A huge milestone for democracy in Australia was reached this week when the City of Greater Geraldton adopted a set of community-based recommendations for planning City Capital Works expenditure.
The recommendations resulted from a methodology that is being trialled in Geraldton called Participatory Budgeting in which randomly selected local people review and prioritise the City’s capital budgets and set priorities.
According to CEO Ken Diehm, the whole of the City’s ($70 million capital works budget) has been “thrown open” in an attempt to honour the Council’s commitment to open and transparent decision-making.
“This is the first time, anywhere in the world, that the community has been empowered to this extent,” he said.
“I have been in local government for 28 years and it’s an extraordinary move away from the traditional way municipal councils work.
“With the adoption of the recommendations from the Capital Works Panel, Council has embedded community values into future project evaluation,” said Mr Diehm.
He said the capital works projects would, in future, be evaluated using social and technical criteria; half of the criteria have been developed in the workshops by the Community Panel.
“This is democracy in action,” said Mr Diehm.
“The new approach means that all project planning will incorporate community values in the same way as we have to look at technical and statutory issues.
“The criteria developed by the community focuses largely on social, environmental and cultural aspects and the City has supported these criteria in full,” he said.
At the end of the process, two panels of local people will have analysed the budgets for Capital Works and infrastructure, and for the range and levels of services provided, and developed criteria against which new expenditure can be ranked.
The report from the Capital Works Plan Panel was adopted by Council at the Ordinary Meeting of Council on Tuesday, February 25, with Councillors agreeing with the new method of project evaluation.
It is anticipated that the recommendations from the Range and Level of Services Community Panel will go to Council in March, following more than two months of deliberation by the randomly selected panel members.
Participatory Budgeting is an element of the City’s innovative #changesCGGcommunity program which aims to increase community involvement in decisions that affect the development of the region into the future.