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Democracy anyone?

28 Jun 2011

Editorial comment by Shane Scanlan

The Docklands Co-ordination Committee is looking for ways it can reinvent itself to make it relevant to the community it is supposed to serve.

The committee comprises the most senior City of Melbourne and VicUrban representatives and publicly meets every three months.

The community is welcome but rarely attends and the participants have been recently questioning the value of the forum.

In theory, it should be a place where the City and VicUrban publicly discuss Docklands’ future to give the community a window into the thinking behind their joint decision-making.

But in practice, the committee has never debated or even discussed policy issues.  Committee members politely and always unanimously accept reports prepared by council and VicUrban officers.

Council and VicUrban staff typically comprise close to 100 per cent of the audience.

Sometimes a committee member will agree to hear a report from the officer who wrote the report.  The officer summarises what is already in the written report and a couple of questions might be asked by committee members – which stretches the meeting a little more beyond the five minutes the entire process would have otherwise taken.

The public gets an opportunity to ask questions when the official business has been dealt with.  But, with no one there, this rarely happens too.

People don’t go because they don’t know about it.  And, even if they did go, it is a fairly pointless exercise (unless you are a local newspaper reporter and this is the only time that you get to question these people).

Significant amounts of staff salaries are consumed by the exercise and everyone wishes they were somewhere else doing something useful.

The committee members go through the motions, not because they want to, but because they have to.

The structure and process was legislated as part of the 2007 agreement between the City of Melbourne and the State Government to share responsibility for Docklands.

At the Docklands Co-ordination Committee on June 23, the City of Melbourne’s CEO Kathy Alexander said discussions were taking place to try to find a better model.

The history of this committee has been one of gradual detachment from what it is supposed to be doing.

The committee now meets less frequently.  The agendas have been getting thinner and the specific information on what is actually being done is being watered down.

But we shouldn’t blame VicUrban and the council for losing the art of community inclusion.  It’s our fault, because we have let it happen.  It’s our fault for not turning up and demanding to be told what is going on.

If we let them get away with telling us nothing about what is happening behind closed doors, then they will tell us nothing.

Docklanders should be attuned to this current trend and should be very vigilant.  With the so-called “D2” consultation that looks like taking two years before generating an outcome, we have a right to be suspicious.

Our political masters have made an industry out of consulting, meeting and reporting.  And when that’s done, rather than get their hands dirty and produce an outcome, they prefer to consult, meet and report all over again.

If the powers-that-be change the rules of local engagement, we must insist on a model that allows us real involvement and extracts the maximum amount of accountability from our “democratic” institutions.

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Comments

  • Rose M at 11:18am on 14/07/11

    I'd attend if I knew when and where. I love living in Docklands and would want to be involved in discussions and decisions.

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