Councillors endorse new community engagement policy

Jess Carrascalao Heard

Locals in the City of Melbourne are expected to have a stronger voice in some council decisions, after councillors endorsed a new Community Engagement Policy in February.

The new policy, which was eventually adopted at a council meeting on February 23, was initially given unanimous support from councillors at the Future Melbourne Committee meeting on February 16. 

Chair of the council’s health, wellbeing and belonging portfolio Cr Olivia Ball, who moved the motion at the meeting, said everyone had a right to be involved in decisions that affected where and how they lived.

“We have developed principles of engagement that will deliver sustainable outcomes for our city through shared problem-solving, open dialogue,” she said.

A Community Engagement Policy is a requirement under the new Local Government Act 2020, and applies to all councils in Victoria.

In a bid to improve transparency in decision-making, the Act requires councils to involve the community by adopting “deliberative engagement practices”.

According to the Community Engagement Policy, council activities which will trigger community engagement include long term strategic council planning and budgeting, local law making, electoral reviews and some road changes.

Development of public health and wellbeing plans, amendments to the planning scheme and land acquisition and sales are also included.

Dr Stan Capp, president of CBD resident group EastEnders, said the new policy would adequately satisfy the Act’s requirements, but added that there were a number of missed opportunities. 

In a written submission he suggested that along with the policy areas stipulated in the Act, that the council could use identical processes in “any area where councillors would benefit from community input.”

Speaking at the FMC meeting on February 16, he said that an important omission from the draft policy was a section which specified how community engagement would be activated. 

Methods of community engagement for councils are not defined by the Local Government Act 2020.

The new policy follows a month of extensive community consultation; another requirement of the new Act.

But Dr Capp said it was unclear to him what was actually “taken up from the plethora of ideas and initiatives that through my own experience I know were submitted”.

“One of the reasons people have said that they don’t like community participation, is because of the fact that there’s not that acknowledgement,” he said.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp (no relation) said it was important that council “walk the talk”, so that it respected the inputs that were received from those it served. 

“Feedback that we receive is feedback that is reflected in the outcomes, or is communicated in terms of why not,” she said.

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