Building social capital

"We are living in an era of moral confusion, where old norms and certainties are being lost," said Mark Latham MP.

"How do we relate to each other as families, communities and citizens?

"Our society is experiencing a new type of poverty, the poverty in human relations, where a growing number of people are materially rich yet socially poor."

He said the end result is record rates of loneliness, family breakdown, street crime and community disengagement.

"The people we represent are longing to belong, to rediscover the shared values and trust of a good society," Mark Latham said.

"They are looking for political leadership which engages in this debate and marks out some new social certainties."

He believes this is one of the reasons why the Australian political system has become detached from mainstream concerns of society.

"Local Government has an important role to play," Mark Latham said. "Being closest to the people and community issues, it should therefore have the greatest concern for social capital."

He said Local Government is ideally positioned to show the other spheres of government how to revive and rebuild social capital.

Mark Latham outlined various strategies for Councils to address what he terms the downsizing of society as a result of the recent expansion of both government and market forces. He said community led solutions revolve around the concept of cooperation, with Councils as the funding regulators but devolving delivery to community groups.

By drawing in alliances and partners into the equation, Councils, as community brokers, are the catalyst to bring all stakeholders together. He said that there is growing community distrust in our system of government, yet people want to participate in decision making.

"Local Government should be a laboratory for the renewal of Australia democracy," Mark Latham said.

By using new technology, with Internet voting and surveys, this can lead to more open government, where people participate at their ease.

"Given the time pressures of modern society, it is no longer reasonable to expect people to sit in draughty halls and endure lengthy meetings," he said.

"The objective should be to run communities by creativity, rather than communities by committee.

"In Britain this is called social entrepreneurialism. It positions government as the junior partner to communities, and backs innovative people and places rather than bureaucratic structures."

He said that education is a great creator of social capital. The creation of 'learning cities' or 'learning communities' is the best investment governments can make in our nation's future.

Life long learning and learning beyond the classroom should be embedded in every part of life. Various Councils have already declared themselves 'learning cities', giving Local Government new and relevant responsibility for the Information Age.

"Your Council faces new challenges and opportunities, with traditional planning functions in retreat," Mark Latham said.

"The globalisation of economic policy is being accompanied by the localisation of social policy.

"I see your future responsibilities, rather than the three 'Rs,' to be the three 'Ss' &endash; social capital, skills and social entrepreneurialism."