We have now had two weeks to process the awful events in Christchurch and to reflect on the lessons beginning to emerge, including the importance of social cohesion, both in reducing the risks of community discord and division and in helping to strengthen the resilience of communities in facing traumatic events.
The outpouring of offers of support to the Christchurch Muslim community gives us cause for hope that we won’t tolerate extreme racial views, and we won’t be divided by the views of a radical and militarised minority.
It is worth taking time to consider the positive achievements of our own local governments and their communities in building social cohesion. In Australia, Councils have a critical role to play in building local identity through valuing diversity, community well-being and social cohesion. We do this through arts and cultural events, dedicated programs, citizenship ceremonies, community facilities, support programs and information supply. This is a strength of local government I have consistently emphasised when discussions at COAG have focused on countering violent extremism.
We have some great examples around the country where Councils have really worked hard on cohesion and social harmony and we have established or embraced networks such as Refugee Welcome Zones, Welcoming Cities and Multicultural Networks for Council staff.
The work we are doing with COAG to develop a National Population Framework highlights the changing ethnic composition in some of our communities. An analysis of 2016 Census data shows that:
- 151 LGAs increased their overseas-born population while decreasing their Australian-born population;
- 128 increased both their Australian-born and overseas-born population;
- 116 decreased both Australian-born and overseas-born population; and
- 20 increased Australian-born and decreased their overseas-born population.
Consequently, underpinning how successfully a community manages population change has a lot to do with the strength and cohesion of the community as well as local leadership (typically led by the council). Whilst communities are undergoing change, Councils really understand the importance of the strength of the social fabric of their communities as much as the necessity for physical infrastructure, especially to foster liveable and inclusive communities.
We are the level of government that goes beyond celebrating cultural diversity, our main streets provide opportunities for new arrivals to establish new businesses in local shops and offices.
When you think about it, almost everything we do is about building inclusive communities – from footpaths to sporting fields to main streets, libraries, aged care, youth programs and beyond. And we know that great communities are welcoming and inclusive, and they push back against intolerance, racism and extremism.
I am proud of the efforts we make as local government every day to bring our communities together rather than divide them. I will keep highlighting our pivotal role in building social cohesion at COAG and to the Federal Government directly as one of the many dividends which arise from the investment made by the Commonwealth in the Financial Assistance Grants.
However falling and frozen grants are placing our community facilities and programs increasingly at risk. Join ALGA’s campaign for a fairer share of funding by restoring the FAGs to an amount equal to 1% of Commonwealth Taxation revenue.
Contact your local federal MP and highlight to them the great work you do locally, what is at risk, and how much more you could achieve by working together to restore funding to your community.
So keep up the good work – what you do at the local level really matters for us as a nation.
Mayor David O’Loughlin