Fair Dinkum Consultation

Public participation is essential to a vibrant community. Participation engages residents, community groups, organizations and businesses in problem-solving and decision-making at Council level. Without effective participation, apathy and cynicism can set in.

Public participation inspires people and groups to become active in caring for and enriching their community. At the heart of the public participation process is consultation with citizens. Consultation is more than just going through the motions. It is more than just being kept informed. It is certainly more than being asked to comment after the fact. Consultation is about genuinely seeking ideas and input as part of the development of a plan, with a real capacity to influence it.

Real consultation means community groups, and all residents, should be provided with information on what they can expect from their Council. It should include information on existing policies and procedures, a history of past initiatives, and alternative approaches to resolving contentious issues. The respective advantages and disadvantages of these approaches should be made clear, with an emphasis on increasing the capacity of people to work effectively to represent their community.

Issues that constantly recur, such as development application objections, zoning decision appeals, traffic calming and diversion requests should be the major focus of the learning. Past decisions, and the principles applied, will provide clear guidelines for future action. They will also reduce the frustration experienced by first time objectors in determining their grounds for appeal.

In this era of electronic communication, interactive web sites and blogs provide instant means of comment and discussion. At the very least, Hobart City Council should have a web site with an effective search engine so that anyone can ‘Google’ a particular topic – whether it is an item from a Council Agenda or Minutes, or simply an address to bring up relevant planning application information.

Consultation must engage people who are currently under-represented and hard to reach. Any barriers to access should be identified and overcome, and there should be a balance of people who represent others and people who represent only themselves.

Above all, the public participation process must be transparent. It should deal openly with conflict and imbalances of knowledge in order to maximize participant input. Contentious issues will always impact positively on some people and negatively on others. Input from all sides is crucial, and the process must encourage civility and mutual respect among all parties.