COMMUNITY BUILDING PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM
Motion Accorded Priority
Mr PAUL McLEAY
(Heathcote) [3.43 p.m.]: I move:
That this House congratulates the Government on its expansion of the Community Building Partnership Program.
Today I would like to discuss the tremendous success of the Community Building Partnership Program. It has been a wonderful chance for members of Parliament to work with their local communities to make grassroots decisions about how to spend public money for the maximum local gain. Sometimes we can feel powerless as local members not just because we have less influence than Ministers but because we have far less influence than bureaucrats and big interest groups when it comes to fixing local problems. I have always believed that locals know best what matters in their neighbourhoods. It is important that governments continue to expand the Community Building Partnership in recognition that voters must have a greater say in public decision-making and not just once every four years.
I urge the House to continue this program. I recognise and appreciate the Premier's decision this past weekend to substantially increase the allocation in light of the quality of applications received. I also urge the House to examine the model that I have chosen to deliver the program, which has been directly driven by locals who do the real hard yards in my neighbourhood's most important social institutions. The year 2007 was Time
magazine's Year of You. YouTube, MySpace and Facebook hit the mainstream and government needed to address the question of how the wisdom of crowds can make for better public policy and service delivery.
Coincidentally, with the rise of the Internet, participatory democracy or deliberative democracy and deliberative budgeting were gaining notice internationally. Participatory democracy basically means handing over some resources and policy choices to direct community decision-making. When I was the chair of the Public Accounts Committee we undertook an inquiry into the engagement process used in the State Plan. I headed to Porto Alegre, Brazil, which was at that time at the centre of deliberative government. It seemed obvious to me at the time that Web 2.0 collaboration tools also could deliver deliberative action effectively.
The Brazilians believe participatory budgeting or deliberation is inextricably linked to socialism but that, in most respects, it is a methodology not an ideology. Getting citizens properly involved in how their government is run works in Brazil because the government gives people some cash to play with—old-school many-to-many collaboration. It is not exclusive to any ideology and it is fascinating to watch now as the United Kingdom Coalition Government endorses it as part of its Big Society program.
Last year I decided to combine what I had learned in Brazil with what I had been discussing with some of my friends in the United Kingdom and put this theory into action. I set up a crowd-funding platform—www.paulmcleay.com.au—to allocate the first round of Community Building Partnership money. I received more than 50 applications. Their projects went online with a picture of their program and 100 words describing it. I then said to the people living in my electorate, "Do not let me decide who gets the money; you decide". Every person who lives in my electorate got five votes which they could allocate to the projects that they supported.
Therefore, the onus was not on me to make the decision; the onus was on my electorate to decide. The scheme also engaged the applicants who had asked for money. I said to them, "Do not convince me, go and convince your friends and neighbours". Instead of encouraging them to write a letter to their local member of Parliament or ask their patrons to exercise some political pressure, this engendered a real activism in the aspiring applicants. It gave them the choice to go out and justify their programs to their neighbours in order to get the support and the votes they needed.
After I visited the groups and helped them write their proposals and post them online I discovered that there were other challenges—not everyone has access to a computer. To address that problem we issued forms that could be filled out manually. It encouraged community groups to go out and get as many people as they could to support their projects. Within three short voting weeks more than 20,000 votes had been cast. It was a magnificent success. The people living in my electorate got to choose which projects they supported—everything from stage constructions and hall refurbishments to outdoor classrooms, shop fit-outs, station upgrades and toilets in local community groups—and the amount of money allocated was distributed in direct correlation to the votes that the projects received.
The very small group of Engadine Rotary had 31 members who got very active. They received 4,500 votes and $69,000 in funding as a result. I set the threshold at 200 votes. Those who received over 200 votes for a playground construction received $3,800. It was a fantastic result. Everyone loved the scheme and enjoyed it so much that I introduced it again this year. This year it involved a similar process. There were tens of thousands of votes, people got online and people got active. Those who were the most active were rewarded.
While the early exponents of participatory budgeting were Latin American socialists, this movement is heading mainstream, particularly in the United Kingdom. In Britain, where progressive left-wingers such as Charles Leadbeater got it started, the Conservatives are getting on board as well with the Big Society Network now a vocal champion for "Your Local Budget", which introduced participatory budgeting to local authorities. They are working with the government in the United Kingdom to support up to 10 local authorities to implement participatory budgeting. While the Blair Government kicked off a number of important initiatives, including the office of the Third Sector, the new government is building on these civil society measures, including a Big Society Bank, which will help finance social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups.
Participation is beyond party politics. It is accessible, it is available 24 hours a day and it is online. When we empower local solutions and encourage participation we strengthen the institutions and bonds of civil society. Traditional approaches empower bureaucrats and entrench hierarchy, making government more and more isolated from the governed. Local budgets turn that trend on its head and put power back into the hands of citizens. In the end, governments can only be enablers. We should not treat people like children by making decisions for them and telling them how to live. We need to put power back into the hands of communities and let everyone discover how much we can achieve when we renew our faith not only in our neighbourhoods but also in each other.
Mr DARYL MAGUIRE
(Wagga Wagga) [3.50 p.m.]: The Community Building Partnership Program provides funds for community groups and local councils to invest in community infrastructure throughout the State. Last year some 1,280 grants were approved for community groups and local councils to build and upgrade local facilities. This year the Government allocated $35 million to community projects involving allocations of $300,000 to each electorate, with an additional $100,000 for electorates with a relatively higher unemployment rate. It was announced today that further funding would be made available.
Most members of Parliament completed applications for groups in their electorate online, and I am sure that they would agree that that process was very time consuming because of the number of applications lodged. I had to deal with 41 applications. Many of the community organisations involved made contact with me and came to see me about their projects. I also visited every group that lodged an application to ascertain their funding status. The member for Heathcote said that he used the web to invite individuals to vote for what they believed was the most important local project.
My concern is that an active, Internet savvy group in the community could sway the final decision. A group that may not be computer literate or have access to computers could be severely disadvantaged if that model were pursued. That is why it is important for local members and councils to be involved and to examine each project. If money is allocated on the basis of information gathered via the web I fear that an active group could have an advantage over, for example, groups involving older people or people in rural and regional New South Wales, where the Internet is not as freely accessible. Those groups could be severely disadvantaged if that model were to be widely used.
Given the allocation of additional funding, the Internet site should be reopened so that members can reassess their ratings. When I worked through the applications lodged by groups in my electorate I noticed that some projects could be only partly funded. I have the work sheets on which I calculated which groups could obtain funds and which could not. Groups in my electorate lodged $1,545,000 worth of applications and the available funding was $400,000. The year before, there were 17 applications worth $1.2 million and the funding pool was $400,000.
The program spells out criteria that must be met, and I note that applications from local councils must have matched funding. These programs are meant to provide greater flexibility for the disadvantaged in our communities. That is an important factor that must be taken in account. I question whether those issues are considered in the electronic polling model. I have received an application from Tumut Lawn Tennis Club—a very worthy organisation—for a $100,000 court upgrade project. The club provides facilities to about 250 kids who play in a night competition, which is brilliant for the future of the game. When I visited the club to discuss its application there were about 40 older ladies on the court who have been playing tennis there for many years.
I also received an application for $30,000 for a new roof from Micah House, which provides food, counselling and help for very disadvantaged people in our community. The people of Brungle also made an application, as did the community at Collingullie, which applied for funds to undertake work at the local football club. The shires of Wagga Wagga, Lockhart and Tumut also lodged applications. They are all worthwhile groups and it is difficult to determine which applications should succeed.
Many applicants are contacting my office to find out whether a decision has been made about the original partnership grants. That program was delayed because of problems with the close of applications and because the assessments involved a great deal of work. The applicants are keen to know what is happening, because many of them have obtained quotes for the work to be undertaken within a particular time frame. The suggestion that this could roll on until January and February is the cause of great concern. Contractors have provided quotes for the work to be undertaken and they could be severely disadvantaged if there is excessive delay.
Ms CHERIE BURTON
(Kogarah) [3.57 p.m.]: I support the motion. As the member for Wagga Wagga said, the Community Building Partnership Program is a great initiative, and the issues he raised are legitimate. For the first time in Australia local residents have been able to play an interactive role in program funding allocation. This program enables people in our electorates to apply for small amounts for projects that are vital to them and their community. As a member of Parliament I can assist in obtaining that money. That is the spirit behind this program: it is about enabling local members, irrespective of their party, to assist their local community at a grassroots level. WIN Jubilee Oval received $13 million—
Mr Thomas George:
How did you get $13 million?
Ms CHERIE BURTON:
The member for Lismore should listen. It will provide a major sporting facility to the people of the St George area. The last budget allocated $1 million for the refurbishment of Kingsgrove police station and for the establishment of a specialist training unit. It will also provide a greater police presence in that area.
Carlton South Primary School will get its long-awaited school fence, as will Sydney tech. Every school in the Kogarah electorate will now have a school fence. A total of $9 million was announced for the widening of Allawah bridge, which is great news for the people of Allawah. In the 12 years that I have been the member for Kogarah approximately $2 billion has gone into my electorate. I refer to the big-ticket items include the M5 East, the new Kogarah police station, and the new commuter car park, which provides 360 spaces free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the people of Kogarah.
However, that is not just what it is about. It is not just about giving grants or big amounts of money. While everyone is grateful for the almost $2 billion that has been spent in the Kogarah electorate, the greatest day was the day I could ring the following groups and tell them that as the local member of Parliament I was able to achieve something for them that in the past was overlooked. An amount of $125,000 was allocated to Kogarah City Council for an upgrade the central business district; $35,000 was allocated to the Uniting Church of Australia Property Trust New South Wales to upgrade its mental health facility; $29,500 was allocated to the Anglican Church Property Trust Diocese of Sydney for the relocation and renovation of kitchen facilities at St George's church; and $24,000 was allocated to the Sydney Cats and Dogs Home
In addition, $22,000 was allocated to the Anglican Church Property Trust Diocese of Sydney; $20,000 was allocated to remediation works at the Christ Church Bexley Hall; $15,000 was allocated to the Scout Association of Australia to refurbish the 2nd Beverly Hills scout hall; $13,478 was allocated to St Gabriel's Catholic Church, Bexley, to build a carport for its community bus; $10,000 was allocated to the Scout Association of Australia to refurbish the 1st Kogarah scout hall; $7,000 was allocated to the Scout Association of Australia for repairs to the 1st Hurstville scout hall; $5,000 was allocated to the Scouts Association of Australia for the refurbishment of the Bexley Kogarah Coptic scout hall; $5,000 was allocated to the Scout Association of Australia to refurbish the Bexley North scout hall; and $4,000 was allocated to the Scout Association of Australia to refurbish the 1st Carlton scout hall.
This year I received more than $500,000 worth of applications. This Government is responsive to community needs. This Government delivers not only the large-scale, big-ticket items such as those that have been delivered to Kogarah but it also delivers the small-ticket items. Therefore, everyone feels included. Every single applicant in the Kogarah electorate will receive funding because the Government is extending the program. I congratulate the Government. I congratulate all the applicants.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE
(Lismore) [4.02 p.m.]: The electorate of the member for Kogarah has certainly received a lot of funding, but it has not come out of the Community Building Partnership Program. The member for Kogarah has highlighted the fact that as members of Parliament we have an opportunity to recommend programs or projects to the Government for assistance. The inaugural Community Building Partnership Program provided my electorate with $400,000, but I received applications for some $2.5 million in grants towards $7.5 million worth of projects. Yes, it was a pleasure to notify the organisations that were successful, and a number of projects were successful in my electorate. However, quite a number of projects were not successful. When I entered politics a bloke said to me, "Never be a judge." I said, "Why? I have been asked to judge a show girl competition." He said, "Never do that." I asked, "Why?" He said, "You will please one person and there will be 10 people who will not be happy, so you will win one vote and you will lose 10."
Mr Kevin Greene:
It is all about votes.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE:
It is a bit like this program: It was nice to ring up the ones that were successful. However, I had to face the ones that were not successful. There is a down side to it. It highlighted to me—I did not realise it—how many projects in the electorate were unfunded and that people needed assistance to complete their projects or get their projects off the ground. In saying that, the Minister in the Chair is the Minister for Sport and Recreation—
Mr Kevin Greene:
Amongst other things.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE:
Amongst other things—he is also the Minister for Gaming and Racing. Once upon a time we used to have the capital grants, not to the extent that we had them before. I do not think we have had them every year like we had them.
Mr Kerry Hickey:
No money for you next year.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE
: I would like to see what I got this year. We used to have the opportunity to recommend those programs.
Mr Kerry Hickey:
Mr THOMAS GEORGE
: I will certainly want to talk to the member about that. There is a lot of talk in Australia today about obesity and sport. The biggest surprise I got was the number of sporting organisations that needed assistance via the Community Building Partnership to improve their facilities in some way or another. Again, we certainly have had the opportunity to have the grants approved.
Last year in the Lismore electorate the Australian Red Cross received some money towards an upgrade of a car park; the Dunoon and District Sports and Recreation Club, a great sporting organisation, received $30,000 for earthworks and flood lighting at Balzer Oval, Dunoon; the Lions Club Australia (Tabulam Branch) received money for a netball facility at Bonalbo; the Lismore Little Athletics club received some money for an all-weather cover; the Lismore Soup Kitchen received some money towards the establishment of low-cost accommodation for marginalised people; the Lismore Theatre Company Inc. received some money towards the replacement of its kitchen; the Lismore Thistles Soccer Club received some funding for a concrete viewing pad at its ground; and the Mt Warning preschool the upgrade of the eco-cubby learning centre.
Mr Kerry Hickey:
All worthwhile organisations.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE:
Yes, they are all worthwhile organisations. As I have said though, it is one thing to ring people and notify them that they were successful; it is another thing to have to ring them and tell them that they were not successful.
Mr PAUL McLEAY
(Heathcote) [4.07 p.m.], in reply: The notion of the Community Building Partnership Program has certainly been embraced by all members. A total of $35 million was allocated to our local community, to a much-needed area of social inclusion. The member for Lismore acknowledged that many initiatives still needed funding. I take that as an appreciation of a Labor Government initiative. This was Treasurer Roozendaal's idea. It was not just about being a stimulus package to keep local jobs; the first round was all about capital projects.
Two things were happening: First, the global financial crisis meant local jobs were drying up, so it was about getting local jobs on the ground. Second, the fundraising for sporting, cultural and community groups evaporated overnight. As the global financial crisis hit, their applications for normal fundraising quickly dried up. We wanted to give them some financial assistance, but only if they were able to get builders out on the job building for them. That was the strength of this process. As a result of our review this year, we found that an extra level of community funds is much needed and, more important, that we also need social infrastructure to provide beyond the stimulus effect that it certainly had in our local areas.
The member for Wagga Wagga, though he thought the concept good and supported it in principle, said he was concerned about the process that I adopted. That was a legitimate fear that many had, particularly given that the conservatives opposed the Gillard Government's national broadband network. We would have more Internet access if the likes of Malcolm Turnbull and others actually got on with getting broadband going. My process was a combination of manual forms and Internet, so that people had a choice. If 20,000 votes indicate participation in the process, that shows that people had access to it.
The member for Wagga Wagga also raised a concern shared by many: maybe big, organised groups would be able to dominate. How would a football club compete with say Bundeena RSL Sub-branch, which by definition has about 15 members, mostly veterans and widows, who are probably not the most Internet savvy but came fourth highest among groups inspiring the community. They got people out, and people went online. The highest amount was achieved by 31 people at Engadine Rotary Club who, when they first heard about the process, said to me, "Paul, this is so unfair. How can we as a small group of Rotarians compete with Engadine Dragons and the football and soccer clubs, which have bigger email databases?" I said, "You can do it. You can say you will not get it, or you can get active." The groups that got active are rewarded with dollars. Let me quote an email I received from an aspirant, Steve Honey of the Light Up Gibson Park group:
From all of us involved in the CBPP application for Light Up Gibson Park Soccer Fields can we say a very big thank you. This is a project that we embarked on about three years ago and without your help and input I don't think we would have done as well as we have.
The news you gave me yesterday was simply the best thing I have heard all year. I personally owe you for your help with how to best make the project work.
Once again thank you; the children of Thirroul as well as our community as a whole will be better for it. Thanks again Paul.
This caught the imagination of people who participated in the process. They got involved, got activated, got their lists out and knocked on doors. In the past, they have just come to one place. Treasury, which has $1.2 million worth of applications from my electorate, said, "Instead of us deciding, we should let that decision be made locally." So they have given the matter to the local members of Parliament and asked them to use their judgement and evaluation. All I have done is taken it a step further and said, "More local than I are the local citizens themselves." In the past two years more than 8,500 people participated in this local decision-making process. I commend this program to the House and for the consideration of future governments.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Debate on the motion accorded priority having concluded, the House will now proceed to Government business.