Page 1527 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 7 May 2008

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We do these things. We are criticised for perhaps not doing them well in the view or perception of others that we might do better. In raising the matter today, Dr Foskey raises a very moot point. But it has to be understood that there is some reality around budgeting and that participatory budgeting or participation and consultation is not a substitute for governments. It does not absolve a government of its responsibility to make decisions—and at times they are tough and very difficult decisions that on occasion will not be supported by particular communities or community interests.

There is now a range of issues being agitated through the community. The government will not necessarily please all of the protagonists in relation to all of the issues that are being agitated. Sometimes there are decisions that need to be taken by government in the broader interest, not in a local or localised community of interest.

It is about being transparent and open; it is about considering all the issues; it is about being prepared to listen. But it is also about being able to govern. We need to maintain a dialogue, but at the end of the day the government must pursue and decide priorities and values.

In this discussion, it is important, Dr Foskey, that we do not confuse participatory budgeting or participatory government with populism. It is very easy always to jump onto the coat-tails of a particular issue for purely populist political reasons.

Mr Mulcahy: You should never do that.

MR STANHOPE: Heaven forbid! But it is so easy. And it is easy to take the populist line when you are not responsible for the ultimate decision where you are trying to balance the competing interests. It is always the easiest line in politics—going straight for the populist, simple solution. But, in taking the populist view, you are often ignoring transparency and openness, taking a position that does not suffer scrutiny particularly well. Pursuing populist policies or populist issues is not particularly open or transparent; it is just cheap and easy.

There is a whole range of areas—I could use the budget that has just been delivered as an example—where the government has engaged extensively in what might be regarded as participatory budgeting. I refer, for instance, to the issues in relation to the new proposals for the health system. That particular proposal has been worked on, and discussed and consulted on, for over 18 months now. There have been high levels of engagement and support across the spectrum by the minister and by the Department of Health in relation to the new plans for developing and reconfiguring public health within the ACT.

Similarly, there is $51 million in this budget in relation to skills and addressing skill shortages, which is a direct response to the report of the Skills Commission. The Skills Commission held consultation meetings. It comprised representatives of a dozen organisations. It issued an interim report which it invited submissions on; it consulted again; and then it issued a final report. After 18 months of work by the Skills Commission, the government accepted the report and has now introduced the recommendations which it has accepted, through budget funding. That is a direct form of participatory budgeting and democracy in relation to that specific issue.

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