Community Engagement Policy Consultation

Council’s Community Engagement policy (CS07) is due to be updated. A recent review of the existing policy found that there is an opportunity to reduce some ambiguity in the current policy while maintaining the objectives and intent of the policy.

While there are numerous wording changes to the original existing policy, the intent of the policy remains consistent.

The main changes include:

  1. Removal of specific reference to the IAP2 spectrum
  2. Removal of specific reference in the policy to the Community Engagement Toolkit
  3. Removal of specific examples of instances when community engagement above legislative requirements may occur

In accordance with Section 50 of the Local Government Act 1999 re: Public Consultation Policies, Council must undertake public consultation ‘Before Council adopts, substitutes and/or alters a public consultation policy, unless the alteration is only of minor significance……’

While it is believed that the changes proposed are only minor (in that they do not significantly alter the intent of the policy and will not impact the way in which the policy guides Council’s approach to engagement or its implementation) for the purpose of transparency and full disclosure we are seeking feedback from the community on the draft version of the policy. 

Main changes to the existing policy:

 1.    Removal of specific reference to the IAP2 spectrum:

The risk of specifically naming a certain engagement framework is that staff who are obliged to use the policy, and toolkit if referenced in the policy, are therefore required to use the IAP2 framework which may not be the most appropriate or best practice approach to that specific engagement. Furthermore any changes to the IAP2 framework or superseding of the framework by another more relevant model would result in Council’s policy being outdated or reliant on a framework which may no longer represent the intention of the policy;

The IAP2 spectrum is a leading practice approach for community engagement and serves as a useful tool for planning and consideration, and will still be included in Council’s planning and approach for engagement. However by removing the overt reference to either document in the policy allows::

  • administration staff to use the framework as appropriate and needed,
  • for the policy to be more responsive and to take advantage of changes to best practice should new or more advanced approaches come to light in the future;
  • for a reduced risk of Council being found liable for not complying with a standard which may not be optimal for a given situation; 
  • administration staff to make decisions about the best approach for Council and the community to ensure transparency and fit for purpose engagements. 

2.    Removal of specific reference in the policy to the Community Engagement Toolkit:

Council’s current engagement toolkit also references the IAP2 spectrum as a key guiding framework which, as discussed this above creates risk for Council, the toolkit also includes reference to specific staff names and job titles which are out of date and subject to change.

3.    Removal of examples of instances when community engagement above legislative requirements may occur:

The current policy’s Scope lists examples of when ‘community engagement above legislative requirements may occur…’ these include:

  • Targeted policies, strategies and initiatives;
  • Operational matters;
  • Performance evaluation/customer satisfaction;
  • Development on Council land; and
  • Miscellaneous community engagement processes and activities.

While these are all relevant and appropriate examples of when elective community engagement could apply, the inclusion of a list of this type raises expectations from the community and according to the Coastal Ecology Protection Group Inc & Ors v City of Charles Sturt findings:

a council is required to comply with its public consultation policy insofar as it sets out steps beyond those mandated by the Act (at [385]-[392]), a council is required to follow all steps set out in its policy and not just those steps overtly set out therein (at [401]) and the requirement is an objective one.”

Therefore it could be reasonably found that Council should undertake these engagements in every instance of each example. If this approach becomes routine practice then this would be at odds with the Principle Genuine Engagement: ‘Council will not engage beyond legislative requirements for engagement sake.’

Giving specific examples of when Council may go beyond legislation creates risk and could reduce the sincerity of engagement practices, leading to practices where Council engages on issues purely out of fear of legislative action, rather than a genuine need for engagement.

The draft version removes the list of examples of when Council may go beyond legislation and replaces it with a more general statement:  ‘Council may also undertake community engagement activities when it believes that it will enhance its decision-making or ability to deliver on the stated outcomes of the City Plan 2030.  Requirements for notification and/or consultation on particular matters that are contained in relevant legislation apply in place of this policy.  However, when Council elects to consult beyond the minimum statutory requirements, the requirements of this policy should be applied.’

A decision on whether to undertake broader community engagement will be determined by a number of factors including impact on community, practicality of community engagement and timeliness of delivery.  Each engagement process is considered on its individual merits.

Council is therefore free to exercise discretion and to uphold the Genuine Engagement principle of the policy with reduced risk of being expected to conduct unnecessary or irrelevant engagements.

How can you be involved?

You can provide feedback on the draft engagement policy by completing the form below:

Submissions close 12 June 2019.

For further information please contact Tom Sweeney on (08) 8405 6941 or tom.sweeney@cityofpae.sa.gov.au

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For further information on this topic, or if you have any questions, please call our helpful Customer Services team on 8405 6600 or email us at service@cityofpae.sa.gov.au.
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