Local Government

Three representatives from the Local Government sector examined aspects of community cultural development practice in Local Government, covering issues facing regional Australia and the integration and implementation of community cultural development processes.

Pauline Peel

Manager - Community Life Brisbane City Council
Pauline's portfolio includes responsibility for Culture, Sport and Recreation and Community Development.

Pauline's previous roles have included Executive Officer for the Queensland Community Arts Network, member of the Australia Council (1988-'91) and a founding member of Street Arts Community Theatre Company in Brisbane.

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to Brisbane, welcome to the Brisbane City Hall. I just thought I'd talk a little bit about the City Hall to get us all rolling. It's a funny old building but we love it and the people of Brisbane love it, so I hope you've been able to signpost your way around. If you haven't and if you find it confusing, then enjoy the confusion, I say, but there's lots of things to have a look at around the building, the Amish quilts exhibition, the Brisbane city gallery down on the first floor, King George Square and just generally. This is an icon of Brisbane and also an important site for the indigenous people. So welcome to Brisbane and thank you for coming. I've waited an awful long time to become the Manager of Community Life, it's a pretty exciting role, let me tell you, with Brisbane City Council.

This morning you've heard Brisbane's Lord Mayor, Jim Soorley speak and after he spoke, I thought, "Mm, goodness, I'm not quite sure what I'm going to speak about," but anyway I'll continue on my merry way. What I really want to talk about this afternoon is local government taking a role in leading the way as we move into the new millennium. I suppose really looking at it I should have called it Local Government Leading the Way in Partnership, in collaboration with all of you and with the communities but I've been quite deliberate talking about leading the way because I believe there is an opportunity for local government, as the nearest level of government to the people, to show real leadership and I think that's what came through this morning in the Lord Mayor's speech.

As you heard I've worked in a lot of places in theatre and community arts and in the State Housing Department and the thing that I really love about local government is that it is close to the people and you can work to get things done. Brisbane City Council is a huge Council, there's 7500 people, so it's not small, it's still a very large bureaucracy and it has its problems and it has a long way to go yet, but I guess one of the things I've learned, or I'm trying to learn, is that it's about being patient but having a vision and moving towards that vision.

So as we move not only into a new century but also a new millennium and pause to reflect on the nature of society and where we're headed, it's appropriate I think that we should be considering the nature of our government. We all know, you all know and you're part of it, that it's a time of great change, globalisation, dramatic changes to the nature of employment, demographics changing rapidly, increasing gap between rich and poor, extraordinary advances in technology opening up information in a way that we never imagined possible and increasing emphasis on Australiašs role in South-East Asia and the importance of that.

For some of us the changes brought about by the technological advances, for example, we see as contributing further to the breakdown of neighbourhoods and communities, maybe. Economic rationalism and accompanying legislation, for example the national competition policy here in Australia, are impacting on communities and changing the nature of the role of the public sector and I'm in the middle of a restructure so I know all about that one.

There's an enormous amount of confusion in the community and government as we struggle to come to grips with these changes. Some of the responses are very visible: the current member for Oxley's win at the last federal election; the obvious manifestation of the community's need to blame, to put in government someone who will take us back to a safer time; the Wik debate demanding leadership, but at best attracting a bit of an economic response, it's not about race, it's about certainty in the country's economy.

In all of this lies not only the concerns that we can express but the challenges and the opportunities, the debate around the Wik legislation, the discussion about multiculturalism and Australia's place in the Asia-Pacific, the move towards a republic all provide opportunities for building understanding and awareness and developing new ideas.

Many commentators are starting to talk about a convergence of localism and globalism. There can be on the one hand a redefinition of communities, virtual communities, other communities. As people work from home there'll be a resurgence of the local physical communities which provide an integrated range of services from shopping through to culture and leisure services - contradictions but possibilities. Barbara Lipani from Lateral Solutions I heard speak at a conference in Adelaide last year where she was talking about the changing nature of town centres. She talked a lot about the impact of technology and shopping from home and all those sorts of things but she finished her speech by saying, and I quote:

Our participation in the virtual world of nano second cyberspace where we learn, trade and relate will drive a strong valuing of a local world of physical realtime space and sensate experience. Wealth is as much the time and the opportunity to experience a sunset or have time out with friends and family as it is to buy the latest computer.

I found her speech very optimistic and hopeful.

With all the concerns which the national competition policy has brought with it, has also come opportunities for reviewing old ways of doing things, of forming dynamic new partnerships between government and the private sector and communities and community organisations. Research is showing the community is looking for better service from government and they may be prepared to pay for it, not less. The community doesn't necessarily want the same as they've always had, they want a service which meets their need and they want a voice and a role in defining that service.

So at a time when governments at the state and federal level are struggling with how to respond to the changing world, local government, which is the closest level of government, can grasp the opportunities presented - and there are many examples of that and you probably come from some of those places, Ipswich with the wonderful work in reconciliation, Redlands, which has just negotiated with the Quandamooka for a native title, etcetera, and there are many others. So it is a challenge to take this opportunity at a time of reduced funding, changing rate base, increased demand for accountability and the increasing requirement to open up to competition.

So how is this going to change? Writers such as Gabler contend that a shift will occur from local government to local governance, the latter being the process by which we collectively solve our problems and meet society's needs. There will be a transformation from rowing the boat to steering the boat. So I think it will be local government's capacity to be visionary, to be outcome driven, to be creative in its thinking, to develop a clear sense of identity, and to actively engage with our community, that will allow it to take a stronger leadership role.

As cultural workers and community members working with us in local government, we can come together to achieve mutual outcomes. Local government as represented through its local council then - and I'm just going to talk a little bit about how we go about our planning in this council - must develop a strong vision which is informed by the community, which recognises the diverse needs of the community, and then is able to be implemented, not just sit on a shelf somewhere and getting dusty.

Brisbane City Council has over the past few years been developing a strong, strategic planning focus through its corporate plan. The corporate plan is a visionary document. It looks to a Brisbane which recognises and values diversity and plans for that diversity. The council is now planning around achieving outcomes. These are about community life, economic development, community health and safety, land use and built environment, the natural environment and so on. It's about achieving integrated outcomes.

The plan talks about forging a strong city and community identity, about developing living suburbs, about a vibrant city, an informed and involved community. Arts and cultural development are an integral part of achieving these outcomes and a reading of the detail of the current corporate plan will illustrate clearly how culture fits into the range of programs outlined.

There has been a logical unfolding of culture or a folding of culture into the corporate planning process both at the strategic and operational level. The vision of council is then translated into various plans and activities. Earlier this year council published a document entitled Living Suburbs which spells out council's commitment to extending the liveability concept into Brisbane suburbs. Once again the role of culture, if you read that document, is shown as critical to achieving a vision for a vital local community life.

At the end of last year the administration released Creative Brisbane. This is the first ever cultural policy statement produced and released publicly by the city. The statement was launched in November last year and provides a blueprint for implementing a cultural agenda into the next century. As a cultural framework it focuses our work into specific things, each with broad directions and specific goals. The things include city identity, tourism, creative neighbourhoods, indigenous cultural development, cultural partnerships, cultural facilities and precincts. This vision can be directly linked back to the corporate plan and the outcomes which the council is seeking for the city.

So I'd like now just to explore a couple of the outcomes and the cultural tools which council is using to achieve these outcomes. I want to focus particularly on the question of identity and I'd probably have to say again that identity, I suppose, has it upsides and downsides where you can have an identity as a pretty narrow city, a city that isn't tolerant, that doesn't understand its diversity so I'm not talking about that sort of identity. I'm talking about an identity that does, as I said, value diversity, that does recognise the need for community involvement, that does understand the importance of cultural development and participation and opportunities. It's not just about making Brisbane a pretty place for tourists to visit and to come to. It's first and foremost about our residents and our understanding of who we are, the big issues and how we're going to tackle these things.

So in looking at identity and achieving that outcome, there's a whole range of strategies that work at both a city-wide and a local level so some of the things that we've done include local forums which will address questions of the future such as the republic, the constitutional convention, Brisbane speaks, visioning, giving people an opportunity to think about where they want to go, a reconciliation strategy which will also commemorate the stolen children - perhaps not commemorate it but look at that issue and tackle that issue with the people of Brisbane.

We're being proactive at looking at social history at the local and city-wide level. This is not new. You know, you're probably sitting there and you're probably doing a lot of this but this wasn't necessarily happening a couple of years ago. I think the question of history is so important if we're going to move forward so in developing our social history program over the last couple of years we've been intent on not only looking back but looking forward and in this one, Brisbane 100 Stories, was an exhibition that finished a couple of months ago.

That was a process of identifying some of the hidden stories of Brisbane but also looking to a future and we talked to students, people like Cheryl Kernot, Wesley Enoch who used to be with Koemba Djarra and asked them to vision a future for us so we can really start to work together with people in thinking ahead. I would dearly love to take this concept a lot further, working again at the local level with the local history groups, with the local stories, the local histories and moving forward.

Yesterday when I was looking at this speech and trying to work out what to do and I actually threw out what I was going to do and started all over again, I said to my son "What do you think I should be saying?" and he said, "You need to say you've got to talk to the young people because you don't really know what you're doing." I thought, "That's probably fair enough and maybe true." But in looking at this question of history and where we're going, then it's not only important for young people to be involved in decisions at all levels, or older people for that matter, but it's important that we recognise that as part of the whole framework.

We're working with local communities to develop a sense of place and identity and the Lord Mayor talked about this program this morning. Council has been undertaking a program of revitalising local strip shopping centres. We thought in my area, in community development, that it was very important that we were in there from the start and this has been a learning process and I'd have to say that as we've gone on we've got better at it, but we didn't want to just to come in and be tacked on at the end, we actually wanted to be a part at the start.

This slide that's up here is a goanna seat in West End which is part of a strip shopping centre there and this actually was added on at the end, and there are problems that come with that, but right now, whenever you go down West End you see people crawling all over the goanna, they really love it. Our process in council was to say, "Well, can we work with you as part of developing these strip shopping centres. We want to have artists integrated into your urban design team at the beginning," and that's what we've managed to do. So now the question isn't even asked, the people are brought in.

The process of developing these strip shopping centres includes or starts with talking to the local community about who they are, about their history and about where they want to go. So now, not only will we have refurbished shopping centres, we're now starting to look at economic strategies and animation strategies, we build on that, we take a community development approach.

This is just another project in a suburb called Mitchelton. You may get to go to this one I think later in the week. That local community used to be a grape-growing area so grapevines feature and when they all grow they'll form an arbour over that shaded area there. Local artists, Gavin Fenlon and Jamie McLean, worked with local young people to build the seats and some of the other parts of that streetscape.

We've worked to integrate culture into council's environmental work such as at Boondall wetlands which is a magnificent area a fair way out of town, probably fairly unknown, but the diversity of flora and fauna there is pretty extraordinary. It's a significant piece of wetlands which has been acquired by council through our bushland levy. With assistance from the Australian Cultural Foundation wešve been able to work with the local bushland group and council departments to develop a collaborative program with the indigenous people. Ron Hurley is one of the artists who has worked with us and he has produced a series of signs which illustrate, on signs posted through the Boondall wetlands, the flora and fauna of that area.

We've moved on to work on a program of poetry and music, Blackfellas Whitefellas, with poets such as Sam Watson and white poets working together to produce a whole range of performance and reflection on the Boondall wetlands, in that place.

We've now taken that work and put it onto an Internet site which we call Brisbane Stores which I think is one of the most innovative projects that we've done in council, which does allow you to build from the base, do your community work and your community activity and then take these stories and put them onto the web so we've created - the site is called Brisbane Stories, there's about half a dozen local suburbs on there. One of them is the Boondall wetlands and if you go into that site you can find out about the environmental aspects of Boondall wetlands. You can also find out about the indigenous history, the white history, you can find the poetry, the music and all the other aspects of the work that we've done. Look up your site, go in and search and find Brisbane Stories. You can find that and Woolloongabba and various other suburbs. It's pretty exciting.

In other initiatives around the question of identity, we're initiating a new major festival of events which we believe reflect who we are in Brisbane. We're currently developing a pilot indigenous festival to kick off in the year 2000. A Brisbane River festival, we've been piloting that over the last couple of years. This will be a significant new and major festival in the year 2000 and it builds on our awareness of the river which, for a long time Brisbane people have turned their backs to the river and they're starting to face the river, increase an understanding of the need to care for it environmentally and this river festival will celebrate the river but it will also be part of raising awareness about the river. Awareness of the river and our waterways is encouraged through, for example, our local grants programs and some wonderful new local festivals are now taking place.

New partnerships are being formed both internally, within Council, and externally. In the Valley-New Farm area, for example - if you're travelling down, it used to be more or less, not the town centre but a major town centre out towards the airport, which is now being, I suppose, revitalised as an inner-city urban suburb. Down in the Valley-New Farm there are 11 commercial galleries. They weren't very well connected. Council in collaboration with the galleries and the local business community have initiated the Art and Ride circuit which utilises a small local community bus service to develop an exciting new cultural tourism initiative which has economic benefits, social benefit, cultural benefit for Brisbane and for the Valley-New Farm and so I could go on but my time is up and I just want to come back to where I started.

There are complex challenges facing Australia today. Local government can lead the way if it is prepared to be visionary, to think long term, to take risks, to be part of the solution, to acknowledge and celebrate cultural diversity. Many councils, as I said before, are doing this, Redlands, Newcastle, Ipswich. Last week the capital city Lord Mayor supported the need for a republic.

You as cultural workers, we as local government workers, have a role to play in working together to develop and achieve the outcomes which we're all looking for. We will have to be prepared to challenge, to look for different ways of working, and to look for the opportunities in this changing world. In the end, what is important is the contribution that we can make towards enhancing the life of the community for our place, our community. Thank you.

Forward: Sheryl Anderson

| Contents | Introduction | Opening | Keynote Speakers | Local Government | Training | Censorship | Court the Corporates | Cross Cultural Work | International Opportunities | I'm an Artist | Everyone's a Critic | CCD in the Youth Sector | Come on Down - Awards | Musgrave Park Sympsoium | Copyright & Ownership | CEAD Does it Really Make a Difference? |