September is the time for Local Government elections, and now is the time to start thinking about how well your Council looks after its older citizens, and U3A.
The Workshop Staying Associated – Dealing with Local Government conducted at the 2012 Network Conference by Ron Browne and Ainslie Lamb, drew on the experience of participants in dealing with local government.
It is expected that by 2030, the proportion of people aged over 65 in the general population will have increased to 22%. In 2010 the Local Government Act was amended to require Councils to prepare long term strategic plans which include consideration of this growing demographic. The NSW State Government is developing a Whole of Government Ageing Strategy, which includes an acknowledgement that local planning is a pivotal element in this, and specifically acknowledges the role of organizations such as U3A and Men’s Sheds in providing community engagement on positive ageing. The Australian Local Government Association, in a 2004 report, emphasises the unique position of Local Government in developing a flexible and dynamic approach to planning for ageing populations, with development of strategies to focus on aged care services, infrastructure, affordable accommodation, transport , health promotion and community facilities.
From a U3A perspective, the availability of reasonably priced community based accommodation to conduct U3A activities, is but one part of this picture. Equally important is to ensure that local councils understand that organizations such as U3A play an important role in supporting positive healthy ageing, and that Councils are aware of their responsibilities to develop positive ageing strategic plans. An example of such a plan can be found on the Cardinia Shire Council website, at www.cardinia.vic.gov,au – call up Positive Ageing Strategy.
In September last year, when Council elections were restored in Wollongong, U3A representatives met with the major candidates for office of Lord Mayor and Council, to discuss the issue and seek their support for development of a Positive Ageing Strategy for Wollongong. As U3A representative Margaret Stratton and Barbara Lucas reported to the workshop, they were successful in their efforts – the first item discussed by the Council was the need to prepare a Positive Ageing Strategy.
The workshop discussion exchanged experiences and developed a number of suggestions as to how U3As might go about influencing their Council in the preparation of such a policy. These included:
Lobbying candidates for Council;
Making a presentation to Council officers – not just the councillors – such as the General Manager, Town Planners, Community officers; or
Inviting those officers to address a U3A meeting where issues can be raised with them;
Conduct a course on Local Government;
Link your U3A website to the Council website;
Raise any accommodation problems your U3A has directly with the Council;
Partner with other community groups for lobbying and community development;
Run a pop-up shop for local publicity during the election;
Gather letters of support.
Above all, insist on being taken seriously – keep citing your stats and community role, and be vocal and be visible.