Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Economy

Democracy is sick – long live democracy

About 25% voters have now abandoned the major parties and we have a political class that is seen by many as being “out of touch” and lacking in integrity.

Hardly surprising when we have a system that allows and encourages secret donations that inevitably influence policy outcomes.

We have a Senate where an extremist who was elected with only 77 first preference votes can block Government legislation.

Political power brokers manipulate “tickets” to make their competitors virtually un-electable.

And on it goes.

So, you ask: “What’s new?”

Well, for a start social media is new. It’s now a primary “news source” and many people rely on it for keeping in touch with what’s going on in the world.

That is: keeping in touch with what their “friends” reckon is going on. A vicious circle. “Fake news” is real.

“Alternative facts” are no joke. Prejudice is taking the place of opinions based on facts and informed analysis.

Lobby groups and political gamers of all stripes – including “enemy agents” – are becoming more and more sophisticated at targeting vulnerable voters using complex algorithms and analytics. The good, the bad and the evil.

The changes have been incremental and insidious but democracy is ailing. It needs more than just a shot in the arm …

It needs a transplant.

Government and politicians need to regain trust.

The word “democracy” can be translated as “people power” and the original Greek form of “direct democracy” had no elected representatives: the citizens would vote directly on important issues.

A bit like the system they still have in Switzerland where in the last 120 years they have had 240 referendums. As I write that I can almost hear the groans.

You can relax, I’m not suggesting we decide every piece of legislation by referendum. We could, however, introduce a system where “ordinary people” are directly part of the decision-making process.

What I’m suggesting is not new or original and it’s usually referred to as participatory or deliberative democracy and often makes use of “Citizens’ Juries”.

So how does it work and what is a Citizen’s Jury? Well it’s not complicated and various models have been used in different countries including here in Australia.

Just like trial juries that sometimes make life-changing decisions for individuals, Citizen’s Juries are randomly selected from the general population.

They don’t have special skills or qualifications. They are “ordinary people”.

Typically 20 to 100 individuals are invited to participate; depending on the importance of the issue being considered. They are paid a reasonable amount for their time and can decline if they don’t want to participate or for some reason can’t.

How exactly these deliberations are structured varies but the idea is for the Citizens’ Jury to arrive at a consensus that everybody involved can live with. The participants are first given relevant information by stakeholders, experts and others with an interest in the issue being considered.

Exactly the kind of people who would make submissions to a Government inquiry. This would usually be in the form of documentation, letters, interviews and presentations. They are then tasked with discussing the issue, coming to a consensus and formulating recommendations for Government to use in decision-making.

Having done this they have no further role. And this is one of the important factors that set them apart from the political class.

It’s not a step on a career path, they don’t have to consider the next election, who might be jockeying for their job and stab them in the back.

And they are not beholden to the wishes of major donors.

Elected Government then has to make the final decisions but a clear direction has been provided by direct representatives of “the people”.

It’s easy for Governments to ignore submissions made by interested parties or people “with an axe to grind” but it would be a brave and foolhardy Government that rejected outright the recommendations of a properly convened Citizens’ Jury without being able to provide very good reasons.

The NewDemocracy Foundation here in Australia has been promoting this form of decision making, have conducted considerable research in this area and have convened Citizens’ Juries to consider a number of issues.

For those of you interested in the topic a visit to their website is well worthwhile: https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/

Participatory or deliberative democracy can work at any level of government.

Here in Tasmania issues such as the state Government takeover of Taswater, reform to the Local Government Act and the proposed State Planning Provisions would be good candidates for deliberation by Citizens’ Juries.

Rather than having such issues debated solely by politicians Citizens’ Juries could be convened and make relevant recommendations without being influenced by political ambition or vested interests.

Any political party that made a commitment to introducing a genuine process of Participatory Democracy would be taking a step towards healing the sickness that is threatening the current system.

They would be seen to be introducing greater transparency and accountability into the decision making process and, hopefully, would be suitably rewarded by voters.

*Pat Synge has long been interested in how best to conduct “community consultation” to achieve positive outcomes. Concerned about the influence donations have on Government policy he co-founded Funding & Disclosure (Inc) ( http://www.fundinganddisclosure.org.au/ ) to lobby for changes to political donation laws.

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36 Comments

36 Comments

  1. TGC

    June 14, 2017 at 12:37 am

    #35″… its also to my way of thinking, that what trevor wants is probably not in my or a majorities interests.”
    No idea about the ‘majorities” interests- but it’s important #35 should be encouraged to pursue #35’s vision as should all visions be encouraged- at least until they run out of ‘puff- or interest.

  2. spikey

    June 7, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    its also to my way of thinking, that what trevor wants is probably not in my or a majorities interests.

    SO… I reckon it’s a great starting point.

    I nominate Jack Lumber
    only joking… jokes aside

    that Wilkie character appears to be trying to do the right thing, and I heard ‘NONE OF THEM LIKE HIM’, can’t think why, so I’d nominate him as a potential candidate for disposing the trash and helping reinvent democracy tassie styles and further afield.

  3. spikey

    June 6, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    its to my way of thinking that trevor doesn’t want change

    ‘Couldn’t do better than enlist such a ‘team’ from TT so long as there were no ‘wreckers’ amongst those corralled’

    if you don’t want fiddling
    get ya hand off it trev
    you troll

  4. TGC

    June 5, 2017 at 12:42 am

    #32 “Whatever the state of democracy” don’t even discuss how representation could be improved.”
    The key word there #32 is “improved”
    Now folks who call for things to be ‘improved’ often really mean ‘changed to my way of thinking’
    On a few occasions objective assessment will say-‘That’s an improvement’
    But as often as not -it’s just a change and attracts as much criticism and negative comment as the earlier.
    It’s bit like a ‘Progressive Political Party’

  5. pat synge

    June 4, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    “Whatever the state of democracy” don’t even discuss how representation could be improved. Bury your head in the sand. Stop fiddling.

    Thanks, Trevor, for your constructive contribution.

  6. TGC

    June 4, 2017 at 12:25 am

    The thing is #30- everyone wants to muck about with ‘democracy- not you and-just all the others.And in doing so they manage to satisfy a great many-or a few- complainants…but give rise to a whole lot of new ones or formerly satisfied now made dis…!Whatever any current state-of democracy- all improvements seem to result in the last one being worse than its predecessor.
    Stop fiddling!

  7. Leonard Colquhoun

    June 3, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    Be interested to find out whether we are meant to take Comment 27’s “I hate democracy” literally. Or whether it is meant as an attention-seeking opening gambit. Or whether readers are expected (to have enough nous) to add something like ‘as practised here’.

    In the form of that now widely known but definitely very useful request: ‘Please explain’.

  8. Simon Warriner

    June 3, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    re #27, Churchill had a fairly pithy response to that sentiment.

    What do you suggest?

  9. TGC

    June 3, 2017 at 12:34 am

    #21 “If you need educating on them I suggest you google Swiss referendums and find out more.”
    Switzerland is not Australia and different political systems operate Whilst each may see opportunity to learn from the other it’s unlikely either will jettison the existing system(s)

    #22 “…but on building networks and systems that can help us cope with the drastic changes that lie ahead.” How can we build ‘now’ “networks and systems” for future events which we can’t possibly know about.If they are in the future- they don’t exist now- so, what form should the “network and system take”? And what is necessarily “drastic” as against ‘progressive’ or ‘evolutionary’?

  10. mike

    June 2, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    I hate democracy. The idea that one group of people can outnumber. gang up and rule the lives of others is barbaric.

    Then a tiny minority hijacks the system for their own benefit and it turns out to be even worse than that!!

    We can do better.

  11. Simon Warriner

    June 1, 2017 at 10:17 pm

    re 22, lets wait a little longer before declaring victory on that economy thingy, eh. History has not shown fiat currency to be the most enduring of human follies, and there are more than enough warning signs for the alert observer to see that suggest the current fiat based system is not the exception some would have us believe.

    The reason for changing the personnel in our parliaments is because leaving the incumbant party members in place will absolutely ensure any disaster will be several orders of magnitude worse than it needs to be. I advocate that, not because it brings me any personal benefit, but because I understand that small personal networks are not the most durable of defenses against chaos and mayhem. A democratic, deeply embedded, respected independent thinking polity pursuing the common good, on the other hand, might actually be inclined to use the resources of the state to ensure any step into an unpleasant future does not resemble a rush for the exit of the theatre after some clown starts throwing molotov cocktails.

    And if a financial catastrophe does not happen, could they do a worse job of providing representative government that the one party politics has done over the last few decades? Or are you afraid they will not come up with your preferred policies and objectives?

  12. Tim Thorne

    June 1, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    #23, I have no interest in looking for any utopia, past, present or future. I agree that any attempt to establish one is doomed to create a dystopia worse even than what went before. We are agreed on that much.

    I have stated a few of the basic values which I believe are essential for survival. I am not putting them forward as any kind of program, or even programme.

    It seems unlikely that the world’s economic system will change, after all these centuries, from something mutable to something immutable, stuck forever as the kind of capitalism which has predominated for the last 30 – 40 years. Given that it will change, and that our political system will change to accommodate it, I think it would be good to develop systems which aim at continued survival (even wellbeing, if that’s not too big an ask) of the planet snd its inhabitants. You are welcome to challenge them, to add others or to pretend that all is the best, right now, in the best of all possible worlds.

  13. Steve

    June 1, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    #23; Your slightly sarcastic fiRst paragraph actually poses an interesting question Leonard.
    Historically there may have been such societies but they undoubtedly were rapidly annexed by their nasty brutish neighbours. I don’t believe it would be possible to find such a Utopia in the modern world, certainly not a country.
    The closest I have observed to the proposed ideal are small communities with strong religious beliefs. Few of these really measure up though, most of them don’t last, as per your last paragraph. It seems there always those who want to control others; Leunig’s “Abysmal man”.
    How about the Amish? They’ve hung together pretty well. They’ve certainly had their divisions but, providing you shared their religious beliefs, as a society they’d meet the requirements of the abstract nouns.

  14. Leonard Colquhoun

    June 1, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    What a lovely collection of abstract nouns in Comment 22’s third paragraph! Now to find that utopia where these have been practised!

    Which means a better society that what we’ve actually got, despite our lack of appreciation for abstract nouns.

    NTW, utopias usually degenerate into “poor, nasty [and] brutish” dystopias; the aim-to-be-perfect is usually the enemy of the good (enough, pro tem).

  15. Tim Thorne

    June 1, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    We have the political structures that our economic system needs, otherwise the economy, as presently structured, would collapse.

    This eventuality could be excellent, depending on what replaces it. Those of us with limited energy and time should concentrate, not on changing the personnel in our parliaments, but on building networks and systems that can help us cope with the drastic changes that lie ahead.

    Decentralisation of wealth and power, sustainability, co-operation rather than competition as a guiding principle, an inclusive approach to cultural and ethnic diversity, compassion: these are a few of the necessary fundamentals upon which any future society must be based. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

    Immediate amelioration is a laudable aim, but it should be left to those with more energy and time. Bandaids are appropriate for superficial lacerations and should be used in such cases, but cancer and major organ failure need a more radical approach. The good need not be enemy to the perfect.

  16. Robert LePage

    June 1, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    17# Congratulations on trying to use your red herring, when of course the way a
    referendum is run is “after” a petition of whatever number of signatures is supplied, to guard against frivolous referendums.
    If you need educating on them I suggest you google Swiss referendums and find out more.

  17. O'Brien

    May 31, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    Another winning ad from the people at Juice Media:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1SdCNdPDL8

  18. O'Brien

    May 31, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    We know the conservative parties pander and operate for the rich. The myth of the Labour/labor party defending workers and the poor is just that, a myth. Try joining the ALP and finding your way to the seats of power. You will shake your head at the number of friends and relatives are employed as full time staff. Doing sweet F.A. and surrounding themselves with their own kind. A genuine working man is seen as a threat by the assorted shirt-lifters and dykes who practically run the ALP. Then there’s the union hacks on a pretty penny. … Don’t even start on the greens…

    (edited)

  19. Steve

    May 31, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    #15; If politicians were limited to a short time in office, they would spend most of that time doing favours to ensure they had a nice cushy job when they were forced to retire.
    I like the idea of making “having had a real job” a pre-requisite, except I’d make it twenty years not five!

  20. TGC

    May 31, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    #14 “All major decisions should be taken only after a referendum on them i.e. going to war and invading another country.” How about what is referred to as ‘marriage equality/gay marriage’?
    Could that be classified as ‘major’ given the tousands of years ‘before’?

  21. Scott MacInnes

    May 31, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    I agree with Pat and thank him for his article. I have long believed in the value of this kind of participatory democracy and would encourage people to listen to some of the ABC Radio National programs which have addressed this issue and many of the concerns raised.

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/citizen-juries—leadership-for-a-new-democracy/6477686

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/futuretense/citizens-juries-and-deliberative-democracy/5762684

  22. Leonard Colquhoun

    May 31, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    Aha! What an excellent suggestion is this oblique or underlying one in Comment 14: “The only other way that some form of democracy could be found would be to have limited terms for politicians”!

    Were (say) MHRs limited three terms and Senators to two, the attraction of converting being a temporary MP to a life-long career would be much reduced, wouldn’t it? And, yes, there would be unwanted consequences, one main one being the loss of valued parliamentary experience from those MPs who’d served their country well.

    Here’s a trickier suggestion: a ‘real life / real work’ prerequisite to have been employed in non-political / non-governmental work for, say, five years, helping to reduce the ‘unrepresentative swill’ factor. (And, yes, a potential lawyers’ picnic over terms and definitions.)

    PS: although the above relates to the Commonwealth parliament, it also applies mutatis mutandis to those of the States.

  23. Robert LePage

    May 31, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Why would you want to give a donation/bribe to anyone unless you were expecting a favour of some sort in return?

    The only other way that some form of democracy could be found would be to have limited terms for politicians.

    If they are not constantly looking to be re-elected they might find more time to actually run the country.

    All major decisions should be taken only after a referendum on them i.e. going to war and invading another country.

  24. funding & disclosure (inc)

    May 31, 2017 at 1:05 am

    Peter Bright (#9) is right.
    “taking into account that man is infinitely devious, how can anyone prevent covert donations or underhand rewards from bribing politicians in the expectation (or guarantee) of illicit or illegal favours?”

    Creating legislation certainly provides no guarantees. But if someone is found to have broken the law penalties can be imposed. If there is no law it is open slather.

    F&D doesn’t favour a ban on all donations.

    We consider that donations up to $500 should be permitted and that all donations should be disclosed in real time. After all, $500 doesn’t buy much in the way of special favours!

    Any undisclosed donations (in cash or in kind) that are proven to have been accepted by a candidate or office holder, directly or indirectly, should result in dismissal.

  25. pat synge

    May 31, 2017 at 12:40 am

    Acknowledging that CJs are a “great tool” (#10) is a good start.

    It’s easy to simply say it’s too hard: nothing ever gets done that way. Finding an “enlightened implementing organisation” is not really that difficult.

    Ideally they should be run at arms length from Government anyway so what is needed is an agency with relevant experience (such as the newDemocracy Foundation).

    If you are really interested I suggest you have a look at how it was done in Geelong on behalf of the Victorian Government.

    https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/docs/activeprojects/geelong2016/Geelong Project_newDemocracy Foundation_Process Design_Final_June 2016.pdf

  26. Steve

    May 31, 2017 at 12:19 am

    #10; I have to agree with your viewpoint.
    Ridiculous things go “viral” on social media. Good to consider the opinion of a CJ, but only a tool.

  27. Simon Warriner

    May 30, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    Sorry Pat, but you are barking up the wrong tree.

    Don’t get me wrong, CJ’s are a great tool, but they are just that, a tool. They need a skilled parliament or an enlightened implementing organisation to set them up and to make use of their output. Run by our current lot of party hacks they would be an unmitigated waste of time. effort and money.

    What is lacking is the sort of parliament that has the wits to understand how such a toll might be used, and abused, and make sure it was used properly.

    How to get that sort of parliament is the lynch pin of any work towards the improvement of the health of our ailing democracy. We need less party politics and more real representation in our houses of assembly, and more pursuit of the common good and less pursuit of whatever makes the party donors happy.

    There is a way to work towards that, but it means admitting that we as individuals do not have all the answers, and it means that we have to put our trust in a process driven model, and keep replacing representatives if they fail to abide by the process honestly and honourably.

    Let me know when you are interested.

  28. Peter Bright

    May 30, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    Robert Le Page at #8 states..

    [i]”The first great step towards a true democracy would be the abolition of ALL donations.

    “They are really just another name for bribes.

    “Until they are scrapped there never will be a true democracy.”[/i]

    .. and of course he is absolutely right, but taking into account that man is infinitely devious, how can anyone prevent covert donations or underhand rewards from bribing politicians in the expectation (or guarantee) of illicit or illegal favours?

  29. Robert LePage

    May 30, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    The first great step towards a true democracy would be the abolition of ALL donations.
    They are really just another name for bribe.
    Until they are scrapped there never will be a true democracy.
    I did look at the list of supporters and was dismayed to see the names of a few people that I would not trust with my pet rabbit.

  30. pat synge

    May 30, 2017 at 6:33 pm

    Thanks for the comment, John (#2)

    You ask why ” …(Since) the CJs are advised themselves by experts, so why not skip that step and have the experts advise the government directly?”

    The whole point of convening CJs is to provide the voice of the “common people”. A common sense viewpoint if you like rather than one that is tainted by political considerations such as electoral positioning, career advancement, satisfying donors etc

    Currently Government does consider submissions from the public but the one thing they don’t get is a common sense, unbiased distillation of these submissions.

    Obviously the workings of any CJ would be transparent and opposition parties would have equal access to the recommendations.

    And no, the advice would not be binding. This does not undermine or interfere in any way with representative democracy.

    Elected representatives would make the final decisions, as is the case now. CJs are simply an effective form of community consultation

  31. TGC

    May 30, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    #2 “Alternately it could be issues based: that is experts or practitioners representing various generic fields like health, transport, education, justice, human rights…”
    Couldn’t do better than enlist such a ‘team’ from TT so long as there were no ‘wreckers’ amongst those corralled

  32. Peter Bright

    May 30, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    At #1 Ted Mead writes ..

    [i]Yes Pat, all very progressive ideas, but how can such a concept ever hope to be implemented in a deeply entrenched political paradigm where the average voter doesn’t have a clue about how our political system functions because we are never educated at school as a minor.”[/i]

    That’s admirably perceptive, Ted. Thankyou.

    As I understand it, the unprincipled exploiters of people and environments don’t want children to know what’s really going on.

    It needs them suppressed and compliant as workers on the treadmill to hardly anywhere; mindless Wallys maliciously kept too opiated, by garbage television and Liberal propaganda for example, to ever think deeply and perhaps wise up and, golly gee, even rebel!

    I believe that genuine change nationwide requires a dramatic turnaround in how our society functions, one that will require the termination of reckless and ruthless capitalist exploitation for gain at the expense of others and the environment; one that outlaws the exploitation of one section of society by another, one that trades exploitation for co-operation.

  33. Bob Hawkins

    May 30, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    Pat Synge’s thoughts on democracy fit nicely with the central request in last week’s statement from the Uluru convention of Aboriginal delegates from all across Australia. The Uluru statement, as I read it, is asking for something akin to a “Citizens’ Jury” but one that is permanent and formed as a result of elections rather than by random selection each time a matter of great community importance is being discussed. Although mealy-mouthed politicians such as our deputy prime minister are clearly averse to Aboriginals being given a role in the democratic process, it seems to me that the time has arrived for Australians of all persuasions to push for greater participation in an attempt to restore the value of our ailing democracy.

  34. Leonard Colquhoun

    May 30, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    This sentence, “It’s not a step on a career path, they don’t have to consider the next election, who might be jockeying for their job and stab them in the back” is my first nomination for Most Significant Point.

    It also highlights another Big Statement: the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. We the People should have been more vigilant about how a measure, pay for MPs, has degenerated from its original worthwhile (as very distinct from ‘worthy’) intentions to enable such unrepresentative swill to infest our parliaments.

  35. John Biggs

    May 30, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    Seems well worth considering. I see that Citizens’ Juries are advisory only. The question arises about who is being advised: the Government but how is it elected, how binding is the advice? What would kill this is if the government system was two party you would get the same confrontational games. So the real issue is the government — it must be multiparty.

    Alternately it could be issues based: that is experts or practitioners representing various generic fields like health, transport, education, justice, human rights, etc etc advised by experts. Such a government could take advise and take advise from CJs. T

    Then the CJs are advised themselves by experts, so why not skip that step and have the experts advise the government directly?

    This is an interesting idea that has many variations: some probably excellent others dangerous.

    I looked at the website and thought those involved were a good cross section, perhaps slightly leftish, then I saw Campbell Newman! That man is a wrecker — I can’t see how one could work with him — but then it does have to a cross section even if it hauls the far right.

    Problems — even after just a swift look at it.

  36. Ted Mead

    May 30, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    Yes Pat, all very progressive ideas, but how can such a concept ever hope to be implemented in a deeply entrenched political paradigm where the average voter doesn’t have a clue about how our political system functions because we are never educated at school as a minor.

    If we want to educate someone we need to do so at a young age before they get sucked into the myopic cesspit of habitual adulthood.

    Remember Julia Gillard once threw the idea around of a citizens assembly. She failed to explain the machinations of her idealism to the average punter, and ultimately was laughed into retreat

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