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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 06 Hansard (Thursday, 21 September 1995) . . Page.. 1611 ..


The stronger the community or communities in which we are embedded, the stronger is the sense of self. Take away those communities and we disintegrate, as the experience of long-term unemployment so tragically demonstrates ... Community is (also) the source of our collective identity, our sense of we-ness, whether it be as members of the Jones family or as Australians. It is this collective identity which enables notions of social justice to emerge.

Lack of community results in alienation of individuals, which is one cause of problems our society faces. We live in a society which places great emphasis on the value of material possessions and social status which is based on power and income. Quality of life obviously depends to a certain point on material needs being met. However, individual wellbeing depends also on less tangible experiences such as having a sense of belonging and responsibility for others as well as having avenues for spiritual and creative expression. Our wellbeing now and in the future also depends on our natural environment. Therefore, sustainability must be a major focus of planning.

It is important that members of the Assembly take the issue of community development seriously. As representatives of ACT residents, we need to take responsibility for increasing our skills and knowledge of processes which will result in meaningful community consultation. Community involvement can be powerful and challenging for governments when effective, as some decision-making power is diverted away from the traditional decision-makers. Successful consultation is a two-way process - raising awareness about issues and challenging assumptions. A little understood but powerful barrier to continued progress is the gap that still exists between experts and the wider community. Obviously, it makes no sense to discourage experts from making their optimum contribution, but our task is to strengthen the ability of the community to represent the public interest.

This Government has laid down in the budget plans for developing community service obligations for services such as ACTION buses. It is essential that these community service obligations be determined by the community through a consultation process, not just by chief executives. This Government has given chief executives the task of finding financial savings, but we do not know whether the public interest will be considered equally. Successful community participation also requires a flexible approach and must be an evolving process, requiring ongoing evaluation. In this paper we have discussed barriers to effective community consultation as well as a range of methods. Consultation is not just about public meetings and submissions. Effective consultation does take time and commitment and may well reveal conflict, but it can also bring about change for the better.

Many community groups and government agencies in the ACT are developing or already have developed their own consultation strategies. The Liberal Government is at present developing its own consultation strategies, in addition to the LAPACs which are already under way. We look forward to commenting on these and receiving feedback from the community on these initiatives. I noted with interest the defensive reaction of the Government this week when we were accused of trying to destroy the LAPAC process.


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