Bendigo citizen jury hear concerns about disadvantage.

Leaders from Bendigo’s business, health and not-for-profit sectors have recommended a newly appointed citizens’ jury consider how council policy could address increasing levels of social disadvantage in the city.

Among those to speak at the first meeting of the jury on Saturday were the chief executive officers from Bendigo Business Council, Make a Change Australia and Heathcote Health, all of whom shared their shared their concerns about growing inequality throughout Bendigo.

Heathcote Health head Dan Douglass said it was important those with a voice speak out on behalf of marginalised communities, like those who lived in generational poverty.

“The most disadvantaged end up with the worst health conditions and it doesn’t seem fair they have so much stacked against them,” he said.

He also implored the jury to consider the experiences of people living in rural towns around Bendigo, saying those outside the city often had a tougher time finding work and transport options.

But Mr Douglass was complimentary in his assessment of the City of Greater Bendigo, saying the council co-operated well with his organisation.

The municipality was also regarded warmly in addresses from Bendigo Business Council’s Leah Sertori and social entrepreneur Karen Corr.

Both women used their speeches to the jury to advocate for environmental sustainability and renewable energy options.

Asked about the need for a citizens’ jury when council already consisted of elected representatives, newDemocracy program manager Georgina Inwood said the forum was an antidote to the public’s cynicism about the democratic process.

She said while people could already approach their council representative, the jury setting gave them the chance to collaborate with other members of the public about the direction of their local government.

“It’s about giving them time to deliberate, time to explore,” she said.

“This is the exact opposite to an opinion poll.”

Ms Inwood, whose organisation facilitates the jury meetings, was not concerned about the members of the forum using their position to further self-interests, saying other examples in which she had been involved “tend[ed] to manage themselves”.

“In a group this size, they’ll work through things together,” she said.

The 24 randomly selected jurors will meet six times before delivering recommendations to the City of Greater Bendigo next March.

A cross section of ages, genders and home suburbs are represented on the jury.

The number of ratepayers and tenants, as well as rural and urban residents, has also been monitored to reflect the city’s makeup.

The jury also heard from Bendigo Senior Secondary College principal Dale Pearce and student, Kelly Phan, and will determine which members of the community are invited to speak at their next meeting.

Ms Inwood encouraged community members with an issue they would like to see discussed to make a submission for the jury to consider.


This article is courtesy of the Bendigo Advertiser