Bring Back Whipstick Ward Meetings

Ward meetings are an excellent way to ensure residents’ voices are heard by local governments. We should bring them back.

Being a local government councillor is not an easy gig, contrary to perception. From my observations and reading, there is a stack of stuff to read, and lots of demands on your time. Dozens of individuals and groups in the community want your support and advocacy on a staggering array of issues, ranging from a dodgy footpath, to a planning application, to action on issues that local council has very little control over.

It would be easy, as a councillor, to lose sight of what your purpose is. So, let me remind myself right here of what that purpose is. To be a faithful conduit between the community and local government.

Why is that important? The City of Greater Bendigo, like all local governments, is an institution and a bureaucracy. I don’t mean that pejoratively: institutions and bureaucracies are needed to get things done at a large scale – things that individuals and community groups can’t or shouldn’t do on their own.

But bureaucracies do have their downsides. The main downside that I see is that they get pre-occupied with internal bureaucratic aims, and this distracts from listening to those outside the bureaucracy. This is where local democracy comes in. For example, advisory committees and asking the community for their opinion on proposed projects are ways that the bureaucracy can get people’s views on their policies.

Local councillors play an essential part in this process. They should be continually providing ways for residents to give their views on what council could be doing, or what it could be doing differently.

THat’s why I propose bringing back Ward Meetings. These are organised times for councillors, residents and council officers to gather and discuss important issues in the ward. In the last term of council, ward meetings have been replaced by more informal “listening posts” outside supermarkets and the like. These are useful, but ward meetings provide a more formal environment for feedback to be given, and issues followed up by councils. I imagine ward meetings being held every 6 weeks, and rotating their location around the ward.