As a former executive member of the Gungahlin Community Council— perhaps the only MLA in this place who has been a former executive member of a community council—I am very pleased to talk about this today.
As members have noted, community councils certainly do play an important role in the public debate. I know our officials across many ACT directorates put in a lot of time and effort going along to brief members of the community about local issues. In the Gungahlin Community Council we are frequently joined by officials from the Economic Development Directorate and from Capital Metro. Certainly Roads ACT are always very generous with their time at the Gungahlin Community Council and, more recently, the Public Housing Renewal Taskforce.
Community councils do a great job and they do help the government to provide a forum for more detailed consultation. I certainly enjoy the debates and getting to know other members of the community. For the record, it is a great opportunity for people to go along to meetings, find out more about local matters that are being raised, have a say on planning processes or just raise an issue that needs to be addressed.
For the most part, being on a community council, as others have said, is rewarding and another way to become involved in your local community. Indeed it certainly also is an activity that does require a lot of input from very dedicated volunteers. For the record, I still regularly attend the Gungahlin Community Council meeting and also the Belconnen Community Council meeting.
But as much as I do appreciate the work our community councils do, they cannot and will not be the only way we communicate with our communities, as members have recognised this afternoon. If all we did was go to community council meetings, we could not argue that we have fully consulted with our community. Why is this?
It is because community councils, although they do have very dedicated members, do not necessarily reflect every aspect of our community, nor does everyone in our community get their information only from community councils. For example, the 2011 census tells us that the median age of people in Gungahlin is 31, and that slightly more women than men live in Gungahlin. I doubt there is anyone younger than 31 who regularly attends a Gungahlin Community Council meeting and for the last two years there have been no women on the board of 14 members and, I think, among the seven members recently elected this year.
In fact, very often I am one of only a small number of women who do attend the meetings. Mrs Jones indicated why this might be: because many women in their 30s and 40s may have parenting responsibilities that prevent them from heading out to a meeting on a Wednesday evening. But certainly the Gungahlin Community Council alone has also recognised that the time of their meetings may not necessarily work very well, particularly for working families and for men and women with young children. They have since changed their starting time from 7.30 to 6.30. I am not sure from my attendance at those meetings since that change that it has necessarily increased the take-up of people attending the meetings.
I think there is more that we can do to encourage women and younger people in particular to engage more broadly in our consultation processes. I commend very much Minister Mick Gentleman for his recent broad, extensive and personally engaged work on the statement of planning intent released earlier this week.
It would also be worthwhile considering how else we engage, for example, with people with a disability, people from a variety of multicultural backgrounds and our Indigenous community in the broader consultation process.
My observation of community council meetings is that these groups in our community are not necessarily well reflected in the attendance at those meetings. I certainly know the position for me. I have been going regularly to the Gungahlin Community Council for many years now. But certainly leaving home at 7 o’clock, right at the end of dinner, leaving your husband to put the kids to bed is not always the ideal time to go.
People have very busy lives and more often than not it is a fact that our community councils quite rightly have a number of very committed people who may be semi-retired or retired who do have the time to contribute.
I am very proud of the work that they do. I pay particular tribute to recent presidents of the Gungahlin Community Council, Alan Kerlin, Ewan Brown and more recently Peter Elford, who has been the vice-president there for many years and who has just stepped up into the president’s role. They certainly do raise a lot of issues and deal with a wide range of input coming to them as well. Without this work we would be denied an important community engagement tool.