Can local government cure democratic disenchantment?

Federal parliament. Image obtained. Labelled for reuse.

Federal parliament. Image obtained. Labelled for reuse.

Federal parliament. Image obtained. Labelled for reuse.

Paul Van Lieshout Hunt, Political Reporter

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Vincent candidate Aaron Olszewski believes the answer to political discontent in democracy lies in grassroots action and engagement at a local government level.

It is no secret that there is a sense of disenchantment in western democracy. The election of Trump, Brexit and the rise of One Nation in Australian Federal Politics prove this. This disenchantment has left many political experts the world over, scratching their heads and pondering reform measures to appease voters.

Local council candidate Aaron Olszewski for the City of Vincent in Western Australia thinks he has the answer, and it lies in grassroots community involvement in decision-making.

“One in five people vote in local government elections. I think local government needs to find a way to enchant people in a local way. The perception of democracy is failing.

“The two-party system has bogged the long term agenda significantly. I think people are pretty jaded and they’re looking for a way to overcome that, and I think local government is that way,” Olszewski told ECU Daily.

One of the key strategies he hopes to instigate is a progressive tactic called participatory budgeting, where local community members decide how council rates are spent.

“It’s about getting people practically involved and across the issues at a local government level. Participatory budgeting is using a small amount of the City of Vincent budget and then allow community groups to access that money, and then they’re the voice. They go out and effect local agendas. That grassroots activism is a way to get people interested in local government and what’s happening,”

Local governments are generally seen as the lowest tier of government that looks after residents bin collection. The local government election in Western Australia will see all 138 councils and shires elect new community representatives. Local elections are notorious for holding low ballot results. Part of this is due to the non-compulsory system of election, and the rest one can presume is apathy.

Political author and expert, Dr Ian Cook, told ECU Daily that public perceptions are also to blame.

“Local government is for the most part has been an ignored part of politics. And so to some extent people aren’t really interested enough in it to start thinking about it in a negative way like state and federal politics has been seen.

“There are plenty of surveys out there that show increasing numbers of people aren’t convinced that democracy works. There are increasing signs that people are losing faith in democracy.

“Partly the rise of anti-politics parties like One Nation indicates some people are sick of mainstream parties [in Australia,] but I think that voters are uncertain that democracy really results in good and effective government,” Dr Cook told ECU Daily.

“To some extent it is a result of spin-politics, where political engagement is more about winning votes and manipulating voters, not about representing them or even serving their interests.

“I think there’s certainly a perception that some people in local government are there to serve their own interests. It’s a mixed bag in local government.”

The 2017 local government elections seem to hold an unprecedented level of attention. Many former state members of parliament, indeed former ministers are vying for local government seats. There’s no shortage of new young candidates either.


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Can local government cure democratic disenchantment?