The following is a response from the Weston Creek Community Council (WCCC) to the ACT Government Community Consultation Survey of Community Groups.
If further explanation of the responses is required please feel free to contact the WCCC on the above numbers.
1. Are you aware of the ACT Government’s Community Consultation Protocol?
Yes, we are aware of the existence of the Protocol, but we are uncertain as to whether it is actually used by ACT Government agencies when conducting consultations. Some consultations are undertaken with good intentions, although the outcomes of the consultation may not be reflected in the decision made or the actions taken.
Some consultations appear to be done for the sake of meeting the requirements of asking the community without any intention of ever paying any attention to the results of the consultation.
2. Do you believe that the ACT Government’s community consultation processes have improved since the 1997 introduction of the Community Consultation Protocol?
In some areas of the ACT Government the processes have improved although the process is not uniform between agencies and in many cases the process is different within an agency.
The success or otherwise of the consultation process in some agencies depends heavily on how your community organisation is viewed or perceived by the relevant authority or officer. The WCCC appears to have reasonably good access to a number of agencies; and when they deal with an issue in Weston Creek â€“ they think of the WCCC. We need to work hard at maintaining a profile with ACT agencies so they remember to ask us. It does not appear to be an innate reaction or action to attempt consultation; it appears to be undertaken grudgingly. If you are a well-respected organisation, then the process can be useful and fruitful for both the WCCC and the agency. The agency finds out what the issues are that concern residents and able to re-think their intended actions. We suspect that if an organisation is not well respected then the process can be a waste of time and effort since such organisations are effectively ignored.
Also, there are still some officers who have a paternalistic view of the community in that they believe that the Government always knows best.
3. Do you believe that government agencies are more inclusive than they used to be when undertaking consultation with the community?
Some agencies are more inclusive in their consultation processes. This is more of a learning curve for them; as a previous non-consultation approach may have caused major delays in a project from not dealing with community groups in its development and refinement. Once an agency has had a problem with the community when they try to implement an action; the next time they usually start the consultations at a very early stage so that agreed outcomes are achieved.
Consulting with a government agency is difficult if you believe it is not a genuine effort to consult, an agency may only be going through the hoops to ensure that correct procedures are seen to be followed, but not necessarily actually followed.
4. If you or your Organisation was involved in a Community Consultation:
- Were all the relevant groups consulted?
- Was the publicity and promotion adequate?
- Were the consultation activities easy to access?
The WCCC has been involved in many consultations with ACT government agencies, very few have been initiated by government; most have been started by the WCCC.
-We are not aware if all relevant groups were consulted because agencies donâ€™t tell who else they asked for input.
-There is usually little or no publicity or promotion, as the agency does not want to deal with too many responses. Only consultation that is in legislation eg DAâ€™s are usually advertised.
– As a â€˜due processâ€™ is not explained by an agency (as they may not be sure of it) there are often no formal â€˜consultation activitiesâ€™ to access.
5. Did the government agencies conducting the consultation activities you were involved in, provide adequate feedback to the community during and after the community consultation activities?
The WCCC has sent some of its committee members to “consultation meetings” and they turned out to be an explanation of what an agency was doing and advising the community on what actions and activities they can expect to happen. Input was not requested.
6. Do you believe the ACT Government could improve its community consultation process?
Yes dramatically. All agencies should be using the same â€˜rule bookâ€™ and this â€˜rule bookâ€™ should be developed in partnership with recognised peak community groups. The current protocol appears to have been arbitrarily constructed using selective parts of the input from some community groups.
We believe that community consultation should not be considered an imposition on an agency but be part of their processes in working with the community to deliver the outcomes expected by the community. The service and facilities provided by ACT Government agencies is in return for the rates paid by the ratepayers and voters.
7. Do you think that the community consultation process can be better handled electronically via the Internet?
We would be supportive of using the Internet to facilitate better and more inclusive consultations processes. A very high proportion of Canberra residents have Internet access at either work or home; however there would need to be some definitive negotiations with peak bodies on how electronic consultations could take place with ACT Government agencies. The major benefit from the viewpoint of the individual is the ability to provide input to a process at a time and place convenient to the resident. It means not having to attend formal meetings organised by agencies. The onus is on agencies to write project descriptions and their intent clearly and concisely. They need to explain what they are trying to do and the extent of community feedback they are seeking. The WCCC uses e-mail extensively to communicate with its members and posts material to its website so that the Internet provides many with information on the activities of the WCCC and what agencies are doing in Weston Creek.
8. Do you think that the Consultation Protocol should be more rigorously enforced?
The protocol should be re-written so that it is workable and readily adopted by staff of ACT agencies. In not knowing the complete process, community groups are only brought in where an agency has to invite them into the process.
It is very difficult to enforce a protocol that has major underlying flaws. People donâ€™t believe it or in its way of achieving a partnership of outcomes for residents in Canberra.