. As I said before, I think people will always want to come together to discuss things, but there is a range of ways to do that.
Like many small community organisations, in the future community councils will continue to face the challenges of attracting and retaining people in a climate of decreasing volunteerism and attracting members from a range of backgrounds to ensure that their membership is reflective of the community that they represent. This is an issue right across the board, whether it is a sporting organisation or a range of the community organisations that we all meet. We know that they are struggling to find people who will volunteer. The community councils will face the same challenges. Certainly over the years, the various presidents and members of the executives that I have spoken to have lamented sometimes how few members they have to rely on.
I know that being part of an organisation like a community council provides a great opportunity for people to engage in active citizenship and to make a constructive contribution to the community they live in. They are passionate advocates for the issues that they care about and they certainly are an important part of the life of our city. I thank them for the efforts that they make. I look forward to continuing to engage with the community councils over the coming months and years.
MR ASSISTANT SPEAKER: I call Ms Fitzharris on the matter of public importance.
Mr Rattenbury: Oops! Mr Doszpot has disappeared.
MS FITZHARRIS (Molonglo) (5.07): I was not going to rise. Mr Doszpot obviously thought it was not so urgent to address this matter raised today by his colleague Ms Lawder. As a former executive member of the Gungahlin Community Council— perhaps the only MLA in this place who has been a former executive member of a community council—I am very pleased to talk about this today.
As members have noted, community councils certainly do play an important role in the public debate. I know our officials across many ACT directorates put in a lot of time and effort going along to brief members of the community about local issues. In the Gungahlin Community Council we are frequently joined by officials from the Economic Development Directorate and from Capital Metro. Certainly Roads ACT are always very generous with their time at the Gungahlin Community Council and, more recently, the Public Housing Renewal Taskforce.
Community councils do a great job and they do help the government to provide a forum for more detailed consultation. I certainly enjoy the debates and getting to know other members of the community. For the record, it is a great opportunity for people to go along to meetings, find out more about local matters that are being raised, have a say on planning processes or just raise an issue that needs to be addressed.
For the most part, being on a community council, as others have said, is rewarding and another way to become involved in your local community. Indeed it certainly also is an activity that does require a lot of input from very dedicated volunteers. For the record, I still regularly attend the Gungahlin Community Council meeting and also the Belconnen Community Council meeting.
But as much as I do appreciate the work our community councils do, they cannot and will not be the only way we communicate with our communities, as members have recognised this afternoon. If all we did was go to community council meetings, we could not argue that we have fully consulted with our community. Why is this? It is because community councils, although they do have very dedicated members, do not necessarily reflect every aspect of our community, nor does everyone in our community get their information only from community councils.
For example, the 2011 census tells us that the median age of people in Gungahlin is 31, and that slightly more women than men live in Gungahlin. I doubt there is anyone younger than 31 who regularly attends a Gungahlin Community Council meeting and for the last two years there have been no women on the board of 14 members and, I think, among the seven members recently elected this year. In fact, very often I am one of only a small number of women who do attend the meetings.
Mrs Jones indicated why this might be: because many women in their 30s and 40s may have parenting responsibilities that prevent them from heading out to a meeting on a Wednesday evening. But certainly the Gungahlin Community Council alone has also recognised that the time of their meetings may not necessarily work very well, particularly for working families and for men and women with young children. They have since changed their starting time from 7.30 to 6.30.
I am not sure from my attendance at those meetings since that change that it has necessarily increased the take-up of people attending the meetings. I think there is more that we can do to encourage women and younger people in particular to engage more broadly in our consultation processes.
I commend very much Minister Mick Gentleman for his recent broad, extensive and personally engaged work on the statement of planning intent released earlier this week.
It would also be worth while considering how else we engage, for example, with people with a disability, people from a variety of multicultural backgrounds and our Indigenous community in the broader consultation process. My observation of community council meetings is that these groups in our community are not necessarily well reflected in the attendance at those meetings.
I certainly know the position for me. I have been going regularly to the Gungahlin Community Council for many years now. But certainly leaving home at 7 o’clock, right at the end of dinner, leaving your husband to put the kids to bed is not always the ideal time to go. People have very busy lives and more often than not it is a fact that our community councils quite rightly have a number of very committed people who may be semi-retired or retired who do have the time to contribute.
I am very proud of the work that they do. I pay particular tribute to recent presidents of the Gungahlin Community Council, Alan Kerlin, Ewan Brown and more recently Peter Elford, who has been the vice-president there for many years and who has just stepped up into the president’s role. They certainly do raise a lot of issues and deal with a wide range of input coming to them as well. Without this work we would be denied an important community engagement tool.