BY SARAH MCLENAGHAN
Inner West residents are being invited to participate in local politics by joining the Council’s democracy groups. The newly elected Council has re-established a democratic system of 14 advisory committees and working groups. Inner West Mayor, Darcy Byrne, said these groups are an important part of how Council engages with the community: “It’s a way for residents to provide direct input into Council’s planning and work on projects like Youth Week, Seniors’ Week and NAIDOC celebrations.” Democracy groups will consist of interested or expert citizens who meet regularly to deliberate and provide ongoing advice to Council on strategies, policies, programs and actions.
The groups will have the task of helping Council address the community’s aspirations as outlined in the Community Strategic Plan – Our Inner West 2036. A Council spokesperson told the City Hub “Over the next few years Council will develop a range of strategies and policies into which these local democracy groups will have input. “These include the new Local Environment Plan (LEP), Integrated Transport Strategy, Climate and Renewables Strategy, and Social Infrastructure Strategy.”
The spokesperson explained the groups, which will form a part of Council’s Community Engagement Framework, will guide “how Council will engage so that a broad range of perspectives are sought and the community has a strong voice in Council’s decision-making”. The benefits of these kinds of groups are reflected in the experiences of members of existing and former committees who shared insights into Inner West democracy.
Member of the existing LGBTIQ Working Group, Teresa Savage, said the group was formed in 2012 after she met with Mayor Darcy Byrnes to ask what the group could do to improve Council’s services for LGBTIQ people in the area. Since then, says Ms Savage the group has become an “established voice” in the Inner West Council.
The group meets once a month to highlight areas of concern for the community and work on events or publicity campaigns to improve any issues.
Thus far the LGBTIQ Working Group has contributed to an annual “Feel the Love” event to coincide with Mardi Gras, annual rainbow flag raising, providing speakers for local schools for “Wear it Purple”, and a rainbow Roundtable community consultation event. Speaking of the group’s achievements, Ms Savage said “Working with Darcy Byrne, the mayor, has resulted in the employment of a worker for the Pride Centre, the establishment of five Pride Seats across council area, opening of council venues for same-sex marriages, endorsement of marriage equality [and] grants to local LGBTIQ groups.”
Another member of the LGBTIQ Working Group, Amanda Honey, said the group is particularly concerned with acknowledgement of history and expressed her joy over the Council accepting a donation of Pride Seats bearing plaques celebrating local LGBTIQ role models for installation in five high profile locations in the Inner West. “They [the community] resoundingly nominated some pillars of community who have largely represented us in years gone by and risked their safety, careers and incomes to support our rights,” she said. The names of the honorees will be announced this October at the first ever permanent Rainbow Crossing at Summer Hill.
The re-establishment of the democracy groups was made a priority after a number of the committees which formed under the three former councils were dissolved upon amalgamation. Former member of the now disbanded Cooks River Committee, John Butcher, described a number of issues the group worked on “The kind of things we were involved with were Steel Park – getting that plan changed so it introduced water sensitive urban design features, and bank naturalisation and salt marsh regeneration.”
Mr Butcher has a list of projects a re-formed Cooks River Working Group could tackle “One of the big things that I think people want to address is some kind of legislative enforceable framework to address the stormwater issue in the river.
“Having a Cooks River Working Group I think means the Council will focus in some way on the Cooks River and adopt policies that implement water sensitive urban design and address the water quality of the river and the bank actualisations along the river.” Member of the Council’s Environment Strategic Reference Group, Nicole Boyd, said the group provided input into Council’s new Community Strategic Plan, specifically the Ecologically Sustainable Inner Waste strategic direction. “The group undertook a series of workshops, each focused on a different environmental issue such as biodiversity, waste, food, energy and water.
“I was very happy to see our contribution was included in the plan and I felt the Council really listened to the group,” she said. Council is urging interested citizens to apply online or at Council’s service centres and libraries. Of these, fifteen applicants will be selected to help shape the future of Sydney’s Inner West. “It is fundamental to Local Government to develop policies and programs with their communities,” said Ms Boyd.
“Not only is the Inner West fortunate enough to have highly educated community members who can provide their expertise for free, but including the community in decision-making will create community buy-in and better outcomes for the whole LGA.”