Participatory budgeting - the Australian way


For the first time in Australia a local council has used a deliberative democracy approach to obtain citizenadvice on key decisions regarding the full range of Council services, service levels and funding. Typically a participatory budget (PB) gives citizens authority in relation to a component of the local government budget. The City of Canada Bay Council, in metropolitan Sydney, went well beyond this. In this paper the Canada Bay Citizens’ Panel (CP), the name given to the PB, is compared to the traditional PB process highlighting three distinctive features of this process: (1) the use of a randomly selected group of citizens; (2) the role of the New Democracy Foundation as a ‘nonpartisan intermediary organisation’ (Kadlec and Friedman, 2007); and (3) the engagement of council staff through a parallel process convened by the Council, using a randomly selected staff panel. Whilst it is too early yet to make any final judgments, there is promising evidence that the recommendations of this CP will be seriously considered and that this engagement model will be used again by the City of Canada Bay, for the next four-year delivery plan and other contentious issues. Even though the Canada Bay Citizens’ Panel process is not yet complete, it is already clear that its impact will be felt, not only on the budget of the City of Canada Bay, but more broadly as an exemplar for local governments in Australia thinking about engaging their citizens.