ACT State of the Environment 2007

Indicator: Community participation


Sustained high rates of voluntary work and of attendance at cultural and entertainment events indicate strong community participation in the ACT. In the reporting period community interaction with government demonstrated both responsiveness in specific cases and successful initiatives implementing the government's Community Engagement Framework. Some examples are provided below.

While opportunities for voluntary work, attendance at events, and influencing government decision making are ACT community characteristics, they are not equally distributed throughout the community. Exclusion and disengagement are also features of life in the Territory, and testing the effectiveness of inclusion policies and initiatives is essential in redressing, rather than merely addressing, barriers to participation. Major disparities in the sense of inclusion and level of participation are related to low income, and to disadvantages experienced by individuals and groups such as aged people and Indigenous families.

What the results tell us about the ACT

High rate of volunteering sustained

The Voluntary Work Survey undertaken in 2006 defined a volunteer as someone who in the previous 12 months willingly gave unpaid help, in the form of time, service or skills, through an organisation or group. The economic as well as social importance of voluntary work to communities and to national life is increasingly recognised, with most states and territories emphasising volunteering in their social development planning. Voluntary work meets needs, expands opportunities for democratic participation and personal development, and helps develop and reinforce social networks and cohesion.

The 2006 survey showed that 34% of the Australian population aged 18 years and over participated in voluntary work, with the ACT and Queensland having the highest proportion (38%) of their populations volunteering. The national figure has increased since comparable data were collected, as has the ACT figure (31.8% and 36.2% in 2000: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007a)

Record events attendance

For most cultural events, excursions and entertainments, ACT residents (those aged 15 years and over) retained their record of the highest attendance rates in the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics survey period 2005–06 (see Table 1).

Table 1: Comparison of event attendance, ACT and nationally
Event Nationally (%) ACT (%)
Art galleries 23 40
Museums 23 47
Botanic gardens 34 44
Classical music concerts 9 13
Popular music concerts 25 34
Theatre performances 17 26
Dance performances 10 17
Musicals and operas 16 19

The exceptions were the same as in the 2002 survey; that is, zoological parks and aquariums (36% of Australians and 33% of ACT residents) and 'other performing arts' such as variety shows, revues and circuses, where South Australians slightly exceeded ACT attendance rates (21% and 20% respectively, with the national rate of 17%: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007b).

A continuing omission in available data is attendance at sporting events and participation in sporting and physical activities, since discontinuation of the previous Australian Bureau of Statistics report analysing these data.

Initiatives addressing exclusion

A strong change in the reporting period was the ACT Government's determined implementation of Priority 3 of the Canberra Social Plan 2004: 'a strong, safe and cohesive community'. Among the initiatives were grants targeting wider community participation in sport, multicultural affairs, heritage and environmental activities, and the arts. In its 2006–07 Budget the government announced it would streamline grant administration and improve access with the establishment of an online grants portal.

Another ACT Government initiative was reinvigoration of the Community Inclusion Board to provide high-level advice to government on community inclusion issues, the social priorities identified in the Canberra Social Plan, and the allocation of grants from the Community Inclusion Fund. During its first term, the Board's key objectives were reducing identified major obstacles to inclusivity in the ACT, household debt and Indigenous disadvantage, and building neighbourhood and belonging.

When the Board began its second term in the latter half of 2006 the Community Inclusion Fund had provided support for 25 community organisations working with government partners, with $4.4 million committed to Community Inclusion Fund projects including:

  • helping aged people isolated at home to reconnect with the community
  • helping high school students at risk of dropping out by combining education with a volunteer part-time work placement
  • providing community based support for isolated mothers through strengthening social networks, friendships and peer support
  • providing homeless people in the city with breakfasts and referral services to enable them to re-engage with society
  • assisting disadvantaged and homeless people within the Big Issue program to access government and community services
  • providing a transition into mainstream CIT courses for Sudanese refugees.

When an assessment of the outcomes of these programs becomes available, the effect on participation trends for each of these groups will be measured. This measure is particularly important in testing any reduction in the disparity in the level of community support available to those in the lowest and highest income quintiles. While ACT residents of all income levels reported high rates of regular contact with family and friends in the last reporting period, income level was a major determinant in accessibility of small favours and ability to get support in a crisis.

Some success and satisfaction

ACT residents' relatively small polity and situation, within the seat of national government, enhances both opportunity and expectation for participation in decision making. In the last reporting period, the 'Your Canberra Your Future' community consultations on planning options for central Canberra suburbs provided a means for assessing the take-up and effectiveness of formal participation.

In this reporting period, examples of similar opportunities included consultation on the use of former school sites announced at the end of the reporting period; and a community-driven example with the formation of a new and well-supported organisation, the Friends of the Albert Hall, in March 2007. The successful lobbying of this group against National Capital Authority planning proposals for the Albert Hall precinct widened into a demand for the ACT Government to return the Hall to public management and to implement the government's Conservation Management Plan. The responsiveness of government and initial steps taken to protect this heritage asset and plan for its sustainability were a significant encouragement to community participation in urban planning and other areas of decision making.

The new Territory and Municipal Services department, formed on 1 July 2006, provides opportunities for public feedback with small six-monthly sample surveys of community satisfaction with services. The first survey, at the end of the reporting period, showed results ranging from less than half the respondents expressing satisfaction with bus schedules, to high rates of satisfaction with their weekly garbage collection (97%), weekly recycling services (95%), recycling services overall (89%), ACT libraries (91%) and Yarralumla Nursery (91%) (ACT Government 2007c).

Data sources and references

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007a, Voluntary Work, Australia 2006, catalogue no. 4441.0 available at This publication contains results from the national Voluntary Work Survey conducted throughout Australia from March to July 2006 as part of the General Social Survey (GSS); the Australian Bureau of Statistics conducted previous Voluntary Work Surveys in June 1995 and over four quarters in 2000.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007b, Attendance at Selected Cultural Venues and Events, Australia, 2005–06 catalogue no. 4114.0 available at Community Inclusion Board 2007, Neighbourhood and Belonging: living in the communities of Canberra Final Report of Eureka Strategic Research, available at

ACT Government 2007a, Canberra Social Plan Progress Report, available at

ACT Government 2007b, Community Wellbeing Indicators Discussion Paper for the Community Inclusion Board available at

ACT Government 2007c, Department of Territory and Municipal Services Community Satisfaction Survey available at

ACT Government 2007d, A Social Overview of the ACT Report for the Community Inclusion Board available at

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