Why is public participation important? Governments are responsible for decisions that have both intended and often unforeseen impacts on the community. Transparent and well-managed public participation is essential to fully inform government policies and their translation into effective strategies, programs and projects (1). So why is it so elusive?
Getting what you want to hear
A recurring theme has embedded itself within the realms of Government 'reviews', 'consultations' and 'discussions'. Whilst these events are all promoted as 'public participation', the reality can be very different. In some cases, they are becoming tightly-controlled processes - limiting feedback to a narrow pre-set agenda, some using a strict question/answer form, thereby suffocating and restricting valuable feedback.
In September 2015, a Review of Commonwealth Aged Care Advocacy Services (to which we participated in) was carried out. Our inquiries revealed that neither the submissions nor the final report are to be made available to the public. We were not going to be given an opportunity to become more informed and to debate the issues, nor will we know whether they have taken any account of ours (or others) submissions.
We were also made aware of a Consultation Workshop for the review that was run, which provided participants of the review with a briefing paper detailing some high level feedback around the Options Paper consultation process, outlining key areas for discussion at the workshop. Unfortunately, the Consultation Workshop was not publicised and took place behind closed doors with a selected group of individuals, ones with whom the Department had hand-picked to attend. This is unacceptable.
If Government genuinely wants the community to participate, assist and community input is valued, then it should publish all submissions and provide an opportunity for comment and discussion, so that the community can develop its knowledge and understanding by listening to others and engage. Importantly, the report and it's conclusions should also be made publicly available.
Community are entitled to know what the impact of their input has been and whether it has been seriously considered. A failure to do so fuels the widespread feeling of hopelessness and inability to influence events – leading to community disinterest and disengagement with the political progress. It also shows a disregard for those who have made considerable efforts to participate.
ACC are opening the public debate about this advocacy service here. We invite everyone who knows anything about this service to tell us more about it by commenting or making a larger contribution. Lets debate and decide what we would actually like advocacy to be.
In our submission to the review of aged care advocacy services, we argued that the current structure is based on outdated 20th century thinking that is not working. We have called for a 21st century solution. All of the structures protecting vulnerable citizens and maintaining standards are fragmented and organised centrally far away from the nursing homes and the communities where the care is given.
We have argued that all of these oversight and support activities should be restructured and provided through local community organisations where they would be integrated and work together. The community should be involved in planning and in implementation from the outset. Our submission is in effect suggesting something like the proposed aged care community hub (in the Solving Aged Care section of the website).
Advocacy is one of the problem areas in aged care and it needs solving. To counter the secrecy and make this a community issue, we have decided to create a forum for discussion by making it part of the Solving Aged Care debate.
We invite you to read our submission and make a comment, or if you prefer, make a longer contribution to the debate about advocacy setting out your ideas. We need to have the debate that the government is denying us.
We are particularly interested in getting information and comment from current advocates and from anyone who has had experience of the government’s advocacy system. You can do so anonymously and current advocates may prefer to do so.