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

2020 Summit, deliberative democracy, media « Previous | |Next »
May 13, 2008

I have found it very difficult to find out what actually happened in the exercise of deliberative democracy that was the 2020 Summit. I knew that prevention was discussed in the health stream, but the initial official report was very bland, whilst the media's talkfest interpretation was less than helpful in informing us citizens about the discussions that actually took place. We are promised a more detailed report by May 30.

Stephen Leader makes an interesting point about the media coverage of the Summit in the Centre of Policy Development's coverage of this exercise in deliberative democracy. He says that:

The media coverage of the Summit has been vintage colour-me-cynical Australian-beige. Virtually none has addressed the Summit as instrument of democratic life. Instead, the dull uniformity of articles and clips asserting that no good thing can come from the Summit has been depressing. That we have a prime minister capable of scholarly reflection and grasp, at ease discussing ideas rather than sending them off-shore to an island quarantine station, has largely escaped their attention. Only a fragment of the Summit material has thus far been published and it will be weeks before it all becomes available, but most media have already closed the books.

I concur. As I was holidaying in NZ at the time of the Summit I could only find out about the deliberations by reading what happened through the media's prism. That prism implied that little happened at the talkfest in terms of the process of deliberative democracy generating new ideas.

The mainstream media said very little about linking 'talkfest' to deliberative democracy's ideas about active citizenship and more public involvement by citizens. The effect of their narrow view of democracy made me depressed, as the media gave the impression that the same old ideas were being recycled- yet again; and that there was little practical point in transgressing the horizons or limits of the liberal democratic present.

If democracy is based on a set of power relations and we are tangled up in power and knowledge relations that both constrain and enable the possibilities of citizenship, then we subjected to power and subjects in our own right. So we need to develop strategies for governing through citizenship.

From this perspective we can interpret the media discourse as a critique of deliberative democrats as nostalgic romantics. The media's discourse is that the stress on the positive values of political participation and the limits of negative freedom of a utilitarian based political culture, should be dismissed as unrealistic. It's pie in the sky stuff, despite the democratic deficit.

Stephen Leader questions this media critique by stressing the significance of the ideas that arose from the citizen deliberations in the health stream. He says that the single most interesting idea in the Health Strategy Stream related to prevention: to the government having a conversation with the major urban developers, food manufacturers and retailers in order to make it easier for people to choose goods that do not screw up their health.

Rudd could convene such a meeting as a follow-up to the Summit, in the spirit of the Summit. Seated around the table in this forum would be:

....the CEOs of companies that build our cities, design our parks and cycle ways, determine the style of new buildings, decide upon the walkability of a new suburbs, choose what food will be retailed, advertise it, run our commercial gyms and more.[The] PM could say "Ladies and Gentlemen: we have a problem and its called obesity. What are we going to do about it?" Small changes by CEOs ripple into waves - slowly reducing salt, fat and sugar in processed foods, designing mandatory park spaces so that people use them rather than avoid them, developing coherent walkability plans for cities and so forth could all be done at low cost through the combination of commercial, community and political will.

Such a forum was recommended. This kind of deliberation opens up spaces for us as subjects in our own right to be able to care for ourselves so as to keep us well.

We citizens need to actively involved in the deliberation and debate surrounding the laws that govern us, rather than seeing these laws simply as instruments externally provided to protect individual pursuits.The 2020 Summit was a step in this direction.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:11 AM | | Comments (14)


this account of the health stream links with the governance stream . What happened there, apart from the old talk about dumping the British monarchy and introducing the republic?

Was the democratic deficit addressed?

The initial report says:

Another major theme was the need to strengthen the participation of Australians in their governance: a revolution in community and government interaction through grassroots and non-traditional community engagement, as well as more formal electoral processes.

That addresses the idea of democratic deficit, political participation and positive freedom.

However, what "a revolution in community and government interaction through grassroots and non-traditional community engagement" meant at the Summit is unclear from the Report. We have to look elsewhere for that.

Nan + Peter
I reckon that a good place to start is the background paper for the governance stream, then we work out from that. That paper asks some some good questions at the end of its factual account.

The 'working out from that' can be done by working through the materials provided by the Centre--eg., their Reclaiming Democracy issue. This lists the key problems facing our democracy and argues the case for deliberative democracy among other things.

As some of the contributors to the Centre for Policy Development were participants in the 2020 Summit's governance stream so the Centres material was developed in response to the background's paper's questions.

Miriam Lyons, the Director of the Centre for Policy Development, has published her very good ideas re the 20 20 Summit on the Centre's blog: ----here on democratic renewal and here on open access government.The latter was the idea about freedom of information that she presented as a participant in the 20 20 Summit----her homework for the Summit as it were.

We also have Miriam Lyons' account of the deliberations in the governance stream of the 2020 Conference.

I'm beginning to think that the Habermasian ideal public sphere is itself an obstacle for a genuine deliberative democracy.

The way the media covered the summit impeded the relay of the ideas and instead went the celebrification route, gossiping about who was there and what they did, rather than what was said. The media clogs the free flow of information between government, ideas and citizens.

We need to come up with ways to sidestep the whole idea that media hosts public deliberations. Just acknowledge that the media is there to manufacture celebrity including the commentariat and leave it at that.

the media is caught up in a celebrity and entertainment culture and has little interest in policy ideas.

The gap is being filled by the bloggers, Crikey, online fourms such as OnLine Opinion, online magazines such as New Matilda and the thinks tanks.

So what were the bloggers saying? You get around these? Did they do much about the ideas discussed at the 2020 Summit? Or did they too not really know what was going on because they relied on the mainstream media?

what were the bloggers at LP or Troppo saying? Did they discuss the ideas at the 2020 Summit? Did they---eg., John Quiggin-- have access as participants. Was there a circulation of ideas amongst the bloggosphere. I wasn't able to tell from NZ

Nan, Gary,
To generalise, people who went seemed exhausted by it, so we didn't get the immediate relaying of detail we might have wanted. When stuff did start coming out the overall impression I got was that the whole event was exhilarating but confusing.

There wasn't as much discussion of the ideas in the blogosphere as you'd think. New Matilda did that best in my opinion. To be fair though, the stuff that filtered out to be discussed was mostly the dot point summary which winnowed everything down to the motherhood statements we've heard so much about.

Like conferences everywhere, most of the interesting stuff seems to have happened in incidental conversations during breaks. But that stuff doesn't emerge until long after when new networks produce new ideas.

Most are waiting for the official report, which will give us a better idea of both the ideas themselves and which of those are likely to be considered seriously.

That's not a satisfying answer, I know, but my view probably comes from my own disappointment. I suspect it might have been different had the *uninvited* been a little more generous about the whole thing.


re: "discussions that actually took place"@health stream"

In case you haven't discovered them buried at 2020 site:

For the next few days, videos of reporting sessions for various streams are still hosted at:

health ones @

"Ambitions" is the sat morning session, it's mainly ministerial blah blah, and the second half is a bit of a window into how the controllers/facilitators pretty much subverted any chance of free flowing creativity establishing a beach head in policy development.

The "priority themes" is the afternoon reporting session, really the guts of the weekend, if your short of time get that one.

The "big ideas" section is a recording of Kev himself on the sunday telling the health stream, and us, what his take home messages are.


thanks for that. Much appreciated. Gee the video streams sure are buried. They should be front and centre.

I will start with the ministerial blah blah and organizational session to get a sense of the process and the 5 different groups in the health stream and work my way through the video streaming. That went live. Well I never knew that.

1000 submissions in health Roxon says on the video stream. 1000 out of 3000.Shows you the significance of health for citizens. It would be nice if these submissions were online for us to have a look at and evaluate. It looks as if there was a lot of positive energy there judging from spending 45 minutes watching the first session--Ambition. Let a thousand flowers bloom then we can filter them. It all sounds very positive.

The New Matilda material is about the creativity stream that you wrote about on public opinion. The Climate change stream, according to this account, on New Matilda was hijacked by the coal industry.They pushed so-called "clean coal", argued for more subsidies to the coal industry for them to build clean coal plants, and argued that the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target is unfair.

In contrast the majority of people in the room pushed for a statement calling for no new coal-fired power stations in Australia (unless or until carbon capture and storage was proven to work, proven safe, efficient and commercially viable - which it is not at this stage, and the majority of the climate movement believe it will never be.

The coal industry, however, used the Summit to push their agenda through an organised attempt - strategically, in the lead-up to the Federal budget - to position "clean coal" as the solution to climate change and one in need of more Federal subsidies. We do not need new coal in Australia. We can deploy energy efficiency and renewable energy, and fundamentally change our society and economy - for example through distributed energy systems rather than the centralised grid. And we could do it tomorrow, long before "clean coal" has been proved or disproved.

And the Ministers allowed it to happen. Shame. The greenhouse mafia still call the shots in Canberra.

You can gather from Danny's "ministerial blah blah', facilitators subverting, and 'take home messages' that it wasn't really an exercise in deliberative democracy. Not the summit itself, anyway. As far as deliberative democracy is concerned I think the big contributions came from the idea of the summit itself.

The biggest idea was that we, the country, can talk about our ideas for the future. It reintroduces the notion of deliberative democracy. That alone is a significant break from the past decade.

There was a lot of that about from what I can gather - hijacking by interest groups. And bickering among lawyerly types over terminologies.

The creativity stream was the one I was most interested in, especially how it linked with education. I kept an eye on health knowing Gary was away, but nothing new seemed to come out of it. I was expecting something like a greater role for nurses, another layer of services between the public and GPs or between GPs and hospitals or specialists, but nothing like that happened.

The Aboriginal stream seems to have been hijacked by talk of a treaty, the governance strand by the republic.

I didn't know the video streams were even there. TV coverage was abysmal unless you're a Cate Blanchett fan. Hopefully the best results are yet to come.

For those that would like to make up their own mind (using webcasts as evidence) about the genuineness or otherwise of 2020 as anything other than a stage managed PR stunt, don't be lulled into a false sense of security (that there's plenty of time to view them) by the statement on

frontpage that "Webcasts will be available until 24th May 2008"....
Clicking thru to individual stream archives reveals that
in fact they will only "remain available for viewing until 19th May 2008."
Check 'em out, even if just to see how these top dollar consulting firm operators ... operate.
Don't let the cut rate conference paper bag sandwiches story fool you, someone got paid plenty (quarter mill?) to put on this show, so there would have be expectations that the tunes the piper called for would be definitely delivered. No wonder the facilitators were insistent to almost the point of rudeness in some cases that the summiteers stayed on message.
Kev doesn't skimp when it comes to PR: $8.4 million has been allocated for the community cabinet roadshows. Getting department heads, support staff, security, etc, (not just the duty bound front bench), to turn up at whoop whoop on sunday mornings takes more than good will and a notion of service.
I recommend you get along when it turns up at a deserving electorate near you: the guy that rolled mal brough was the lucky one in queensland, or that could have just been Kev playing to his hometown crowd.

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