What do local voters really want? If you listen to some candidates in our local elections, it's all about roads, rates, rubbish, conservatism and cutting costs.
According to a report released earlier this week by local group Voices 4 Riverina (V4R), we want far more - and all levels of government have a role to play in addressing our issues and concerns.
V4R is a volunteer-run group of people who live and work across the federal electorate of Riverina and want to see increased democratic engagement in our region.
It is not affiliated with any organisation, political party or candidate, and is inclusive of people from all backgrounds. It seeks "to serve as a catalyst for action and improve standards for modern, effective and innovative representation" within the Riverina.
Throughout 2020-21, V4R held 32 "kitchen table" focus group sessions across the Riverina electorate, engaging with more than 170 people aged between 17 and 75, reflecting all walks of life and political backgrounds.
Each session considered questions about living in the Riverina, political engagement and representation, issues and concerns, and a future focus.
While not yet a member of V4R, I was a session participant in 2020. The themes collated from the focus groups are presented in V4R's report Riverina Reimagined, available at https://voices4riverina.org. It makes for compelling reading.
The report highlights that residents love living in the Riverina because of lifestyle, community spirit and proximity to nature. We feel that connection, active involvement, opportunities to contribute, shared experience and inspiring leadership are essential to creating strong communities.
Community is a recurring theme in the report. Residents want to see leadership from local, state and federal level addressing the need to create connection and care for people and planet, with the top 20 issues and concerns identified as:
Each of these issues is explored in further detail in the report and drive the vision of what residents want to see happen locally over the next decade and beyond.
Residents identified that they want to see better environmental guardianship, more focus on looking after youth (including more incentives and job opportunities for young people to remain in and return to the region), real action on climate change, and political accountability in every tier of government
Key to addressing the issues and concerns, and achieving the vision for the future, is local leadership. Residents want "brave leadership and a strategic view" to see growth in our region.
The report confirms we need representation that reflects our community. It needs to be diverse and inclusive, as reflected in the quote: "Regional areas are patriarchal and women are underrepresented. A more diverse representation is required, not just women but people with disabilities, refugees, Indigenous Australians, minority groups, to achieve a holistic view."
The report also identified six essential attributes that participants want to see in our political representatives: that the individual demonstrates personal and political accountability, integrity, and transparency; they genuinely represent the community; they can listen to and connect with constituents; display evidence-based rather than opinion-based leadership; have vision; and are and effective and visible communicators.
We need to ask ourselves in each election, how does each candidate reflect these characteristics? Do they have a strategic vision, or are the mired in the politics of personality and singular issues? Do they embrace a growth mindset, or are they fixated on the status quo? Are they inclusive or divisive?
Are they willing to think outside the box and take on board the bigger picture of what people want, and what our regions need, or are they too busy pushing a specific agenda?
Are they prepared to work with colleagues, staff and stakeholders, or are they engaged in point-scoring and one-upmanship?
We should also consider the values, attitudes and strategies each candidate brings with respect to the top 20 issues that we, as residents, really care about.
Elections are our opportunity to make a difference, and to choose our leadership for the next term. Think carefully. Make your vote count.
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