newDemocracy in the Media

A selection of newDemocracy related articles in the Media.

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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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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