In 1999, nearly two thirds of Australian
said they believed federal politicians
did not know what ordinary people think.
Are citizens viewed by governments as
merely individual consumers of the services
they provide? Recent reforms to government
service delivery may have increased accountability
for the monies expended. However, opportunities
for more comprehensive citizen engagement
are notably lacking.
Elections are, for a variety of reasons,
not good vehicles for citizens to have
a say in how they are governed. Public
institutions need to have more open and
regular processes in place for not only
"consulting" citizens but also
engaging them in developing and implementing
Public-sector institutions have changed
for the better over the past two decades.
There is now a much greater emphasis on
whole of government approaches in recognition
of the complexity and sensitivity of problems
we face as a society. However, the missing
player is still the ordinary citizen in
terms of opportunities for setting strategy
priorities and involvement in how programs
are rolled out.
The recent Government
White Paper on Australia's relations
with the rest of the world did not seek
any direct citizen input. As a result
it appears to have little impact on public
debate, despite the fact that we appear
to be about to go war in a distant country
Australians are quite capable of holding
contradictory opinions - high levels of
distrust of politicians but a strong reliance
on government to look after them. Both
of these mindsets cannot be changed without
greater engagement of citizens in civic
and political life.
One area, for example, where there is
no citizen engagement is in the budget
process of federal and state governments.
The importance of the budget in the minds
of most Australians looms large but there
is no scope to tap input from ordinary
citizens about their priorities.
Another area where citizen input is lacking
is in the development of suitable performance
measures and targets for the expenditure
of public monies in the areas of education
How does Australia's strategic vision
compare in terms of its domestic and international
policies? What processes can be employed
by governments to invite and encourage
greater citizen engagement in the public
sector? These will be two key questions
we will be tacking at the Facing the Future:
stakeholders and citizens in developing
public policy Conference in Canberra,
23-24 April, 2003.
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