Collaborative Governance under Austerity

The Melbourne case study focuses on the revitalisation process of Central Dandenong.

This case study of collaborative governance in the process of revitalisation in Central Dandenong, Melbourne forms part of a larger, comparative project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (UK) of eight city contexts on Collaborative Governance under Austerity. These cities were initially selected to explore the differentiated riplle effects of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in relation to governance practices. The research highlights how the relationship between austerity and collaboration varied significantly between the cities. In particular, austerity discourses and practices are common in Athens, Dublin and Leicester, while in other contexts, such as Melbourne, Nantes and Montreal, they aren’t a dominant feature of policy-making. The study of particular collaborative mechanisms draws out many similarities and differences between the cases

The Melbourne case study focuses on the revitalisation process of Central Dandenong, a publicly-funded renewal project with significant investmests by both the State (approx. AUS$300,000,000) and local governments (at least AUS$100,000,000 in related projects), as well as private investors. It is emblematic of the kind of strategic and targeted interventions (e.g. 'renewal', 'neighbourhood improvement', 'revitalisation) led often by state governments in Australian cities over the last two decades.

Findings to date suggest that while there is a broader trend towards restraint in public expenditure, the politics of austerity have generally failed to gain suzerainty in the local context. Instead, policy positioning towards urban regeneration and development is shaped by the established ideologies of Left and Right, which have remained relatively unchanged for at least three decades in Australia: a neoliberal period marked by economic rationalism. In terms of collaboration, local policies have consistently been framed around collaborative themes; namely, relationship-building, community-building, formal ‘cross-government’ structures and processes, ‘partnerships’ with non-government entities and informal strategies for effecting change in a multi-actor context.

Revitalisation has received considerable public funding and has been driven by the leadership of both state and local governments at different times. Private businesses have invested in development and influence policy through different methods. For example, our research suggests there are increasingly sophisticated approaches to advocacy from organised business groups, including traders associations and the relatively new Committee for Dandenong. Non-government organisations play a critical role in local development, including in delivering services that support the integration of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities in Central Dandenong (one of the most diverse areas of Australia). There are  multiple links between government and non-government actors, usually formalised through government service contracts, formal participation structures, partnerships or informally through advocacy and lobby.

Overall, the story of Central Dandenong as traced in this research from the early 2000s to the present is one of growing complexity in urban governance. Our findings (detailed in the project report and various articles linked here) sit in contrast to many of the other cities in the research project given the strong involvement of public sector actors (rather than retreat) as well as the joined-up approach to revitalisation that has supported the integration of CALD communities. While not without challenges, in particular the push of gentrification, revitalisation in Dandenong illustrates many lessons for collaborative and effective policy-making in areas of decline.


Prof Helen Sullivan
Crawford School of Public Policy
Australian National University

Prof Brendan Gleeson
Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute

Hayley Henderson
PhD Candidate in Urban Planning
University of Melbourne

Dr Michelle Lobo
Deakin University