An open love letter from the Australian community sector to all Australian politicians, ministerial advisers and every public servant.

Posted on 15 Oct 2022

What would it look like if a government loved its citizens?

This was the electrifying moment that Communities in Control 2022 keynote speaker journalist Rick Morton made a remark that shook the audience. And shook me.

What would it look like if a government loved its citizens?

I had once been a senior public servant. The very theme of the conference I was chairing revolved around love. And yet, it had never occurred to me to think about the delivery of government services in this way.

“Can a government love its people? I think it should,” Rick told the conference.

“Not, you know, sending an 18th or 21st birthday card from the MP’s office. But actually building systems that carefully support people and do not, actively or otherwise, make their lives worse.

“You will save a bucket load of money by loving your population. You will save in the justice system. You will save in mental health. You will stop having to park ambulances at the bottom of the cliff waiting for people to jump.

“We’re breaking people down. We are. We are actually wearing them down.

“When a government loves its people it doesn’t punish them. It doesn’t make life hard for them. It sees people as people who are trying very hard and helps them to try.”

Rick has spent many years documenting some of the dismal and miserable failures of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a program that once held so much promise, and other welfare programs, along with investigations into RoboDebt. He told the conference he was starting (reluctantly) to think we might as well throw it out and start again; reimagine it with a new lens, a new set of metrics – even simple things like answering phones instead of referring people to obtuse websites.

What would it look like if our government loved those people it was sent to serve?

It was a penny-drop moment that topped a series of preceding events that together have led to the production of this love letter. Some months earlier I had gone to Thea Snow, CEO of the Centre for Public Impact (a Boston Consulting Group Foundation), to ask for speaker suggestions for the upcoming conference. A former public servant, Thea spends every minute of her working life (and more) thinking about how to “reimagine government”. She gave me some good tips on the movers and shakers in that arena. We made the connections and booked in the keynote. (Thea later alerted me to the fact that another brilliant scholar, Girol Karacaoglu, Head of the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington, former Chief Economist at Treasury, had just released a book called Love you: public policy for intergenerational wellbeing. This love thing. It’s a thing!)

It’s the week before the conference, and our speaker, the person who was going to help us start the revolution in reinventing community-government relations, emails to say that sadly, she has covid. These are the days of our lives.

What to do?

This is a conference that attracts 800 delegates each day. We need a stellar stand in.

Enter Daniel Teitelbaum, Lead Facilitator at Playful Thinking. Daniel knows just what to do.

“We know the answers,” he tells me. “It’s Communities in Control. The 800 people from the community sector attending the conference, from all parts of Australia, working on all sorts of problems, they know the answers.”

Daniel designs a conference session designed to tap into all that knowledge.

“We’ll work on a list of grievances of government,” he says. It’s the day of the conference. Eight hundred delegates begin workshopping alternatives to static misalignment. “What you want from your governments? How can we work together better?” we ask them. Passionate debates erupted across the conference room. People who’ve spent their lives struggling with practical remedies for Australians in need – the best free market research any government has ever had – come together to search for solutions.

Fast forward three months and we have our list of grievances but better than that, we’re ready to tell government how to address that big list; we’re ready to show government what it would look like if they truly loved the community sector, and the citizens that sector loves, and represents.

There’s a lot to be done, but what it boils down to is this. Governments – all of them: federal, state and local; left-leaning or right-leaning – need to stop hiring consultants to tell them how to reinvent their systems (reinvent our systems). They need to send a simple message to every public servant across the land:

What would it look like if a government loved its citizens? Show us what that looks like.

This is the secret to solving every government’s problem, and to turning around the nightmare situation for many community groups, and too many citizens, who have the misfortune of needing support from a system that does not look upon them with love. Love us! Show us how it’s done. If you’re part of a government, use the list that follows as your inspiration. If you’re a community group or disgruntled citizen, tell us what we’re missing.

Denis Moriarty
Group Managing Director, Our Community
Founder and Convenor, Communities in Control

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