newDemocracy in the Media

A selection of newDemocracy related articles in the Media.

Krystian Seibert. Comment. Sydney Morning Herald, 9 January 2017

The recent release of the Australian National University's election study showed that just under half of respondents were not satisfied with the state of democracy in Australia, the lowest level since the 1970s.

It's not surprising that there's such a level of disillusionment. One explanation may be that most Australians have little or no engagement with the democratic process, and if you're disengaged then you more likely to be disillusioned.

Over Christmas, if you asked any of your family and friends about any submissions they may have made during 2016 in response to Productivity Commission reviews, government policy discussion papers, or Parliamentary inquiries, you would probably have drawn a blank stare.

That's unless one of your family members or friends is like me. My day job is to think about what's happening within government, to lobby and write submissions. Whilst experts and lobbyists are keyed into what's happening in the democratic process, the involvement of most other so called "every day Australians" is limited to turning up to vote every few years. But voting is just one quite limited way of engaging with the democratic process.

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By Michael Koziol, Sydney Morning Herald

In a stylish waterfront office, not 500 metres from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a high-powered group clink champagne flutes and imported Italian stubbies in the name of pre-Christmas cheer. There among the crowd, poised as always, is Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs. Former NSW premier Nick Greiner chats amiably by the hors d'oeuvres. A number of former senior bureaucrats, including ex-secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peter Shergold, greet each other warmly. Their mingling host, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, is a man worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

By any definition, this is a gathering of elites. And yet their common purpose is one that might surprise: the overhaul of our failing democratic system in favour of something new.

The popular narrative would have it that elites are bunkered down right now, trying to figure out how to stop Donald Trump, Pauline Hanson and their populist ilk from changing a system rigged in the elites' favour.

But this glosses over the fact that Australians of all backgrounds are dissatisfied in record numbers with their nation's politics. Rich or poor, young or old, one thing that unites Australians seems to be our mutual disillusionment with politicians.

In a nationally representative Australian National University poll of 2600 Australians as part of the Political Persona Project, three in four agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: "I am disillusioned with politics in this country." Less than 10 per cent disagreed.

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By Helen Christensen and Bligh Grant

Australian governments of all levels are increasingly familiar with two trends in public budgeting. Firstly, the pressure to deliver ‘more with less’ in public budgets; secondly, an increased realisation by communities that they have a democratic right to participate in public policy decisions. In local government, processes of participatory budgeting (PB) are emerging, designed to assist meeting the challenge of these trends.

Simply defined, PB is a process in which the community can contribute to decision-making over part, or all, of a government budget. Somewhat famously now, the first PB process was run in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989. It was designed as an element of democratisation in a country that was emerging from a period of authoritarian rule. The Porto Alegre PB processes ran for over a year and involved local direct voting, neighbourhood meetings and regional assemblies where the budget was decided and where representatives conducted vigorous oversight of spending to ensure that practices favouring specific groups did not return.

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Brexit and the Trump presidency are making people ask whether the current form of democracy is the best we can do.

By Joe Humphreys. As published on The Irish Times

What’s happening to our democracies? Donald Trump’s presidential-election victory in the United States, after a bitter campaign characterised by deceitful and incendiary rhetoric, is not an isolated episode. It’s the natural outcome of what David Van Reybrouck calls democratic-fatigue syndrome.

The symptoms are as “manifold as they are vague”, the Belgian author writes in Against Elections: The Case for Democracy, but the condition can be identified by “anyone who puts together low voter turnout, high voter turnover, declining party membership, government impotence, political paralysis, electoral fear of failure . . . exhausting media stress, distrust, indifference and other persistent paroxysms”.

Ireland has not escaped this malady, and Fianna Fáil’s confidence-and-supply arrangement to facilitate the Fine Gael minority Government is one such outcome. Politicians with power are afraid to use it – and who would blame them when you look at the figures?

“In the 1950s and 1960s parties that joined a coalition government lost 1 to 1.5 per cent of their votes, in the 1970s 2 per cent, in the 1980s 3.5 per cent and in the 1990s 6 per cent,” Van Reybrouck writes. “Since the start of this century the figure has been 8 per cent or more. In recent elections in Finland, the Netherlands, Britain and Ireland, governing parties lost 11, 15, 15 and 27 per cent of their votes respectively. Who still wants to govern proactively in Europe if the price of participation in government is so relentlessly high?”

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By Matthew Knott. Sydney Morning Herald. 20 December 2016.


Australians' satisfaction with democracy has collapsed to its lowest level since the Whitlam dismissal, according to a major study that shows the country in an increasingly dark and distrustful mood about politics and the economy.

The survey, conducted by the Australian National University, portrays a populace that is increasingly disdainful of government, lacks allegiance to the major political parties and has little trust in politicians' abilities to improve the country's economic performance.

The researchers who conducted the 12th Australian Election Study said the findings were a "wake-up call" that the conditions that led to recent political upheavals seen in Britain and the United States also exist here.

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Conventional wisdom holds that the common sense of everyday people finds its voice in elections, and referendums. However, it's apparent that political campaigns are banal popularity contests at best, and toxic, divisive, ideological battlegrounds at worst.

The French philosopher Emil Cioran said: "Ideas should be neutral, yet man animates these ideas with passions and follies, and thus are born ideologies, doctrines, and bloody farce."

Elections foment animosities, and there's a growing group of political reformists who think that if we don't change them out, we'll have even more fractured societies.

Democracy is not elections, or referendums. We've completely lost sight of how political representation was originally conceived – not through elections, but by lot: no campaigning, no fundraising, no elections, no angry divisiveness. Take a look at how the Greeks defined democracy.

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Closing remarks to Strasbourg’s World Forum for Democracy 2016, by "an interloper from Down Under."

On this day of all days (the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States), it’s good to note that this is a World Forum for Democracy, not a forum for representative government, that unfortunate system that was created by political elites to ensure the continuation of their own privileges following the French, English and American revolutions. Thankfully there are few people here advocating education that is focused on promoting this flawed system. But today it’s timely for us all to read books such as David van Reybrouck’s Against Elections: The Case for Democracy, or Brett Hennig’s The End of Politicians: Time for a Real Democracy. Both these books offer powerful, provocative alternatives to the failed western experiment which has become audience democracy, a televised popularity poll.

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A participating community is a thoughtful community, it is a purposeful community.– Kate Auty, ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment and City of Melbourne Ambassador

In a political landscape where trust has been eroded and the public are for the most part disengaged and disillusioned, it is refreshing to see state and local governments leading in some areas of policy innovation. A prime example of this is the use of deliberative democracy approaches to support the development of policies and plans.

Deliberative democracy is not a new concept. It was developed in 1980, by Joseph Bessette, as a way of overcoming imbalances of power and conflicts between citizens and government decision-makers. Key components of this paradigm are citizens as an active part of decision-making, deliberation of issues, inclusion of marginalised citizens and consensus.

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by Patric Chalmers, The Guardian, Saturday 2 July 2016

These are difficult days for democracy. European nations struggle to elect governments on low turnouts. Populists wielding half-truths go from strength to strength. Facts are a devalued currency, personalities never more important.

People use ballot boxes to bloody the noses of the political elite. Young people are particularly jaded. Late adopters such as Russia and Turkey are turning their backs.

In its original sense, rule by the people, democracy seems to be in retreat.

Perhaps because of this, or in spite of it, experiments in new manifestations of democracy are proliferating. And some may offer a more tangible experience for ordinary people than the remote, mundane exercise of voting for a stranger once every four or five years.

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Sydney Morning Herald | Comment | July 2, 2016


In Australia, our cities are gleaming, our beaches glowing, and our politics pathetic. Cheap point scoring and sloganeering have become hallmarks of modern democracy, yet many people are turned off by these antics. But it's no one's fault. It's systemic. We've all been weaned on the ideas contest/the robust debate – government versus opposition.

For the past five years, the Lowy Institute has found that young people, in particular, don't value our democracy. These 18 to 29-year-olds are impatient with their governments, and their attitude can be justified. For most of their adult life they've seen politicians bicker over important issues.

Australia's longest serving prime minister, Robert Menzies, once declared: "The art of politics is to convey ideas to others…to persuade a majority to agree." However, the raison d'etre of democracy is not as a debating society – it's about social cohesion.

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INSIGHT 6 June 2016

They seem democratic but referendums are flawed. If we want people involved in the political process, there are smarter ways to go about it, says Niall Firth

Referendums are “a splendid weapon for demagogues and dictators”, argued Margaret Thatcher in a debate over Britain’s place in the EU in 1975.

Was that anything more than a snappy sound bite? Do referendums appeal to the darker side of democracy?

They were first used in ancient Greece where every citizen – well, just the land-owning men, actually – had a voice. To vote on new laws, thousands of Greek men had a direct say: decisions would be made by an estimate of the hands raised in meetings of the Assembly of the demos (the people) that would be attended by thousands.

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By Sandra Edmunds, The Fifth Estate | 9 June 2016

Special Report: With development rampant across major Australian cities, many residents feel like they’ve lost a say in what happens to their communities. Public consultation seems token, and deals appear to be stitched up before concerned citizens can put in their two cents.

Communities are frustrated and angry.

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Criticism of the State Government's decision to turn to citizens' juries for advice on our nuclear future overlooks the importance of gaining a "social licence" for such a momentous decision, writes Nathan Paine.

The long-awaited release of the Royal Commission’s Report into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle was an important step on the road to a sensible community debate in what is quite possibly the single largest economic decision South Australia has ever made.

This is why it was so deeply disappointing to read opinion pieces like Chris Kenny’s (Sunday Mail, May 14), where he basically called the Premier weak for not just flicking the switch on a nuclear future for South Australia. These types of comments are both ill-informed and unhelpful to the debate.

The full article here

Sydney Morning Herald | Comment | May 19, 2016.

The great divide between the parties is no longer so great.

The punters are considering their bets, with the odds narrowing: not that much between the protagonists. You might end up voting for whoever you hate less.

The politicians seem more concerned with their careers than us, or anything else. Because the political battle is at the margins – about relatively minor issues on the periphery of major policies – the quote about academics could be applied to our politicians: "Elections are the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low."

There was a period when the stakes were higher, the great divide more clearly discernible. In the post-war period (excepting Gough Whitlam's short interlude) the conservatives presided for an astonishing 40-plus years, reinforcing the belief of the elites as the natural custodians of modern democracy.

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