March 2018 Newsletter


Welcome to our first newDemocracy update for the year.

It promises to be a busy year for newDemocracy. New projects are underway, we have been featured in the AFR, and there are a number of movements internationally that we will announce from March to May. Read about all of the above and more in this, our first newsletter of the year.

Sharing the hard problem of Housing Choices in the ACT

The ACT Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate is conducting a review of Housing Choices in the ACT. The next stage of engagement will comprise a deliberative Collaboration Hub that newDemocracy will provide design and oversight for. 36 randomly selected members of the community will meet 5 times between May and July to make recommendations to the Minister in addressing the question:

Canberra is changing – and there are many different ways our housing needs can be met.
What should we do?


The group’s recommendations will be handed unedited to the Minister for a direct response. The process will also incorporate a Stakeholder Reference Group of the largest community, business and industry stakeholders to provide input into the design and operation of the process.

“During March, invitations to participate in the Collaboration Hub will be sent to households that have been randomly selected. This will give a wide cross section of the community the opportunity to work together with government. The outcome will be recommendations to government on what can be done to ensure our housing needs are met in the future,” Minister Mick Gentleman said. 

The ACT has a finite supply of land to accommodate urban development. The ACT population is projected to reach 500,000 people by 2033, with the number of residents aged 65 and above set to increase by two thirds over the same period. These changes are also occurring in the context of a government commitment to create a more compact and efficient city and reduce Canberra’s ecological footprint.

“A number of areas will be explored during the Collaboration Hub process including looking at what zoning might be appropriate, and the principles that Canberrans agree are important to deliver the housing we want,” Minister Gentleman said.

Canberra requires careful planning to manage growth and urban development. It requires innovative and participatory approaches to planning. For more information about the project visit our project page here and visit


Moving beyond complaint to solutions with a Byron model for democracy

What infrastructure spending should we prioritise, and how should we fund these priorities if the rates alone are not enough?

This is the question that Byron Council is putting to a randomly selected group of 28 local residents. In a process designed and run by newDemocracy, the project is aimed at testing a low-cost, time-effective model of deliberative engagement for local government.

The Community Solutions Panel has just completed its submissions process, an avenue for anyone in the community to submit their own recommendations on infrastructure spending. These submissions harness the community’s unique level of engagement in local decision making to increase the breadth of options considered by the panel. Opportunity was provided for anyone to make their case on how to solve the challenge of prioritising infrastructure.

Contributions – the draft solutions – are now being reviewed by a jury-style group of randomly selected people who discuss and learn about the merits of various solutions before making a recommendation they can collectively support.

Byron Shire Council’s Mayor Simon Richardson said recent feedback from work on their Community Strategic Plan showed people had a general lack of trust and faith in the Council and wanted more community-led decision making.

“And it’s a trust building exercise, so it’s imperative that we put our money where our mouth is and genuinely listen to the decisions made by the Panel and act upon them,” Cr Richardson said. The decisions of the panel are fully binding to the council.

For newDemocracy, the project is an opportunity to tap into Byron’s long and notable history of activism. As we conduct our work internationally, we see and hear about more and more people trying to find ways to improve democracy, to make it more representative and aimed more at solving long term problems, with structures that restore trust. The Byron Shire community is uniquely active and passionate and that makes it the perfect place to try something different to fundamentally change democracy. Can we move beyond a culture of complaint and harness that productively toward a trusted, accepted solution?

Can we create a local Byron model that empowers everyday people in decision making and then share it around the world? Stay up to date with how the project unfolds by following us on the project page and social.

Jurors from the recent Yarra Valley Water Citizens’ Jury deliberate. Click to here read their report.

Taking the next step toward rebooting Australian Democracy

After the success of the Symposium on Trusted, Long-Term Decision-Making, newDemocracy is pleased to be continuing to assist the collaboration of thought-leaders, peak bodies, industry organisations, think-tanks and academic institutions who share a concern for the challenges so clearly faced by those who lead.

The Symposium, staged over two-days in 2017, had its genesis in a series of conversations about how to improve the structures and processes that affect public decision making by government. The focus was the changes participants could agree upon to deliver effective long-term decision-making which earns public trust.

Around 80 participants explored and developed ideas that were distilled into eight key recommendations. One of these was the establishment of a non-partisan independent body to lead the change required to rebuild trust in democracy. With current political interest swirling around this topic – including calls for a national integrity commission – the time is ripe for very real change. newDemocracy has agreed to provide secretariat services for the steering group that kick-starts this body, knowing that our experience, research links, international democratic networks and operational project experience will help significantly.

A follow-up working session for those involved in the proposal was held in February with further detail on the steps forward coming later in the year. You can view the Symposium Report here.

Campbell Newman and Geoff Gallop at the recent Symposium for Trusted, Long-term Decision-making.

Over the holiday period, newDemocracy featured in several strong news-pieces. These are well worth taking the time to read in full, but here are some snippets for short attention:   

  • In The Guardian, Paul Karp reported on newDemocracy’s requested evidence to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. newDemocracy founder Luca Belgiorno-Nettis and executive director Iain Walker presented evidence on the use of random selection and citizens’ juries in solving political donations reform, however there was also interest in using the model on resolving the issue of Section 44 amendment. 

    “Andrew Giles, JSCEM deputy chair, said the government “could and should do more” on issues that went to how democracy operates to “open up decision-making to a wider group of citizens”.

    “Personally, subject to our executive government masters and my colleagues, I think it’s something we should be looking at,” he said.

  • In The Sydney Morning HeraldLuca Belgiorno-Nettis followed up the JSCEM meeting with an article exploring how citizens’ jury style processes could resolve difficult constitutional problems:

    “The committee could take heart from the success of the Irish Constitutional Convention of 2012 that had 99 delegates: two thirds randomly recruited from the population at large, and the balance made up of MPs. They studied a number of constitutional reform matters. We could do the same, and consider various questions such as the republic and Indigenous recognition, apart from section 44. Then use the recommendations as the basis for a referendum.”

  • The World Economic ForumLe Monde and Greece’s Kathimerini published newDemocracy Research Director Lyn Carson and David M. Pritchard‘s article exploring the role of random selection in participatory budgeting in ancient Greece:

    “Athenian assembly-goers expected a politician who supported a policy to estimate its cost accurately. He had to demonstrate whether it was affordable. Often he faced the counter arguments of rival politicians that it was not affordable. In response he had to say how the cost could be reduced or a new tax introduced.

    In ancient Athens politicians certainly did not believe that ordinary voters could not tolerate the financial truth. They often convinced voters to increase taxes or to cut benefits for the sake of the greater good.”

    David is convening an international conference at the University of Strausborg from 9 to 11 July 2018. English-, French- and German-speakers often read Pericles’s famous funeral oration at school or university. For the Athenians it was a vitally important speech, because it reminded them who they were as a people and why they had sacrificed their sons in war. This conference aims to undertake the most thorough study of this genre in 40 years. The resulting book will be published by Cambridge University Press.

  • In The Australian, Campbell Newman and David Hinchliffe made the case for fundamental reform to the Australian political system to salvage it from the failures of the adversarial system:

    “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.

  • In The Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hartcher made the case for our ability to ‘do democracy better’ in view of the Same Sex Marriage plebiscite, capturing the sentiment that there is a better way to make the difficult political decisions – explicitly mentioning the work of newDemocracy;

    “As Australia considers changing its constitution, a reformer and activist, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, is urging the federal Parliament to make use of another monitory device – the citizens’ jury. His organisation, the not-for-profit newDemocracy Foundation, has convened some 25 citizens’ juries for local and state governments over the last decade.

    Belgiorno-Nettis says that it increases trust in the referendum question and supports the democratic process. Judicious use of plebiscites and citizens’ juries can be a useful adjunct to parliamentary processes. Belgiorno-Nettis poses the big question: “How do we do democracy better?” All of Australia would like to see this question answered.”

  • In The Australian Financial Review, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis made the case for why democracy isn’t delivering and citizens’ juries can:

    “Voters may be exasperated by democracy’s shortcomings, but people endure – blind to any alternatives. Liberal democracy is the worst system of government, Churchill famously quipped, except for all the others that have been tried before. Wedded to the popular vote as the incontrovertible template – regardless of how unrepresentative the results and unloved the politicians – the constituent is captive. It’s a form of electoral fundamentalism, whereby the vote remains the singular most cherished, inalienable right.”

Peter Hartcher at the recent Symposium for Trusted, Long-term Decision-making

Democracy R&D: International Developments

On 16 and 17th January in Madrid, members of the newDemocracy Foundation participated in the founding conference of Democracy R&D, an international network of deliberative democracy organisations. The purpose of the network is to make each organisation more successful, carry out collaborative projects, and make a greater contribution to improving democracy. So far we are 19 organisations in 13 countries: Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

The group’s most active project is “Our Parliament.” Its purpose is to work with parliaments in different countries to convene randomly selected bodies of everyday people to review, deliberate, and recommend measures to improve democracy and increase trust in parliament. The model is similar to the Geelong Citizens’ Jury overseen by newDemocracy in Australia. We have developed a project proposal, and begun outreach to officials in the European Union.

The Demos

We’ve created a new Facebook group as a space for discussion, action and collaboration on all things newDemocracy. We’re here to help answer questions, give you the tools for action, and discuss ideas about democracy. It has quickly grown to over 200 members. With people like Griff Foley being published in the Newcastle Herald, the group focuses on empowering people to think, write and act to spread the word.

This group will work best with lots of discussion, so please don’t hold back with your ideas, comments or questions. Whether they’re about citizens’ juries, deliberation, or the concept of democracy more broadly, the more respectful discussion we have, the better.

Who represents whom?

An interesting consequence of the recent Same Sex Marriage (SSM) plebiscite was the discussion as to whether or not one’s elected representative should reflect the decision of their constituency. Chris Bowen’s strongly Labor-held seat of McMahon voted 64.9% No; Tony Abbott’s normally conservative electorate of Warringah voted 75% Yes. Both had passionately articulated their stance prior to the vote (Bowen was a strong Yes campaigner and Abbott was equally vehemently No). In Parliament both voted against the will of their constituents. Were they right to do so?   

Should they have followed their clearly stated conscience position or should they have followed the will of the people who elected them?

This brings to light a fundamental question of what we expect of elected representatives in our democracy. Whose will should prevail in crafting legislation? The SSM plebiscite offered us a good opportunity to consider this.  

Is an MP a delegate (or agent) of their electorate? or;
Does the MP, once chosen, have free choice on whatever decisions are made?

The former position might represent true democracy but would tend to be unwieldy; the latter allows the citizen to abrogate all responsibility in decision making.

The issue wasn’t resolved by any means but the question has now been asked. This plebiscite worked once and its result was accepted because the turnout was high and the result, decisive. However, it is not a mechanism that can be used endlessly. The lesson here is that there is a role for everyday citizens in breaking a political impasse. So how should other contentious social issues (legalising euthanasia, changing Australia Day, modifying drug laws) be resolved? A citizens’ panel would offer a better, more demographically equitable, less aggressive and less politically confrontational way of resolving such issues.

– Manuela Epstein
newDemocracy Foundation Administration

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