Tackling frustration with local engagement

Tackling frustration with local engagement

When I started my journey as a councillor, I entered with a mindset geared to deliver for our community through evidence-based and representative decision-making in the face of COVID.

I have been a member of boards for a long time, so I knew my way around the boardroom table.

What I didn’t have in my back pocket was some of the intricacies of the machination of local government and why it sometimes takes so much longer than we expect.  

First, Team Melbourne does an incredible job balancing the responsibilities of a capital city council. Melbourne is no ordinary local government after all.

The Melbourne City Council municipality is responsible for a fair portion of Australia’s GDP, and must manage more interests that live, work, and play in our municipality than most. The actions during and coming out of the pandemic show that government can act swiftly and decisively in the face of extreme challenges. That’s a good thing.  

While there is still work to do, the City of Melbourne has come out of the pandemic in a position of strength, with a lively city, the night-time economy booming, and residents and visitors returning. In Docklands, we’ve seen a change in demographics with more families and long-term residents choosing Docklands as their home.  

While Docklands was more impacted by the pandemic, we are now starting to see improvement. This has been on the back of a concerted effort that hasn’t been without its frustrations.  

How has this been achieved? As part of our commitment to our neighbourhoods, action in each neighbourhood has been refined by what we are hearing on the ground. This now forms part of our updated way of working with neighbourhoods, and why on Tuesday we endorsed an update on the neighbourhood strategy and are doing a pulse check on our neighbourhood model. Take part in the survey here.

 In the meantime, it has been sometimes frustrating. Since the Docklands Summit, it has taken time to progress each action, but I have come to understand that they are progressing. When I’m frustrated, I ask for a briefing, only to be faced with the realisation of how complex the issues in the background can be with so many parties involved.  

So, when community members ask me to follow up or solve an issue, and it’s taking months, and it seems like there’s no end in sight – I completely feel the frustration. I get frustrated too, because it’s hard to see what’s in motion when it’s hidden behind layers of work that spans across departments inside and outside council.

The system is, however, constantly improving, supported by an amazing neighbourhood team worth their weight in gold, and I feel like we’re cracking the code with improvements coming through now in Docklands, and more planned in the next six months.

As part of this, I’ve learnt three things:

  • It takes time for proper process, so communication and managing expectations is key. That’s why I make myself available to community regularly to discuss issues.
  • Driving action through the council plan and the various strategies of council is key. If it’s not in a plan, then it takes considerable effort to deliver. Your feedback to plans matters!
  • Community engagement and responsibility are important. If community is not actively taking part, local government action will not be enough.  

My one call to my Docklands neighbours: get out there and start up a community club or two, come down to the fortnightly mah-jong game or come together to make the Library Christmas party the best it can be.

We need to all have skin in the game to make change happen.

Let’s get in there. •


Jamal Hakim is a councillor at the City of Melbourne and a resident of Docklands. 

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