Page 1522 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 7 May 2008

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I have been interested in participatory budgeting for many years and want to acknowledge its Portuguese title—which is ocimento participativo. It is understood by progressive people and those who have concerns about the needs and the fulfilment of those needs of the most disempowered and the voiceless in our society that participatory budgeting, which has been refined over 20 years since it was first introduced to the Portalegre municipality in Brazil, is definitely a way to go. I am going to do much more work on this myself and consider ways that it could be of interest to communities like our own. I do believe it has a place.

I shall give a little bit of history of participatory budgeting. Most people are probably like me—I did not know a great deal about Brazil before visiting the country. It was just emerging from authoritarian rule —some might say fascist military rule—in the 1980s. When the democratic government took over, it changed the constitution to require that budget preparation at all levels of jurisdiction in Brazil had to be transparent and had to have a degree of participation. It did not say anything about how or why.

At the same time, the party called the Workers Party—which reminds me a little of the ALP in the 1890s when things were fresh and ideals were strong and pervaded all the things that the party did—came to power in Portalegre with a lot of zeal and a lot of motivation. Emerging as it did from the community organizations—as the ALP here emerged from the unions—they had real contact with the people that were most marginalised in our society. They had an awful lot of reforming zeal and, of course, I suppose a lot of Marxist ideology as well. Indeed, we met some of those early proponents of participatory budgeting and, yes, they are still Marxists, they are still idealists and they are still zealots. Good on them.

The political process of budget preparation in this country—and I think we have seen that here this week to some extent—has room for community organisations to be involved through the submissions process and, no doubt, a lot of lobbying goes on. But the decisions that are made are made behind closed doors. Presumably they are made in cabinet, some of it goes to caucus and then we get a little bit of that here in the Assembly. On the whole, it is not a transparent process.

The participatory budgeting process has been refined. It has been 20 years in the making, and now it is actually practised in 250 municipalities and states around the world. It has leaked out of South America into France, Belgium, and Canada, and it is practised, I am sure, in many different forms in those places. It is actually a child of Brazil, and having seen Brazilian politics at work to some extent and the passion that is taken to politics there, I think that participatory budgeting could only really have emerged from that kind of background.

Participatory budgeting in Portalegre is the only system that I have studied in detail. We are talking about a city of over a million people now, so it is not small bikkies. Portalegre is divided into 17 municipalities for the purposes of participatory budgeting, and some of those have many thousands of people. It is a place not unlike the ACT in some ways—only in a few ways, however—but it is fairly clear that participatory budgeting works best in a smaller region. The state of Portalegre has actually

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