newDemocracy in the Media

A selection of newDemocracy related articles in the Media.

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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There’s an asterisk on a lot of political analysis, a rider at the end of deliberations about the impact of this or that event: “So long as the voters haven’t stopped listening.”

When Malcolm Turnbull pulled off a budget policy flip that would have made Nadia Comăneci proud, we all pondered whether he had outmanoeuvred Bill Shorten. When Shorten opposed some of the measures, we analysed whether he should have made more of the fact that Turnbull had landed well to the left of the Coalition’s usual positioning.

But it was all predicated on the asterisk, accepting the idea that changes in policy, or reactions to them, could make a difference to voters’ views one way or the other if they were just done well enough. So far, that hasn’t happened.

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Australia is a representative democracy. Citizens who are equal, with a shared responsibility for good government, elect people of different backgrounds and perspectives to set community standards. Those elected are not obliged to tell the truth or act in the public interest or forbidden to act in their own interests or the interests of their supporters. They can also enact unjust laws. The law is an expression of power, not justice, and Parliament is almost supreme. 

Since the calibre of those elected is extremely important, it is essential that voters are well-informed, especially now we live in a complex, multicultural nation where multiple interests are in constant conflict and almost every decision attracts strong dissent.

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The troubled Geelong City Council is likely to go to election in October after the Victorian Government announced it supported recommendations from a group of local residents.

The council was sacked last year and put into administration following a report which found it was so dysfunctional it could not govern properly.

Councillors, including high-profile mayor Darryn Lyons, were removed from power after the Victorian Upper House passed a bill to dismiss the entire council.

A Citizen's Jury has recommended the mayor be elected by councillors and serve a two-year term, with a total of 11 councillors elected from across four wards.

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Infrastructure Victoria’s experience shows citizen juries can play a vital role in delivering major milestones. This lends weight to the idea of institutionalising deliberative democracy.

Infrastructure Victoria’s year-long journey to create a 30-year infrastructure strategy was a big undertaking for the newly formed organisation of around 30 people. It knew it was crucial to get community input, given the complex and controversial nature of some of the options on the table. But more than just gaining feedback on pre-formed ideas, Infrastructure Victoria decided to make jury recommendations direct part of the strategy.

Over six Saturdays in mid-2016, the two juries — one regional and one metropolitan — consisting of around 43 people each, met to explore one question: ‘what should we do to meet Victoria’s infrastructure needs?’

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RECENTLY I was contacted by The Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Clennell about a story on the number of younger than average people who are ministers in Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s Cabinet.

A range of ages is a good thing and nothing to be concerned about. What concerns me is the lack of breadth of experience we find in parliaments everywhere. Politics has become professional — too professional. A conveyor belt of people come out of student politics, land jobs as ministerial advisers and then become the next generation of MPs. I don’t blame them.

This is the most efficient way to navigate our political system, and they do it well. But we need to find a balance.

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By Sebastian Rosenberg, The Conversation

Citizen panels and juries around the world are having their say about how health funding is prioritised and allocated.

It’s time this happened in Australia, particularly when it comes to deciding how best to carve up Australia’s limited resources for tackling mental health.

This is because constructively engaging with the community this way is fundamentally transparent and democratic. The current system, of national and state governments making decisions about mental health funding in secret, is not.

So, what has the current system achieved? And how could citizen panels help do things better?

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