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Consulting Matters: Our Observations On The 2021-31 Consultation Documents

Our report Consulting matters: Our observations on the 2021-31 consultation documents was presented to the House of Representatives today. This report provides our observations on councils' 2021-31 long-term plan consultation documents.

Effective consultation is critical to ensuring that councils develop the right long-term plan for their community. Councils need to provide their communities with reliable and clear information about the matters proposed for inclusion in the long-term plan so that their community can engage with and provide feedback on this.

Councils, as a whole, have confronted the challenges they face and, for the most part, produced clear consultation documents. This is no small achievement at the best of times. In the middle of a pandemic and in a sector focused on major reforms, this is even more significant. Most councils have used their consultation documents to have candid conversations with their communities about the issues they face and how they plan to respond. These conversations also mean being clear on the investment required to address those challenges.

Although councils are free to decide what to put in their consultation documents, there are some mandatory requirements. This can result in long and information-heavy documents, which could be daunting for people to engage with. Balancing effective consultation with effective legislative compliance is a challenge for councils. We've made a recommendation that the Department of Internal Affairs and the local government sector review the consultation requirements for long-term plans to ensure that the engagement process and content requirements of a consultation document remain fit for purpose.

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Our report also contains a summary of the non-standard audit reports we issued. Unlike previous rounds of long-term plan consultation documents, our auditors included more emphasis of matter paragraphs in their audit reports. An emphasis of matter paragraph does not necessarily mean that the auditor has found anything wrong. Instead, the auditor wants to draw the readers’ attention to a matter or matters that are fundamental to understanding audited information. In most cases, the emphasis of matter paragraphs reflected the significant uncertainties faced by councils in preparing their long-term plans.

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