Queenslanders are demanding more – and rightly so. They want a real say in how they live their lives. There is a great deal more to community empowerment than holding community cabinets. They’ve been part of the political landscape in Queensland since 1957.
But I believe the message from the people is that having the big boys sweep into town with note-takers in tow is not – ultimately – the best way to go. It still means that from the point of view of the communities thus blessed, the outcome – if there is an outcome – is another round of gifts from the great and greatly distant.
I want to see a system that works the other way round. It might make things a little more complicated in some limited areas. It might well reduce – perhaps quite sharply – the number of opportunities political leaders have to grandstand. It might not suit the present practices of big government, of the centralists.
But it is the best way I can think of to build even more people power into the great democracy that is our birthright. I call it community empowerment. It’s a theme I’ve taken up on a number of occasions over the past year and a quarter. It’s a theme I believe resonates powerfully with people in their own communities.
It is thinking outside the square. And that’s something we could all do a lot more. It is a shift from the principle of centrally controlled bureaucracy to the principle of community democracy.
Community empowerment is about empowering local communities to make their own decisions rather than simply having some input into government decisions.
That goes a significant step – a sizeable step – further than any political party has been prepared to go before. It may well be one answer to the chief problem that confronts politicians of all stripes these days – the problem of the deep cynicism many people feel about politics today and the politicians who practice that politics and put themselves forward for office.
I hope it is. For in a democracy it is essential that all participants have faith in the good faith of all the other participants. That good faith must extend across the partisan divide. I don’t believe it’s either right or proper – and it’s certainly not productive – for any side in politics to pretend it has the only answer to any particular problem or issue. But it is in people’s own localities – within their own communities – that we need to focus the bulk of our attention and effort.
And that’s what I believe we should make our benchmark for measuring political and governmental success:
- Whether the process of government actually can make it possible for communities to help themselves on anything like a level playing field.
- Whether government and its processes – and the necessary financial and administrative effort – can actually focus on the detail, often the small detail, of policies and decisions that affect those people in their homes and their streets and their places of work.
I believe we can do it. We only have to find the will. And once we have found the will, we shall find the way. We have some pretty powerful tools nowadays to help find that way – the electronic age that makes it so much easier, cheaper, and simpler to communicate, to work, to learn, to help each other.
Information technology is a great liberator. It is a great tool for individual freedom to choose. And a great tool for business. On the Internet, it really doesn’t matter whether you’re in Brisbane or Boulia, Canberra or Cooktown, if you’ve got a product to sell or an idea to promote. And you don’t have to confine your marketing to areas you can physically reach.
This is an edited extract from a speech which he delivered to the Brisbane Institute on Tuesday, 8th February 2000.
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