Professor Don Aitkin, Vice Chancellor at the University of Canberra, presented the keynote address. Speaking on the topic, ‘Local Government and the future of communities’, Prof Aitkin said that over the past 40 years our country, like most others, has undergone a series of powerful changes.
“The last two generations have built a much better society in Australia,” he said. “Our country is more tolerant, and more inventive and creative. It is better educated. Our sense of nationalism is less strident and self conscious. Compared to any other country you like to name, Australia is doing a decent job in growing itself.”
However, he believes the values of those who govern us are changing in a counter productive way.
Prof Aitkin does not agree with the following ‘values’ or so called ‘truths’ currently dominating public policy decisions.
- The economy is fundamental, not society The assertion that if we get the economy right the rest will follow. Prof Aitkin believes the economy is powerful but not all powerful, unless we allow it to be.
- The rights of the individual are fundamental, those of the community are secondary This has led to an increase in competition and self centredness. The subsequent loss of belonging has led to alienation and lower standards of ethics in public life.
- Only the private sector is productive, the public sector is a drain on us all We are in an era of privatisation and user pays where there has been a shift from the common good to, if you want something, you pay for it.
- Taxation is too high and should be reduced This is despite Australia being one of the least taxed countries in the developed world.
- The present time is most important, posterity will have to look after itself ‘Growth’ was the key word in the 70s. The 80s brought us ‘change’, while the flavour of the 90s is ‘now’. This has led to indifference in planning and investment, with little responsibility for the world that our children and grandchildren will inherit.
He believes that to address these trends Councils should take the following course of action. First, defend your ‘community’; second, find creative new funding sources, particularly using your greatest asset your people; and last, nurture your knowledge sources.
“Local Government is in the frontline of the changes affecting all Australian communities and it is vital that your deliberations and your work are successful,” Prof Aitkin concluded.