Australasian Conference for Public Participation (IAP2) Conference 2011

(9am 20 October, Sydney Masonic Centre)

Thank you Angela (Angela Owens, MC) and thank you to Donna Ingram of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council for the Welcome to Country.

I would like firstly to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, and to pay my respects to the Elders, both past and present.

I would like to welcome you all to Sydney for the 2011 Australasian Conference for Public Participation, and to extend a warm welcome to IAP2's international president, Geoff Wilson, and the Australasian President, Kimbra White.

It's wonderful to see such a large group that has a shared commitment to involving the community in decisions that affect our lives.

This year's IAP2 conference theme revolves around three key words: Excite, Engage, Evolve.

How do we excite and motivate communities in a time in which it is easy to be cynical about the political process - when it seems that political parties are only interested in gaining and maintaining power, and in listening to small groups of powerful vested interests? How do we most effectively use the many tools we have to engage our communities and reach better informed decisions? And how do we best evolve together in a time in which the pace of change is rapid?

My story

As both an Independent MP and Lord Mayor of Sydney, working with city communities has always been at the core of my work - our communities need to have a say in planning for the future of our city and our neighbourhoods, and in how we address the challenges we face from global warming to inequality.

My involvement in public life began when I was a young mother at home with two small children in inner city Redfern.

I was dismayed by the lack of facilities in our neighbourhood, particularly the local playground which was fenced off with cyclone fencing/barbed wire, locked at night and didn't have any grass. I took the issue to the Ward Alderman, who dismissed me.

I formed a community group, gathered signatures for petitions, and when local elections came round, I tried to find someone to stand for council, no-one would - and in the end I stood for council myself.

So, it's a career that started with knocking on doors in Redfern to fight for a small patch of green space, and it was a matter of physically going from door to door. There was no internet or mobile phones, and few people had photocopiers or computers. Press releases actually had to be hand delivered.

Times have changed dramatically - we have websites, we deliver electronic newsletters, we get involved on Twitter and Facebook, but the fundamentals remain the same. We need to go where people are; find out what they think; and inform and involve them in the issues that affect them.

I think of the way we use the internet and new technologies as 'digital doorknocking' - and for it to be effective, it has to work as a two-way conversation. It can't just be a one-sided delivery of information. There has to be genuine listening and responding.

City Consultation and Communication

When I became Lord Mayor, I wanted to ensure that our large organisation effectively connected and responded with communities, and that we encouraged participation in decision making.

Several of the City's key managers and staff have completed or are completing the IAP2 training program, and we aim to follow the IAP2 spectrum of public participation when we plan our consultation and engagement with city communities.

In 2008 we were proud to receive the IAP2 Australian Core Values Award for Robust Public Participation for our consultation process to develop Sustainable Sydney 2030.

This consultation process was unprecedented and innovative. It involved spending a year talking and listening to what people wanted Sydney to be like in 2030.

Over 12,000 people were directly consulted at more than 30 forums. A further 4,000 people were involved through City Talks, and 2,000 people gave oral comments on the 2030 "Future Phone" at events, schools and educational institutions. 547 people were given personal briefings at 11 sessions, and we held nine roundtable discussions with key groups. We also went to schools and asked primary students to draw the future, and we went to the streets to survey visitors.

The result was an extraordinary consensus, with 97% of people telling us they want us to take firm action against climate change. It is this input that underlies much of the work you now see across Sydney and the neighbouring villages, including cycleways and leading environmental programs.

This year, we've built on our Sustainable Sydney 2030 approach in developing our first Night Time City Policy. Alongside traditional forums, we've done "vox pops" to gather ideas from people visiting the city at night, and run our first interactive online forum that attracted over 6,000 visitors and 679 ideas.

People want a thriving, safe and diverse city at night, and the input and enthusiasm into the consultation process has been exciting. This is the kind of engagement that cuts through political inertia, and the 'loudness' of vested interests. It forms the basis of a discussion paper, which will be ready for comment on 31 October.

The depth and breadth of our consultation process has not just been recognised in relation to Sustainable Sydney 2030. It's also been recognised in relation to one of our newer "patches of grass" - Pyrmont's Pirrama Park - and in relation to our Local Action Plans.

Pirrama Park is part of our new and renewed network of open space, a network that includes improvement to major City parks such as Paddington Reservoir Gardens, Rushcutters Bay Park, Prince Alfred Park, Harmony Park in Surry Hills, Redfern Park and Victoria Park.

It was opened by the City in 2010. The awards it won were not just architecture awards - in 2006 the City was delighted to receive a prestigious Highly Commended Parks and Leisure Australia Award recognising the broad community consultation that was an integral part of the design process. The City engaged in seven community forums, took feedback from 23 community groups, consulted with over 1,000 citizens and received 14, 302 written comments.

Our Local Action Plan Strategy 2007-2010 also resulted from extensive consultation within each of the City precincts. We worked with local communities to identify and enhance the distinctive character of each City village. People let us know what they loved about their neighbourhoods, and the projects that they would like to see happen. This was done through household surveys, community meetings, workshops, focus group discussions, briefings and interviews.

At the end of the consultation process we reported back to communities with "A Snapshot of Projects for our Local Action Plan Strategy 2007-2010". This consultation was recognised by the NSW Local Government and Shires Association, with the City receiving the prestigious RH Dougherty Award 2006 for Reporting to Your Local Community.

The Local Action Plan process resulted in a series of priority improvements for each precinct, with 416 project ideas suggested by residents. Of these 360, or 85%, are completed or are underway.

Receiving recognition for the extensive consultation process City of Sydney undertakes, and for the ways in which we inform our communities, is always encouraging - but it's obviously not the reason why we do it. Working with the community enables you to get better outcomes - take on a journey which can be a rocky road but you have to take it.

Finally, I want to talk to you about a recent example of the community working together to get real change in their neighbourhoods.

Many of you will be familiar with the Victoria Street, Kings Cross, area. Plenty of people shop there, tourists visit regularly and thousands call it home.

But Victoria St has faced a unique problem - overseas backpackers parking their vans on the street for weeks on end and turning the street into a campsite and car sales yard.

Local residents formed a working group to address the situation. The City was quick to act, boosting enforcement and trialling a new backpacker car market and proposing new works on the strip.

But the one thing the City couldn't do was stop the sale of the vehicles on our roads. The law just didn't allow it.

I put a Private Members bill to Parliament to change the law and lobbied the Government for support.

That's when the real grass roots community campaign started.

Residents used every engagement tool on offer to get Government and Opposition support for my bill.

Their letter writing, phone calls, emails, meetings with politicians and a twitter campaign directly targeted the Premier, Barry O'Farrell and the Minister for Local Government Don Page. And it worked. Last week my private members bill was passed giving the City of Sydney the power to stop the sale of vehicles on certain roads.

This is a great example of community informed and empowered to push for change and I'm pleased that my dual roles- at the City and in Parliament -contributed to real change for this densely populated community.

This change in the law was the result of the elected Council and elected MP working with the community effectively. It was the hard work of each and every emailer, letter writer and community campaigner who demanded a better deal for Victoria St.

This is a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges. We need, more than ever, to excite and engage our communities to participate in the decision making that effects how we evolve together.