Australian troubles with community engagement

The Guardian has reported that residents in Southern Australia, who face having a nuclear waste storage facility imposed on them, are being forced to sign an excessively restrictive code of conduct if they wish to attend community meetings.  This prevents them from taking notes, repeating certain views expressed in the meeting, or trying to take part in the committee discussions.  This appears to go well beyond the steps required to maintain an orderly meeting, and serves to suppress democratic accountability.

While the last search process in Cumbria, MRWS, didn’t go to such extreme lengths, there were some unnecessary restrictions which obstructed local democracy.  Specifically, executive members of the borough councils, and cabinet members of Cumbria County Council, were told that they could not give any public indication of whether they were minded to vote for the process to proceed to the next stage.  This ‘predetermination’ rule allowed senior councillors to completely avoid public scrutiny on the matter.

For those senior councillors who backed the widespread public view that the process should be halted, this proved extremely frustrating as they were unable to offer any public reassurance.  For those councillors who chose to go against the views of their electorate, this proved to be a very convenient excuse to avoid answering public questions.  At the same time, these councillors were being encouraged by government ministers to ignore the public and vote for this to go ahead.  We know that Baroness Verma made a series of phone calls to executive and cabinet members for this purpose, in the hours before the crucial January 2013 vote on MRWS stage 4.  This was an abuse of the system and is not how local democracy should work.

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A Voice for Cumbria
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