Participatory Budgeting: The Next ‘Big Thing’ in Australian Local Government?

Australian governments of all levels are increasingly familiar with two trends in public budgeting. Firstly, the pressure to deliver 'more with less' in public budgets; secondly, an increased realisation by communities that they have a democratic right to participate in public policy decisions. In local government, processes of participatory budgeting (PB) are emerging, designed to assist meeting the challenge of these trends.

Simply defined, PB is a process in which the community can contribute to decision-making over part, or all, of a government budget. Somewhat famously now, the first PB process was run in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989. It was designed as an element of democratisation in a country that was emerging from a period of authoritarian rule. The Porto Alegre PB processes ran for over a year and involved local direct voting, neighbourhood meetings and regional assemblies where the budget was decided and where representatives conducted vigorous oversight of spending to ensure that practices favouring specific groups did not return.

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