Proposal calls for Shire-led diversity

Warren HatelyThe West Australian

New councillor Naomi Godden has proposed a diversity audit of all Shire committees, with the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River to recruit volunteers from the community if committees had fewer than two delegates under 30.

The audit would review the demographics of all volunteer committee members to ascertain socio-economic factors such as age, ethnicity and income as a step towards Cr Godden’s goal for the council and committees to represent greater diversity, including residents from LGBTI, ethnic, disadvantaged, and disabled backgrounds.

The proposal at last Wednesday night’s council meeting fell flat after only newcomer Julia Meldrum backed the supplementary motion.

But the item was deferred, and Shire president Pam Townshend suggested it be reworked during the council’s upcoming private strategic planning day.

If successful, the audit proposal would not introduce quotas immediately, with Shire officers to instead “develop diversity targets” which would be monitored and updated biannually.

“That gives us an opportunity to track how we’re doing as a council,” Cr Godden said last week.

“How can we have greater diversity in our community participation.”

Cr Godden said her proposal was not a reflection of community engagement, seeking only to improve participation.

The audit would provide a “snapshot” of the demographics making up Shire committees and help engage younger residents and identify “gaps” in diversity, she said.

Several councillors were visibly surprised by the idea.

Cr Pauline McLeod said the proposal went against the Shire’s strong ethos of volunteerism.

“If you put your hand up and go on a committee, you put your hand up because you want to serve your community,” she said.

“I’d like to see people serve with a passion for where they live ... not because they fit a certain age group or a certain type of person.”

She also urged colleagues to remember the Shire depended on committee members, who were volunteers.

Cr Peter Lane said the proposal was “too prescriptive” for committees heavily reliant on older volunteers and would need to be reworked “so no age group is excluded”.

“I think we need equal representation,” he said.

Cr Lane said it was “ironic” to valorise the Shire’s engagement with some minorities, but “for older people, they were often ignored”.

During last month’s local election, Cr Godden said she would prefer to see older white male councillors stand aside to mentor younger candidates.

Cr McLeod said she would prefer to see greater representation from residents in outlying communities and backgrounds such as local farmers.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails