‘Tis the Season for Elections in the Land Down Under

Posted on November 2, 2014

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‘Tis the Season

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by Andrew Coulson

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Good Ol’ October….a month reserved for ghosts, ghouls (my birthday… cough) and, of course, local government conferences and award ceremonies in Australia. Our award ceremonies range from the best maintained cities to best practices in community engagement.

It was great to watch, from a far, #ELGL14. I hope that I meet many of you at #ELGL15 as I’ve submitted a proposal to bring a team of us to the event.

I  was proud that ELGL named in the top ten of SeeClickFix’s ‘Leader in Innovation and Engagement list’ in the civic space. Well-deserved and such a boost for those engaged with ELGL. Congratulations to the more than 700 ELGL members. I am happy to have become a part of such a diverse and engaging organization.

(Editor’s Note: We thank correspondents like Andrew and Ashleigh Weeden (Ontario) who strengthened ELGL’s profile for the award. We’re confident that no other organization has folks like Andrew and Ashleigh who bring such an interesting perspective from their homeland.)

Anyhoo enough of this back slapping lovin’ on ELGL, here’s what happened in Australian Local Government during October.

Ner ner ner ner ner… Our Water is Better than Yours!


I was bemused when I saw in Queensland they held an annual best-tasting water competition. Richmond Shire Council earned the 2014 Orica Australia Best of the Best Queensland Water Taste Test after taste tests were completed statewide.

This was great news for the residents who had been complaining of odour and staining from iron and manganese in the water. Residents had requested that council improve the quality of their water supply and they eventually managed to secure funding of $3.6 million from the state government to assist in development and installation of a first class water treatment plant which will be fully operation in December.

Water in Australia is a precious natural resource. South Australia has struggled through drought for years. Protection of one of the country’s main rivers, the Murray River, draws millions of state and fedral funding to improve water management. Councils across the country have invested in trying to manage the water through wetland management and by working with state governments. Land users, farmers, and irrigators also play a major role in ensuring water is used efficiently and that opportunity to collect rain fall is maximized. On a regional level, allocation of water use is important in determining how much is used for public consumption and how much for farming and grazing animals.

Poster War

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Here’s a story that makes the local election in Adelaide for Lord Mayor sound more interesting than the usual political guff. It’s a story of corruption, dishonesty, and playing the sympathy card. A candidate is crying foul with allegations that more than 100 of his election posters have been stolen.

Who would do such a thing… another candidate, unscrupulous electioneers, drunk revelers looking for a souvenir… the wind? Whilst unwilling to accuse anyone in particular of the thefts, the candidate wagged his finger towards supporters of a rival candidate and accused them of having more than the allotted one poster per post and some posted too low… cry me a river.

I’ve seen posters festooned everywhere from shop windows to lampposts. A few of the posters have been vandalised with a jolly sharpie mustaches, not so nice political symbols or just lying in the gutter. The current Lord Mayor has decided against posters and is using his time and money to press the flesh and listen to the community. Whilst he was contacted about the ‘Poster War’ no comments were recorded.

That’s not all, here is some more poster news from SA. Vote for the black guy… Say whhaaat!

Thankfully elections in South Australia will be over soon.

Meet the People’s Panel

Rewind to July 2014 when I mentioned the City of Melbourne in Victoria had created a Citizens Panel to provide input on how to spend the city’s budget. Since then, the city has progressed to phase two of the project which involves panels.

The city has engaged with community in two ways –broader community engagement (July- September) and a People’s Panel (August to October). Information gathered during the broader community will be presented to the People’s Panel to inform their recommendations, before the panel presents back to Council this November.

The city produced a video highlighting the engagement effort. The video tells the story of how an online budget simulator, face-to-face events, stakeholder workshops, and small discussion groups allowed 700 people to participate, including culturally and linguistically diverse communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Round of applause to Melbourne for the community engagement. See more and the video here.

Just Say No!


Elected members are, supposedly, in position to represent the community in the final level of decision making. In reality, most are in it for some kind of self-gain whether political or general big headedry. A councillor in Ballarat, Victoria proved to be an exception when she said “no” to demolition of a historic city hall.


(I’m not being cynical about councillors, and yes, I’ve met some who are great community people but in the majority recently those I have met are not)

That’s why this story is a breath of fresh air. Amy Johnson, a young elected member of the City of Ballarat Council, raised a motion and managed to stop the demolition of an old yet valuable community building, a historic civic hall, which was proposed to be removed to make way for a new road corridor. Amy was motivated by a worry that the community was divided between the “demolish” and “retain” groups.

Amy called for the demolition to be halted to give the community a chance to voice their opinion in and start a 100% community-empowered, community-run, community-owned design engagement process. The motion was passed by council which started the community-design process.

Under the new input process, all ideas will be considered by the community, as well as new ideas and then the entire community will decide on 10 concepts for the site. At last check the community had started to narrow the list to three with the top one going to council for approval.

As a community engagement practitioner, I love the approach. It represents the true position councils should be playing when dealing with community matters. We wish more elected members realized the value of a community’s thoughts and ideas. Go Amy!

Book It


In 2009, it was recommended that local public libraries (most of which are run by local governments) adopt a shared library management system to manage members and materials. This was the most ambitious project in South Australia’s library history. Three years later, the One Card Network was born and celebrated as a success.

What’s so great about the One Card Network:

  • pick up/return items at any SA public library,
  • 24/7 online access to a state-wide catalogue of over 3.8 million books, DVDs & magazines
  • online reservation system
  • improved speed of item delivery across the state.

It’s estimated that the new network has resulted in an increase of more than 40 times for items being shared between libraries.

The facts and figures of the what, why and how’s are amazing and have brought library use into the 21st Century. Read the details.

A Load of Rubbish!

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Most parts of Australia envy our recycling system where bottles and cans can be collected and exchanged for a small refund. This encourages recycling at home and nurtures further recycling such as separating papers and cardboard. I know families who once a fortnight exchange used bottles at collection points and use the cash towards the next slab of beers.

This kind of scheme has its positives and its negatives. For some, it’s a full-time obsession– racing around collecting “treasure” from other people’s bins. Their obsession decreases the trash going to the landfill. These treasure hunters are often low-income and are risking their safety digging through bins to scratch for few extra dollars.

Queensland is considering a new recycling incentive. The incentive would aid regional and remote councils who simply could not afford to institute a recycling program. In the past, local councils have been divided about the approach. Arguments for educating children to recycle have been outweighed by cost arguments. Some suggest the cost to manage this in a rural setting would be impractical.

After much debate, the motion carried, and now, the LGAQ (Local Government Association Queensland) will lobby the state government. Implementing it in Queensland would instil the importance of recycling and litter collection in children in the state.

America it’s been a pleasure as always, Australia over and out!

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