Seeking Social Capital Stories, The Chronicle, 1 March
Six years ago, the year I entered parliament, I wrote a book titled Disconnected, about the collapse of community life across Australia. In the decades leading up to 2010, Australians became less likely to join community organisations – a trend that can be seen in membership data from bodies as diverse as Rotary, Lions, Scouts, Guides and Apex. We became less likely to go to church and less likely to join a union. We became less likely to know our neighbours, and the average Australian reported fewer close friends.
Since becoming a member of parliament, I’ve met hundreds of passionate social entrepreneurs, and hoped that the trends might reverse. But if anything, new data suggest that the drop is continuing. Since 2010, Australians are less likely to be involved in social groups (down from 63 to 51 percent) and political groups (down from 19 to 14 percent). We are less likely to give money to charity (down from 71 to 65 percent), play sport (down from 74 to 70 percent) or volunteer (down from 36 to 31 percent).
If there’s a bright spot, it is that Canberra leads the way in most indicators of civic life. We are more likely to play sport, volunteer or donate than people in other parts of Australia. Our city is truly Australia’s ‘social capital’. But even in the ACT, the trends in community engagement are going the wrong way.
What can we do to turn things around? Well, that’s where you come in. I’d like to hear your stories of creative strategies to boost social capital. Are you part of a fast-growing community group? Have you found a clever way to boost altruism among young Canberrans? Do you have a favourite app that helps you connect up in person? Drop me an email and let me know your social capital story. I’ll do my best to feature them in future columns.