Opinion piece by UDIA WA CEO Tanya Steinbeck, published in The West Australian

An educated, enlightened and informed population is one of the surest ways of promoting the health of a democracy.

These words by Nelson Mandela ring true from the largest to the smallest forms of democracy and are entirely relevant when it comes to local government reform here in Western Australia.

The McGowan Government’s recently announced final package of reforms to the Local Government Act are centred on six key themes, one of which is ensuring an “inclusive local democracy”. It couldn’t have come at a better time, as we see the highly emotive arguments for and against urban development rage on in certain local government jurisdictions.

Whether this is due to some councillors’ limited understanding of land-use planning and how best to meet housing and other needs of the local population, or whether those pushing the arguments are not adequately representative of the impacted community in its entirety, both issues are likely contributors to the NIMBY culture emerging in pockets of Perth.

There are three key recommendations as part of the Local Government Review Panel’s final report that may go some way to resolving this issue. Firstly, the expanded requirement for training that provides for all councillors to undertake in-depth education on land-use planning.

It is unreasonable to expect non-planners to understand and accurately interpret volumes of State and local planning policy. However, one must understand the framework in which all stakeholders operate to facilitate the delivery of adequate housing supply and housing choice to the community. That means, having a broader consideration of others that may not necessarily have the money you do, the choices you have or the power given to you as a councillor to make decisions that have no material impact on your own little patch of paradise.
The second is for local government authorities to formulate and adhere to a community engagement charter. A model charter has been proposed with the flexibility for each local authority to adapt it to suit specific consultation requirements. Great idea in theory — however, consistency is key and we must be mindful not to mandate engagement requirements in one local area that are completely different or even contradictory to what applies in another — in a planning and development application sense.

The third is to undertake regular representation reviews to ensure councils are sufficiently representative of the broader community. We only have to consider the most recent case of NIMBYism in Nedlands where certain members of the council refused to support the development of a children’s hospice because World War III might break out. I dare say that view is not shared by many in the local community.

Objectivity, relevant information, and adequate community representation are all key to an inclusive local democracy. As is a sense of solidarity. Because the decisions councils make have a broader impact than is often truly appreciated. Facilitating a place to call home or a place to say goodbye is something we all need. No matter your postcode.

To view the published article, click here.