Consultation – a pain or pleasure?

Andy Fryar June 1, 2005 0
Consultation – a pain or pleasure?


By ozVPM Director, Andy Fryar

Over the past month, many of you will have witnessed the debate in the OzVPM newsgroup, surrounding newly introduced procedures for the undertaking of volunteer police record checks (PRC) here in my home state of South Australia (SA).

The new measures are the result of a comprehensive review of police check procedures here in SA, and while the new system does contain many positive elements, it also dictates that volunteer involving agencies can no longer directly sight and sign off on a potential volunteer’s identification as part of the PRC process. Instead people wishing to become a volunteer and who require a PRC must now trundle off to a local police station, where they will need to produce ‘100 points’ worth of personal identification.

For all its good intentions, it appears the new system is one that is certain to deter rather than attract increased volunteer involvement.

Not withstanding the fact that PRCs are only one small part of an overall screening process, the negatives of this appear straight forward. Not only do the new procedures require volunteers to jump through an ‘extra hoop’, but for many potential volunteers, particularly those from lower socio-economic areas, new migrants or for younger South Australians, there will be real struggles coming up with 100 points of identification in the first place, therefore potentially making the system discriminatory.

However I don’t want to use this forum to debate the pros and cons of legislation that is specifically relevant to one state in Australia . Rather I’d like to raise a few broader questions and concerns that the whole situation has again prompted me to consider.

Firstly, one of the saddest aspects of the SA police check issue is that the new system was the result of at least a couple of years of consultation with the voluntary community. I remember personally attending meetings where Police Department personnel were seeking (and received) feedback directly from the sector. I’ve heard of similar things happening elsewhere too, both in Australia and overseas.

So how is it that in spite of a prolonged and multi-tiered consultation process we still frequently wind up with documents, legislation and programs that are cumbersome and not conducive to good volunteering practice?

It seems to me that consultation too often happens simply for the sake of project managers, consultants or government bureaucrats being able to tick the box that says ‘sector consulted’, rather than seeking real world opinions that are genuinely considered as a part of any solution. In other words, perhaps we should be asking the question of whether or not ‘consultation’ is seen as nothing more than a ‘necessary evil’ in some arenas?

I’ve also been able to observe over the years, particularly when dealing with governments at all levels, the need for absolute ‘political correctness’ in the make up of consultative committees. I remember being a part of one particular government advisory body several years ago, that was so politically correct that it was completely useless! It effectively became a giant ‘rubber stamp’ largely because so few people sitting around the table actually understood volunteerism, and so they always tended to defer to the route of least opposition.

Now before you think this essay is just about being critical of government, let me also state categorically, that I’ve also been a part of groups where a broad range of dynamic and knowledgeable sector driven people have been hand picked and invited to give advice on a whole range of matters, and where in spite of every good intention by government departments and other peak bodies, those invited just don’t make the effort to front up to meetings, voice their opinions or give feedback when required! (.and of course they are then the first to complain when they don’t like the outcome!)

My point here is really to encourage everyone involved with volunteerism – those with policy making clout and those of us ‘on the ground’ – to take the opinions of each other more seriously in order to find solutions that truly benefit all parties.

Now to get back specifically to the topic of police checking of volunteers, I wonder why it is that this is such a dilemma? Here in Australia , I understand that the changes that have been steadily rolling out around the country have largely been to fit in with a relatively new policing strategy called CrimTrac . CrimTrac is a national database of offenders that was established in July 2000 to assist police around the nation to gain better and faster information about offenders. As a part of its brief, CrimTrac also process all the PRC’s required around the nation.

Now if we have one standard system of generating PRC’s around the country (which makes a lot of sense) , why is it that every state and territory has such different practices for how agencies and volunteers must go about applying for a PRC to be conducted? Surely it’s time that governments and police authorities at all levels, along with an agency like Volunteering Australia, should get together and find a standard and commonsense approach to this problem . and maybe effective consultation and collaboration may be just the start!

Now let’s hear what you think?

  • Share with readers the way that PRC’s are conducted where you come from? Is it an effective system?
  • Do you agree with my sentiments about consultative processes? Are there ways you believe these could be improved?
  • Are there any other comments you’d like to make about this point of view?

Leave A Response »