Keeping up with the development applications (DA) being submitted to Council is hard enough for councillors. Unless you trawl through the newspaper or Council’s website daily how can you find out what might be happening in your neighbourhood?
PlanningAlerts (www.planningalerts.org.au) is one of several sites that have been developed by the OpenAustralia Foundation charity to help the everyday person engage with the increasingly complicated and disenfranchising system that governs our lives.
‘All of our projects are designed to help people create the change they want to see in the world. They’re supposed to get people involved in the political and democratic system even when they don’t necessarily think of themselves as being political,’ said founder Matthew Landauer.
‘With PlanningAlerts, people can find out what’s being built and knocked down in their area. It also makes it super easy to make comments that get sent to Council as official submissions.
‘It’s designed around how normal people live their lives. For instance, who religiously goes to their council website each week and reads all the development applications to find ones that might affect them? Some people do but I certainly don’t. With PlanningAlerts you get an email whenever there’s something new near you. It comes to you. You don’t have to go searching for it.’
Working towards empowering people
OpenAustralia Foundation is all about working towards empowering normal people says Matthew. They do take on commercial work to help fund the charity but it has to be aligned with the principles of benefitting ‘normal people’ first and foremost.
‘To give you an example, over a number of years we worked with (were paid by) the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure to help design and implement a data standard for the electronic publishing of development applications across NSW. We only took on that work because it would make it easier for us to get development application data from local councils into PlanningAlerts, which would directly benefit citizens by giving more people access to the benefit of finding out easily about their local planning applications.
‘Everything we do is to benefit citizens, normal people. There’s obviously a huge power difference between governments and ordinary citizens. However, collectively citizens have huge power. We make and break governments and the careers of politicians but we all too easily forget that or don’t really believe it. That’s what happens at election time but what about between elections?’
How does your MP vote?
Do you remember that old cliche ‘it’s not what you say it is what you do’? Well now you can easily check out what your federal representatives are doing on your behalf. The ‘They Vote For You’ website ‘takes the unintelligible public record of what’s said and voted on in federal parliament and makes it straightforward to understand,’ said Matthew.
‘Forget what politicians say. What truly matters is what they do. And what they do is vote, to write our laws, which affect us all,’ he explains.
‘Before we made They Vote For You (theyvoteforyou.org.au) there was no way for a normal person to see how their [federal] MP (member of parliament) voted in parliament on their behalf. Worse than that, voting is largely ignored by the mainstream political media because they’re mostly interested in the horse race of which party is beating which party.’
Freedom of information
To help you to get information easily and hold your government bodies to account they have also developed the site called RightToKnow (www.righttoknow.org.au). Through this site you can ask for information from any federal, state, or local government in Australia.
Currently around ten per cent of non-personal federal FOIs go through the RightToKnow site and it allows people to view not only the past FOI requests but the tactics some government departments use to delay providing information to the public.
‘When government authorities work hard to keep stuff out of public view, which they do unfortunately all too often, the tactics they employ are visible for everyone to see on RightToKnow,’ says Matthew.
Matthew was also clear that any details that you submit will not be sold to or shaired with anyone.
‘In fact we try to collect as little information as possible about you,’ he says.
‘For instance with PlanningAlerts, all we have is an email address being interested in a particular street address. We don’t have a name or any other information.’
If you are interested in getting involved or helping out with the work they do, OpenAustralia are keen to hear from you, email: [email protected]