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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

2020 Summit: democracy « Previous | |Next »
April 5, 2008

My understanding is that the Rudd Government is using the 2020 Summit to examine ways in which Australians can increasingly deliberate in the making of government policy through a range of mechanisms, including community cabinets, as a part of a commitment to contemporary democracy. On the margins of this scenario is creating alternative spaces for citizens to debate and discuss the public issues of the day. This changes the nature of political engagement.

Mince.jpg Canberra Times

The critics say that the Summit is an elitist event, a love-in for the luvvies on the left, "just a talk fest", and a calculated gesture because "nothing disarms a critic like a cocktail party". The topics look to be serious and important. One is the future of Australian governance: renewed democracy, a more open government (including the role of the media), the structure of the Federation and the rights and responsibilities of citizens.

The Hawke Centre at Uni of SA has contacted its members seeking ideas on this issue on behalf of Elizabeth Ho, who has been invited to the 2020 Summit. Their blurb says that the Australia 2020 Summit will examine:

How best to implement an effective an agenda of open government which best balances the legitimate requirements of the media and the confidentiality requirements of cabinet government in the Westminster system;

How best to engage the community in government decision making;

What forms of Federation reform are appropriate for the future to maximise outcomes for the economy and the community;

How to ensure the future viability of local government operations and infrastructure provision.

That made me depressed. It was so much about administration at the expense of democracy. Sure the role of the media is a key point in liberal democracy. Media power is already dangerously concentrated in Australia and it has moved away from being watchdogs for democracy to partisanship, fighting culture wars and infotainment. Yes, there are signs of hope, not least in some of the ways which people are finding to use the internet; but that, including political blogging, is still not taken seriously in Australia.

I also notice that the rights and responsibilities of citizens has disappeared from the Hawke Centre's specific issues to discuss. Has it been reduced to open government or community? The debate of ideas is very narrow and confined in Australia with the same stuff endlessly repeated.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:14 AM | | Comments (20)
Comments

Comments

Actually, AGIMO did an inquiry on improving citizen engagement (kicked of by Gary Nairn) with a government consultation blog, with a summary of public submissions here .
I wrote a despairing post about how few bothered to get involved (LarvProd's Robert Merkel, Jacques Chester of ClubTroppo and myself were a fair percentage of the contributors, and a link to my submission is on that post).

Whatever governments do, citizen engagement depends on citizens bothering to be engaged.

Comparing
* the number of Australian bloggers and
* the number of gabfest attendees to
* the number of submissions to a typical Senate public inquiry will make you less than hopeful.

Gary

I am currently exploring what we might learn from the Radical Democracy of 5th century BC Athens. Technology now allows cheap and time efficient mass deliberations.

Ironically, I think one of the great weaknesses of our system is the elctoral system.

I have been tooing and froing with one of my best and old mates (a REAL lefty, not a Luvvie) on the merits of only 50% of our H of R being popularly elected local representives, with the remaining 50% being drawn by lot.

In ancient Greece, service in the legislative assembly and the juries was ALL by lot, with every single [male] citizen required to serve if selected.

Our current system has become corrupted because of interest group capture, which is largely why our public sphere has become so moribund.

I'd be keen to get your thoughts.

What forms of Federation reform are appropriate for the future to maximise outcomes for the economy and the community;

The word liberty is always absent when discussing federalism.

Cam,
liberty has been reduced to choice to Australian political discourse. A heritage of the Howard Government.

John,
being trained in the classics of philosophy I too go back to the ancient Greeks to get my bearings on political governance, participatory democracy, Socratic debate etc.

I agree about interest group capture--mostly notably seen around climate change and the Murray-Darling Basin for me--but there are many other examples--eg., media and telecommunications.

I guess I'm trying to develop Thoughtfactory into a low key "think tank",---wrong word probably--- with the aim of getting ideas on the table and being discussed. It's not left or right, conservative or liberal as such any more ----its what are the ideas and how lets discuss and debate them.

That's why I have little time for the Albrechtsons---there's little ideas there as its mostly soapbox polemics. Michael Duffy on Counter Point is much better and far more interesting. This programme is bringing in conservative ideas and conservative researchers and thinkers.

Re the liberal democracy institutions and representation:---its not so much the people being represented--its the poverty of their ideas that is so depressing.

Dave,
I read your post on Balneus. I missed the initiative re the discussion paper too and I take that as a mark against me as a political blogger. I'll read the discussion paper, your submission and comment further. It's a good initiative---the e-Government Strategy that commits the government to "establish Principles for online engagement to support a consistent experience for everyone engaging with the government electronically."

Dave
I like the idea of a government consultation blog that is envisaged as a website that lists consultations and allows people to post responses, comments and feedback against each consultation.The blurb says:

All Australian Government consultations could be accessible and promoted through this single Australian Government Consultation Blog.
The blog would ensure that people are able to easily find, be informed about and contribute to government consultations. The ease of use and features of the blog would encourage people to seek out and participate in government consultations.
The blog could provide a mechanism for government to announce and publish consultations.

Soemone like Gary may be keyed in to Parliament to know what's going but not some like me who is disconnected and feels powerless. It would be good to go to a place online to find out what's happening and to be able to comment. its a closed world to people like me.

Dave
I read the comments on your post. I like your idea of Centre Link access to the web. It is easy to do. I was at Internode the other day picking up a new modem, and whilst I waited I used one of their three computers to comment here on the Murray River post. Easy for Centre Link or the Department of Immigration to do. Or public libraries, which I have used in Victor Harbor, or community centres.

Re the observant comments by of Hoyden About Town on your post about

Online democratic involvement means that you need written language literacy, computer and internet access, a modicum of computer knowledge, the time to do it, a sense that your involvement is welcomed, and knowledge of how and where to get involved online. There’s a whole lot of less obvious privilege packed up in those requirements. Government can’t sit back and expect a disabled sole mother of seven in a remote region who has only a little spoken English to saunter in and compose a few lobbying emails to her local MP, even if there were a terminal sitting in the corner of a Centrelink office.
Meaningful outreach will remain essential, even in the presence of a “government consultation blog”, and it is very easy to dismiss people’s concerns by saying, “Well you should have gotten yourself involved, shouldn’t you?”

She is right. However, Centre Link should be offering training to people so they can acquire digital literacy and then be able to comment on the issues that affect them.

John Greenfield:
Actually, if we revise ONE Athenian tradition, I reckon ostracism. Annually or at least mid-term. With preferential voting (up to 3, just write in your own names). The winner is prevented from taking from position in ANY elected office, ministerial advisor, ambassador, head of department or authority.

Nan: On Centrelink and training, and the Hoydens. Valid points. However, in the meantime, its up to us to advocate on behalf of those who cannot as soon as an appropriate inquiry comes up. There are a range of Senate feeds, but RSS for newly announced inquiries is here

Nan,
The Centrelink idea is a good one, though I wonder how comfortable the sole mother in question would be about using a Centrelink terminal supervised by Centrelink staff to complain about Centrelink. You'd want to broaden access a bit, maybe include the Salvos or the post office as well.

Beyond the 2020 Summit

In response to a recent CPD article I suggested that post summit success depends on who will control the process and how. ...that the participants choose steering groups from amongst their members for each topic area or sub-topics where desired. They would be supported by suits from the Minsters' offices and the bureaucracy who might also be members of the steering group.

The web would be used to enable wide ranging communication and collaboration. Different levels of access would be given depending on the role of the particular participants. The access levels of online applications such as wikis or social networking could be adapted for this purpose. All of us could monitor and have input into the discussions and proposals. At the same time the distractions associated with some of commentariat could be avoided.

Lyn said

You'd want to broaden access a bit, maybe include the Salvos or the post office as well.

Yes. Actually, a broader definition might be Any premises of an agency of government or government-owned business enterprise, which would include subcontractors (like those doing work-placements on behalf of centrelink), and imply an obligation. This would include tiny tiny places (often rural), but allow an opt-out for them if they were within n kilometres of another government access kiosk (e.g. LPOs in big cities).

Democracy died in Australia in 1996 and nothing I have seen since November 2007 leads me to believe that it will rise from the dead.
The 2020 is at best a circus and at worst a way for government to subvert and distort the electorate's response to issues listed.

Clarencegirl,
don't you think that it would be a good thing if we could persuade the different levels of government to encourage broader public participation in the policy and service delivery development process. We do need more than face-to-face, as that only works at a local government level; and even then not very well.

Nan,
I get the impression that there is a national conversation going on around the nation about the issues of the 2020 Summit including that of the Summit itself.

I find it odd that the 2020 Summit does not have its own blog. Pity. The failure to open it up on line implies that the Summit process is taking place behind closed door in a room with few windows. People feel excluded from the process, which is rather ironic given the government consultancy blog initiative that Dave highlighted for us.

Peter,
what a great idea. The proposed government consultation blog is envisaged as a website that lists consultations and allows people to post responses, comments and feedback against each consultation. All Australian Government consultations could be accessible and promoted through this single Australian Government Consultation Blog.They say:

The blog would ensure that people are able to easily find, be informed about and contribute to government consultations. The ease of use and features of the blog would encourage people to seek out and participate in government consultations.The blog could provide a mechanism for government to announce and publish consultations.
At the end of each consultation the government may publish a report, where appropriate, of the consultation including a summary of the responses received. Accessibility for people with disabilities would be a priority for the blog.

Why couldn't this be experiment with for the 2020 Summit. They have nothing to lose in trying a separate blog for each of the topic areas. Why we could even discuss some ideas about we need to do to help save the Murray River.

Dave,
I've read the discussion paper re the consultation blog and the background paper to the governance forum of the 2020 Summit. The latter explicitly recognizes the rise of the internet and user generated content.

The consultation blog, as a pilot project, of the Summit would be a good place to begin to increase the participation of citizens in policy debate and decision-making? And to broaden the conversation why cannot the Senate or the House of Representatives not have their own blog that addresses the legislation they deal with?

We do need to make the shift from just a voting democracy (every three years) to a deliberative democracy.

Gary:
You say: And to broaden the conversation why cannot the Senate or the House of Representatives not have their own blog that addresses the legislation they deal with?

Good points.

First, I reckon get consolidated RSS feeds for upcoming inquiries, both parliamentary and departmental. The Senate does a good job. Haven't seen one for the house (except as part of house news), and Victoria? Can't find ANYTHING, despite looking.

Next step: Subject-related feeds (health, transport, etc) consolidating current inquiries (and another set for media releases) across ALL levels of government, so people with particular interests don't get swamped.

If you want the conversation to be stillborn just keep using that awful Luvvieism "conversation." One Robert Manne is ghastly enough!

Dave,
the key principle should be that citizens have a right to information to inform themselves about what their politicians and governments are doing in terms of the public interest.

This is more than media transparency or more efficient public administration. It requires a major culture change about representative democracy.