Article – A public meeting … without the public

4 April 2014
David Sparkes
Townsville Bulletin

THE big show came to Townsville on Wednesday.

That group with the name that rolls off the tongue like honey, the Joint Select Committee for the development of Northern Australia, visited our city for a public hearing.
Organisations from Townsville made presentations based on the submissions they handed the committee a month ago and the committee asked them questions.
Nothing beats a face-to-face chat.
This columnist reckons the public hearing was a success.
The presentations were strong and the politicians on the committee asked good questions.
Unfortunately, there was one very disappointing failure.
Hardly anybody was there.
It was a public hearing, minus the public.
There were usually about a dozen people sitting in the gallery, most of them there to support a presenter.
An ‘open microphone’ session was scheduled after the presentations, but nobody was there to seize the moment.
Seven groups turned up, including the council, the airport and James Cook University.
Each spent 30 minutes speaking and taking questions from the committee.
A few high-profile people quietly remarked they were disappointed not to see more people.
There was no problem with the public coming in — they were more than welcome and the pollies made a point of saying hello to people.
It seems the problem was that the organisers didn’t get the message out there loudly enough.
Let’s put this in context.
Since Prime Minister Tony Abbott first told us about this ambitious plan, Wednesday was the first time regular members of the public could become involved in a face-to-face conversation with some of the nation’s most powerful decision-makers.
There are a few things to say about this.
Firstly, the poor attendance does not detract from the fact the hearing was very useful and some of our community’s cleverest people were given the chance to represent us in front of a committee that was genuinely interested.
The second thing to say, is that even if every member of the public had known about this meeting, there is no guarantee anyone would have turned up.
Nobody goes to council meetings or parliamentary sittings, so why would they go to this public hearing.
But there might have been some smaller community groups that would have liked to and have their say.
Courtesy of the Townsville Bulletin