Welcome to our latest update on the pursuit of a better democracy.
We haven’t managed to write a newsletter for some time now; and that hasn’t been for want of an array of issues and concerns to write about. Amidst the cacophony of political slogans that have dominated world airwaves of late – Make America Great Again, Working Families, Jobs and Growth – we have been reminded of how quickly these words come and go. Instead, rather than dwelling on the superficial, let’s focus on what has been an intense and productive period for newDemocracy and those like us who are seeking a fundamental change to how we do democracy.
The newDemocracy Foundation has just completed its most ambitious project to date. Three hundred and fifty people from across South Australia met for more than forty hours over six days to decide what circumstances, if any, South Australia could pursue the opportunity to store and dispose of nuclear waste from other countries. Nuclear waste storage is a massive, complex, and controversial topic, but one that the Government of South Australia trusted to a jury.
The Jury engaged in thorough discussion and navigated a project that had some difficulties. They heard from many diverse speakers, both of their choosing and interest-group nomination. In a social media echo chamber, exposing people to multiple conflicting sources was a key goal.
This jury was a success in that the decision was reached by listening to, considering and discussing multiple, diverse sources. The fact that the jury’s final decision was not what many had expected, puts paid to the critics of jury models who claim that engagement is just a rubber stamp for a Government’s agenda. Ultimately, a group of everyday people tackled one of the most challenging and controversial policy issues there is, and came out of it with a more informed decision than would otherwise occur.
newDemocracy has also completed its work on the Democracy in Geelong jury. A world first in sharing the decision of local government legislation with 100 randomly selected jurors; and allowing them to range beyond the Electoral Act. They met in a tense political climate in the wake of the previous council’s removal from office. The jury navigated local politics and a technical topic to produce a strong and nuanced final report.
On March 18 the Minister for Local Government, Natalie Hutchins, provided the Government’s response to the jury’s practical recommendations: that the government will move forward with 10 of their 11 recommendations, including significant changes to voting ballots, council structure, and public scrutiny.
The jury demonstrated the ability of everyday people to grasp the difficult concepts of representation and democracy, wrangle with complex electoral regulation, and produce a clear and comprehensive direction for the future of their local council. Citizens stood alongside an elected representative to share and explain a complex decision – something rarely ever seen in government decision making. Our major focus is to deliver projects that repeat this and measure the way in which they improve public trust in the decision.
newDemocracy in the news
Recently, co-founder Luca Belgiorno-Nettis featured on the ABC’s Q&A program. Highlights can be found here. Luca’s appearance on Q&A comes after his July 2nd offer ‘of up to $5 million to kick-start a citizens' convention of randomly recruited citizens to consider the question: "How can we do democracy better?”’ The new year has also seen a flurry of newDemocracy mentions in the media:
In The Daily Telegraph, Nick Greiner linked politics needing people with life experience to the Foundation’s work;
In The Mandarin, Victoria Draudins surveyed the Infrastructure Victoria project from 2015;
In The Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Koziol reflected on the disillusionment uncovered in the Australian National University’s Political Persona Project and their attached polling, interviewing Luca for an article;
In The Australian, Ken Henry lamented modern politics and ‘the whole spectacle’ of it at the National Press Club, his frustrations were summarised.
newDemocracy Research Director, Lyn Carson (Ep1.1), Luca (Ep1.4), and Executive Director Iain Walker (Ep1.7), all featured in Season 1 of Real Democracy Now! A Podcast, focusing on deliberative mini-publics. In addition to our own, there were many other interesting perspectives on deliberative mini-publics from around the world shared throughout the season.
newDemocracy in the literature
As international interest grows, newDemocracy has co-authored a new report titled ‘A Citizens’ Assembly for the Scottish Parliament’ with Dr Brett Hennig, from the Sortition Foundation. It argues that a Citizens’ Assembly would see 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”.
We have begun publication of Research Notes exploring the principles of citizens’ juries, and the different aspects of their implementation. The first three in the series are available now on the newDemocracy website, and are linked here: Critical Thinking; Deliberation; Hearing from Experts.
A call to action
Did you know we operate a network for like-minded individuals seeking reform of the political system? With the help of volunteers who are able to offer time and assistance, the Foundation has been able to further its social media reach and develop the underpinnings of a grassroots support network. If this sounds like something you would like to be involved in, please visit the newDemocracy website here, for more information about helping the Foundation grow.
‘An implosion of trust’
The political events of 2016 will forever be remembered for their depiction of the collapse in government trust across western democracies. This ‘implosion of trust’ is seen in the ‘2017 Edelman Trust Barometer’, and is not new. The Lowy Institute for International Policy’s annual polling has been forecasting this since 2014, results echoed in their 2016 poll.
The rise in the appeal of populist candidates across the globe are not events of coincidence – but neither are they necessarily endorsements of particular policies.
They represent the interplay and fear of different ideas and events – immigration, globalisation, economic uncertainty, social change. Primarily, these election results reflect widespread distrust in our current political process and the so-called status quo. The election of the outliers will, of course, not restore trust. Politics has become reality TV (or reality TV has literally become politics in the case of Donald Trump) – the showman wins, with no substance but a storm of glitz and promises.
Something more is needed; where ordinary people, armed with actual facts, time to reflect, and good intentions, can deliberate on issues vital to their communities; where they can work towards meaningful social cohesion, breaking the chain of misinformation, fear and populist action.