Tips For Community Action GroupsTips For Community Action Groups

Many communities across Queensland have in place some form of community action group, ratepayers association or some other body representing either the wider community or a specific agenda. One such Queensland based group has been in continual battles with Redlands Shire Council on a number of issues over many years including the devaluing of their properties, high rates, inability to build on land, flood prone land, etc. The Group has suggested that Council's actions have resulted in many owners buying land that is now essentially worthless. A number of owners have given up and sold their properties to Council for only a few thousand dollars - far less than the normal "market" value for properties in the area and in some cases far less than what the property was initially purchased.

This obviously has been an ongoing problem, which is causing residents huge frustration. Action Groups in situations such as these, trying to lobby Councils or Government Departments, are faced with the task of representing the interests of the broader group, keeping all participants/members happy, while also liaising and negotiating in a professional yet successful manner.

The only way that Action Groups will be successful is to continually present a united front and to outline concerns or issues in writing. Action Groups need to be professional in their approach - be reasonable and be willing to negotiate, mediate and lobby in a conciliatory and flexible manner. If residents truly believe they have been wronged and they have a case then they need to initially prepare a detailed submission outlining evidence of Council/Government alleged mismanagement, maladministration, incompetence, deviation from policy/legislation or unethical behaviour. The onus is on residents to prove the case. Many Action Groups or individual residents have their objectivity clouded by emotion and passion. Tempers, feelings and individual outcomes cloud judgement and many people make the error of thinking that the Council/Government agency will be sympathetic to the cause. Unfortunately this is the exception rather than the rule.

In preparing any submission or proposition to a Government agency requesting action, one key tool that can be useful in proving your case is to access all available documents and information that the Council/Government agency holds regarding the relevant issue. Freedom of Information processes enable us as members of the public to generally access most if not all of the documents an agency holds. There are obviously exclusions but even now agencies are reviewing these exceptions as a result of public and media pressure demanding accountability. Accessing documents under FOI can be very time consuming but it is almost impossible to effectively argue a position with a Government agency unless you have access to all the documents the agency holds. Essentially you have to know as much as Council about the issue and one way of being informed is to get access to their documents. Further supporting evidence or information could also be available in Council/Government reports, media articles or studies undertaken by Universities etc.

Maintaining a united front is a challenging task for action groups but it is essential to success. Some in the group might want to break away or suggest that action be taken through the Courts. Court action is not only very expensive but as soon as you engage lawyers - the chances of a negotiated outcome are very slim. Further the case will probably be tied up in Court for years. The Group needs to maintain unity - Government agencies love to divide and conquer - it is much easier for such agencies to dismiss complaints or demands for action if it can splinter the Action Group into smaller, less powerful and politically savvy sub groups.

The Action Group needs to select a suitable person to act as spokesperson - someone who presents professionally, is clear headed and is calm and respectful. The Group needs to enter into negotiations/discussions with the relevant agency once the formal submission outlining the case or situation is presented to the Agency. In these meetings cool heads are needed - the Group needs to be seen to be conciliatory - willing to listen but also very well prepared in outlining their case.

It is also important that Groups also prepare a comprehensive briefing to the relevant State or Federal Government Minister to ensure the Minister is informed and also send a briefing to your local, state and federal members of Parliament and seek meetings with these people to encourage their support. Your local MP's or Councillors are supposed to be there to represent your interests and while the matter may be an issue for another level of Government, these Members of Parliament/Councillors can place pressure on the agency to accede to your requests. Local and state-wide media exposure via television, radio and newspaper is also a great way to put pressure on Government agencies to come to the bargaining table.

Luck and some skill are key ingredients Action Groups need to be successful in lobbying Government agencies. However the strength of voice and the voting implications when it comes to our elected representatives influence decision makers. The more people who support the Group and the more media attention you can get - the greater the chances of success. Don't forget though professionalism, flexibility, respect and most importantly a well founded reasonable argument will increase the chances immeasurably.
by Nick Ideabank
References and Bibliography
Red Tape Busters is based in Queensland Australia and provides services in: Government and Private Sector Lobbying; Government Funding & Grant Writing Service; Job Application Writing Service; Business and Strategic Planning; Tender Writing Service and Business Support Services.
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