Page 1526 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 7 May 2008

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Participatory budgeting has many benefits. Dr Foskey has gone to these. The main benefit is enhanced participation in local decision making. It provides a better focus on issues of social exclusion and neighbourhood renewal. It provides cost-effective improvements in service delivery. It is clear that people are more likely to value public services if they have a stake in the services that are delivered. The transparency of the budgeting processes is intuitively attractive for everybody.

In a discussion around participatory budgeting in the literature, it is always acknowledged—we would accept this immediately—that participatory budgeting does not take a one-size-fits-all approach. But it is a flexible and adaptable model of engagement that is designed to enhance participation at a local level and would have the aim of improving social cohesion.

At one level, it is fair to say—we would all probably claim this in this place—that in government, or even in opposition or whatever position we occupy in relation to our attempts at consulting and engaging, we would all, perhaps rightly, be able to claim that we engage in participatory engagement or participatory budgeting where the issue of engagement is around a budget. I think it is fair to say, on the basis of all those definitions, that at one level—perhaps not in a pure form—it is precisely what we do now and what governments have sought to do.

Governments have sought to engage. They have sought to ensure that the community has an opportunity to participate in the budget process. What we have been doing in our budget processes has been a form of participatory budgeting, a form of participatory democracy. It is perhaps not to a level that those who feel that they do not engage or are not included would claim as a pure form, but it is nevertheless a form of participatory budgeting.

Budgeting is not just a once-a-year process. This is important in the discussion that Dr Foskey has generated. Next year’s budget essentially starts now. It starts immediately. Perhaps it has already started in the context of other investigations, other consultations. The process, or part of the processes, that will lead to the construction of next year’s budget has already commenced. We consult continually. There are a range of consultations that are not yet concluded. We engage at myriad levels on a whole range of issues in those consultations. Those discussions and feasibility studies on issues around the design of services and service delivery and facilities are happening today.

It is through those mechanisms that a government gains a very valuable insight into what the community values and believes should be further supported in a budget. We as a government engage in those consultations all the time. We have a community cabinet. We arrange or facilitate studies and inquiries. We have public forums. We attend community meetings. We go to gatherings, as I did today: I stopped off at a small gathering or protest in Civic Square in relation to issues around Weston. I stopped and discussed the issues with a number of people. We value those opportunities to create solutions to social, economic, environmental and other issues that are raised in those forums.

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