newDemocracy in the Media

A selection of newDemocracy related articles in the Media.

Today elected representatives take the tough decisions about public finances behind closed doors. In doing so, democratic politicians rely on the advice of financial bureaucrats, who, often, cater to the political needs of the elected government. Politicians rarely ask voters what they think of budget options. They are no better at explaining the reasons for a budget. Explanations are usually no more than vacuous phrases, such as “jobs and growth” or “on the move”. They never explain the difficult trade-offs that go into a budget nor their overall financial reasoning.

This reluctance to explain public finances was all too evident during the global financial crisis.

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At the beginning of this month, I appeared before the federal parliamentary committee tasked with a number of questions, including political donations and campaign advertising. I politely proposed that politicians, when trying to regulate these matters, might be seen as both poacher and gamekeeper. I suggested that a citizens’ jury might help with that. What we heard in response was that the committee thinks a jury process could help with another problem: section 44.

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Dealing with disqualifications will require constitutional amendment, says head of panel on electoral matters.

The inquiry examining the citizenship crisis in Australia’s parliament is considering the use of a random assembly to decide how best to repeal or replace the constitution’s disqualification of dual citizens.

Linda Reynolds, chair of the joint standing committee on electoral matters (JSCEM), said on Friday it was becoming “very clear” to the inquiry that dealing with the disqualifications in section 44 of the constitution would require constitutional amendment.

The committee took evidence from the New Democracy Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that is developing the jury model to help solve public policy questions.

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Many of us believe that democracy delivers our collective wisdom. The ascendancy of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States has jolted that faith. Trump's victory epitomises the challenge of the popular vote.

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We come from different political backgrounds and views but we share one strong central belief — our political system appears to be broken.

It’s time to fix it and we hope this is the year that the fix starts.

We need to try some bold ideas. Tinkering with the edges won’t repair a toxic system that is paralysed by the “politics of politics”.

Australia’s politics is adversarial. It’s not about being bold or achieving the best outcome. It’s more and more about minimising risk and avoiding failure. It rarely results in successful policy or the building of public trust.

We say this while acknowledging our own mistakes and failings when we were forced, by the ­voters, to work together in Australia’s first (and only) Liberal-Labor government (Newman as Liberal lord mayor and Hinchliffe as Labor deputy mayor with a Labor majority in the Brisbane City Council). We made mistakes but we also produced results and we learned from the experience.

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Australia has just conducted "probably our boldest electoral experiment since the military conscription plebiscites of 1916 and 1917", in the words of Liberal Senator Dean Smith, the author of the private member's bill that will now carry the result of the marriage plebiscite into law.

"At a time when public faith in political institutions is being sorely tested, even opponents of the postal survey or plebiscites more generally" - and they included Smith himself - "must concede the Australian people have reminded us that they are the true custodians of our civic character."

Politicians on all sides tell us that now that the people have spoken, the Parliament will debate and legislate and show us "Parliament at its finest" or "Parliament at its best".

Freed of their partisan constraints, and with an unmistakeable mandate to fulfil, there is consensus that our parliamentarians will now change the marriage law swiftly and effectively and with some semblance of dignity.

But then they immediately tell us that we mustn't let it happen again. Que? If it's such a good outcome, why can't we make use of the plebiscite mechanism more often?

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This piece is a reflection by Iain Walker, Executive Director of Australia’s newDemocracy Foundation and a guest at a recent PACE member gathering.

The message I share is well-worn and I can roll into reformist evangelism when first woken if need be. I’ve delivered it to senators and skeptical TV audiences with a smile. Yet somehow, when I was invited to speak at a member meeting for PACE — Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement — I boarded the plane with nerves I hadn’t known in years. The reason for this is summed up in two words that surfaced on multiple occasions throughout the convening, a gathering of funders committed to civic engagement across America: “the moment.” And I was every inch aware of it, the same way you are.

No one wants to overplay this — everyone must get tired of hyperbole and breathless positions being taken. However, there is something palpably real about this. The pressure on me comes with thinking I have the answer that is right for this moment, and it would be a failure which would haunt me if I failed to convey this to a group with so much capability to embed practical, structural changes in our democracies.

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Recently, Matt Ryan, former Deputy-Chief of Staff to South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, spoke at an event in Spain organised by the Regional Government of Gipuzkoa, a region in the Basque Country in northern Spain. The government has established an agenda entitled "Etorkizuna Eraikiz" or "Building the Future" which explicitly links the future prosperity of the region with more open and participatory governance.

Matt spoke to many of the principles of newDemocracy, including innovation in the way we do democracy and involving citizens directly in decision making processes. See the footage below.

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September 12, 2017

The arrival of 16 million same-sex Marriage Law Survey forms in post boxes from today is more than just a historic moment in the campaign for marriage equality.

It is also the first time in 18 years that Australian voters have been given the chance to “vote” directly on an issue — rather than elect a parliamentarian to make decisions on their behalf. For the record, that is the longest period Australia has ever gone without having had a national referendum, plebiscite vote or even an ABS issue survey. The last was the failed republic vote in 1999.

Jokes have been made about the online generation not knowing how to post their marriage survey response in a traditional mailbox. But the fact is that no one under the age of 35 has ever cast a direct vote in an Australian referendum or plebiscite.

It wasn’t always that way. Australians once were given far more opportunities to have a direct vote in constitutional reform referendums and matters of public importance plebiscites.

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I entered politics with an engineer’s mindset — to assess the challenges, then build things to solve those problems. I went into it knowing politics can be bruising, and I was a willing participant in making sure I offered my arguments with the full measure of force and theatre to go along with the underlying facts of my position.

But I think we need to accept that politics as usual isn’t working. Important issues such as welfare and tax reform, energy policy, our exploding level of debt and even what constitutes free speech seem to be beyond resolution by our political representatives.

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Meet four men who have prospered hugely under our current political system, yet want to dramatically overhaul it for the greater good.

On the cover of Oz magazine's February 1964 edition three young men – one dressed, incongruously, in a suit – stand at the Tom Bass public sculpture in Sydney's Hunter Street, pissing into its trough-like bronze cavity. Or, more precisely, appearing to. Magistrate Gerald Locke fulminated throughout the obscenity trial provoked by the cover before sentencing the three young Oz editors – Martin Sharp, Richard Neville and Richard Walsh – to jail with "hard labour".

This wasn't the 23-year-old Walsh's first brush with obscenity laws – and it wouldn't be the last for Oz – but it was the event that vaulted him to counter-cultural notoriety. It was, he explains, a "piss-take" of conservative Australian attitudes to art; the idea being that the sculpture might endear itself to the Sydney public if it served as a urinal. (The convictions were quashed on appeal.) 

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Geelong will have the council structure it wants with the passage of City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2017.

The Legislative Council passed the Bill last night, bringing about the new structure for the City of Greater Geelong following the Council’s dismissal in April 2016.

In an Australian first, the Geelong Citizen’s Jury process put local residents at the forefront of the decision-making process, letting them determine how their new council should be designed.

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Premier Jay Weatherill has officially walked away from one of the major policy hallmarks of his term in Government, pronouncing the nuclear waste dump “dead” and vowing he will not revisit it if he wins another term in office.

The position appears a significant rhetorical shift from his stance last November, when he pledged to keep the debate alive ahead of a future referendum on the issue of nuclear waste storage, after his own Royal Commission found establishing a local industry could net a “$100 billion income in excess of expenditure”.

At the time, his position was seen by critics both inside the Labor Party and more broadly as a refusal to abandon the nuclear dream.

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In his talk Brett Hennig presents a compelling, coherent case of fixing broken democracy by replacing elected politicans with ordinary people. Sounds crazy? You’ll be suprised to hear, it actually works.
Dr Brett Hennig (taxi driver, software engineer, social justice activist, mathematics tutor, PhD in astrophysics) is a director and co-founder of the Sortition Foundation whose aim is to promote the use of Citizens' Assemblies to resolve contentious political issues. He has been studying and following the global use of such forums for several years. He is the author of 'The End of Politicians', a book he has written on the subject.

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Justice Mary Laffoy and the Citizens’ Assembly have done the State some service in terms of determining future approaches in law on abortion - and their deliberations must be listened to and acted upon.

The Assembly voted to repeal Article 40.3.3 and proposed that a new constitutional provision be inserted granting the Oireachtas exclusive power to make laws on abortion.

Having done that, the Assembly was then charged with providing recommendations as to what reasons, if any, there should be for termination of pregnancy to be lawful in Ireland. Those recommended reasons were set down and voted upon in Ballot 4B on Sunday.

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