20 July 2023

Kiama Council creating an inclusive environment for all members of the community

| Neil Reilly
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Kiama Mayor Neil Reilly.

Kiama Mayor Neil Reilly. Photo: Kiama Council.

At the end of this month, Kiama Council will host the Local Government Regional Government NAIDOC Awards for the Illawarra. The event moves each year between four council areas – Kiama, Shellharbour, Shoalhaven and Wollongong.

Despite being considerably smaller than our neighbouring councils, we’re pulling together what will be a fantastic community event. This doesn’t surprise me, as we put on so many impressive local events here in Kiama – events which are much more about the people who participate and contribute than the institutions behind them.

I am a tragic for old movies and (despite my wife Wendy’s protests) I just love Lawrence of Arabia, a timeless classic.

Following his war service in 1919, T.E. Lawrence, (Lawrence of Arabia) took to writing The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an autobiographical account of his time as a British advisor to Bedouin forces in World War I. I am currently reading it.

He states in this book that the Bedouins believe in “… persons, not institutions”.

I agree, and if I can relate that to our own situation, that’s why our events such as the NAIDOC Awards, and our community-focused policies, programs and projects are so successful.

It’s also why we have a Community Strategic Plan (CSP). It comes from the people, not the institution. Our CSP contains five pillars, not the seven of Lawrence, but with the same idea:

Pillar 1: We belong and contribute
Pillar 2: We thrive in a sustainable environment
Pillar 3: We create a strong and diverse economy
Pillar 4: We are part of a connected and liveable community
Pillar 5: We expect accountable and transparent leadership; a council that is financially sustainable.

The first pillar, “We belong and contribute”, is what I am focusing on this week. It promotes inclusivity, engagement, and active participation within the broader community.

Here’s what it means to me: inclusivity and diversity. Our aim should be to create an inclusive environment where all members of the community feel welcome, respected, and represented.

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This involves efforts to embrace diversity, promote equity, and ensure that everyone has a voice in the decision-making processes. Council is doing its bit by developing and implementing policies and practices that explicitly support diversity, equity, and inclusion.

For example, we’ve recently updated our policy on recruitment and hiring practices to ensure anti-discrimination measures, and the promotion of diverse perspectives.

I recognise the importance of actively involving community members in shaping policies, programs, and initiatives. We have sought members from the community to join two new committees. Engaging with our community was how we created the CSP.

As well as looking forward to Kiama Council’s presentation of the NAIDOC Awards at The Pavilion from 5 pm, 29 July, which celebrates the achievements of local First Nations people, we promote inclusion in many other ways.

We try to make sure that council works towards fostering a sense of belonging and unity among community members, promoting social connections through our libraries, Leisure Centre, SENTRAL (“the Youthie”), Blue Haven, special events and even in urban design: building strong neighbourhoods, and facilitating activities that bring people together.

“We belong and contribute” highlights our commitment to creating an inclusive, engaged, and empowered community. T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a challenging read, but like so many challenges, there’s a strong message – “Believe in people, not institutions”!

Kiama Mayor Neil Reilly has represented the Kiama community as a councillor since 2008, including a year as deputy mayor.

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