newDemocracy in the Media

A selection of newDemocracy related articles in the Media.

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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New report coincides with art exhibition at Dunfermline Fire Station Collective developing designs for a national monument to citizenship.
A DETAILED plan for a new Citizens’ Assembly, acting as a second revising chamber in the Scottish Parliament, has been published by Common Weal, the Sortition Foundation and newDemocracy in a new report.

A Citizens’ Assembly for the Scottish Parliament’ can be read in full here.

Authored by Dr Brett Hennig, co-founder of the Sortition Foundation – a non-profit organisation advocating citizen led deliberative democracy – in collaboration with Lyn Carson and Iain Walker from newDemocracy - an independent research organisation that trials new models of democratic decision – the report argues that a Citizens’ Assembly would be a “profound increase in the legitimacy of Scottish laws by providing solid evidence of the considered endorsement by a representative sample of deliberating Scottish citizens”.

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By Janette Hartz-Karp, The Conversation

All governments would like to overcome impasses caused by contentious issues. Particularly when they turn into a political slanging match, the result is loss of money, time and public trust.

Take the decades-old, contentious dilemma in Western Australia of whether to build the Roe 8 highway through the Beeliar wetlands to reach Fremantle Harbour, or build a new harbour in Cockburn, which would involve a different way to transport goods to port.

Communities are at loggerheads. The project affects some positively, some negatively. It’s now a key issue in the March 11 state election; the incumbent Liberals will construct Roe 8, Labor will not.

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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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