Home' InDaily : August 13th 2010 Contents The chances are you were
not one of the 300 of South
Australia s elite who traipsed
down to the Convention Centre
on July 28 to watch the Premier s
glitzy launch of the update of
South Australia s Strategic Plan.
So what, if anything, did you miss?
The slick ceremony opened with
a specially commissioned anima-
tion and the Premier delivered
one of his trademark speeches
extolling the virtues of the state.
Audience members were given a
free bag, which included -- perhaps
a little oddly -- a balloon (well, my
two-year-old was grateful).
The point of the event was
indeed more serious.
The Premier launched the larg-
est consultation ever undertaken
across the state aimed at asking
10,000 South Australians to share
their vision of SA by 2020.
Over the next few months it will
run a series of regional events,
online activities, a postcard
campaign and shopping mall
stalls. The process is overseen by
Peter Blacker, former Nationals
MP and chair of the Community
This is a huge and ambitious
undertaking. However, as in most
things, size isn t everything.
Back in 2006, the State
Government ran the "Have Your
Say" campaign on the State Plan
with 1600 South Australians
involved in some way or other. It is
useful to think about this previous
consultation, as the Government
launches its larger Mark II version.
The point is, the Government did
not formally evaluate this effort
and the worry is that it has not
learnt from the experience.
The Government is prodigiously
proud of this earlier initiative,
claiming that "in 2006, South
Australians from every walk of life
While there is much to applaud
in the Have Your Say campaign, it
is misleading to suggest that a wide
range of South Australians took
My own research found a
number of tensions and inflated
claims about this community
consultation. The 2006 process was
mostly dominated by elite groups,
professionals, public servants, and
interestingly -- perhaps due to Peter
Blacker s efforts -- stakeholders
from regional areas.
Women, Aboriginal South
Australians and people on
low incomes were all under-
represented in the consultation
and the risk is that this is likely to
"Inequality of voice" remains
a persistent feature of South
Australian life. A 2007 report
confirms large disparities between
how the richest and poorest
participate. Volunteering rates in
Burnside are nearly double those
of Port Adelaide. Similarly, 82
per cent of Burnside parents are
involved in their child s school,
compared with just under 50 per
cent of those in Port Adelaide.
Does this matter? A UK
citizenship survey shows that
local governments are more
responsive where participation
rates are higher, even in deprived
areas. Activating participation
and citizenship in poorer areas
requires a different approach.
The problems with "one size fits
all" approaches to consultation
have also been replicated at the
federal level, most prominently
when Kevin Rudd introduced
"community cabinets" across the
While there is great symbolic
value in taking the Cabinet out
to the regions to meet the public,
they are limited vehicles for
public debate. Even when they
are well attended, they tend to
be dominated by those already
actively engaged in the com-
munity. The quality of debate is
low and their impact on policy is
At the state level, the Rann
Government has run a number
of community cabinets, but these
have done little to influence its
After the last state election, the
Premier promised to "reconnect"
with the wider public, suggesting a
degree of failure of these attempts
to listen to people.
So how can some of these
problems be remedied? A start-
ing point is to place a stronger
emphasis on inclusion rather than
A useful model from the UK
shows a range of factors that can
drive up participation. People get
involved when they feel part of
something, when they are enabled
to do so by civic organisations,
when they are directly asked for
their views, and when they think
government will respond.
Town hall-style public meetings
have limited value. To misquote
George Orwell, aside from vegetar-
ians with wilting beards, nudists,
and sandal wearers, who wants
to spend an evening listening to
public servants in a local sports
Techniques such as deliberative
polls or citizen juries can help
address these issues.
So while the South Australian
public is being asked to join the
conversation, it seems unclear how
sending in a postcard or being a
Facebook friend of the SA plan is a
The poorest groups, long
weary of government efforts at
consultation (just ask Aboriginal
groups), may well not bother. The
Government might reach its 10,000
target, but it will take more than
the prospect of a free balloon for
the poorest South Australians to
come to the party.
■ Dr Rob Manwaring is a lecturer
in the School of Social and Policy
Studies at Flinders University.
Inequality of voice remains a persistent feature of South Australian
life. A 2007 report confirms large disparities between how the richest
and poorest participate.
The Independent Weekly
August 13 - 19, 2010 spectrum
Who's talking and is
Former PM Kevin Rudd takes a question at a Community Cabinet at Norwood Morialta High this year. Photo: Kate Elmes
Governments love community cabinets and public consultation plans but many disadvantaged
citizens are still denied a voice, writes Dr Rob Manwaring.
SA Premier Mike Rann at a Community Cabinet meeting.
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