The people’s chamber – you heard it first on Troppo

National Assembly in May 1848 in FrankfurtNo time to say much right now, but I was intrigued to see the People’s Chamber. Why wouldn’t I be? And disappointed it was scorned so instantly by various operatives around the traps. Of course the atmospherics for its introduction might have been better – this is a rescue operation with the alternative political heroics having fallen over. But I find it hard to see how anything but good can come from such an experiment.  The essence of these things is for them to reinvigorate, reinvent and relegitimate democracy.  At the moment, there’s an absence of deliberative democracy because anything that can be focus grouped or discussed to a worthwhile conclusion (like an ETS, an RRT or a GST) can go from being conventional wisdom to electoral poison with the expenditure of a few million dollars telling how [insert policy] is dreadfully unfair to [insert demographic, celebrity or billionaire] and will beggar us all.

As I’ve argued recently and not so recently, the Accord was the success it was because it served as a forum for major issues to be considered by major groups in our society and for broad agreements to be reached in which the parties compromised so that they could agree on and then share the resulting benefits.  And I expect that well done, the people’s chamber can do something similar.  The 2020 Summit was a similar idea but it was implemented in a daze, without any thought about what the government wanted out of it. The people’s chamber has promise because a government that wants to lead can use it to lead – and it can offload a lot of the burden of what I call political heroics (where the govt leads as it did with resource rent taxation or John Hewson did with the GST and everyone else gets to take potshots at it from the sidelines).  And as I’ve mused elsewhere, maybe Gillard is the kind of politician who can pull this off.

But remembering all those people trying to wish their thoughts and values into Rudd’s head, I could be doing the same thing. Only time will tell.  Still, even if I’m cynical I still find it hard to believe that the people’s chamber won’t lead to good things.  I had no such hopes of the 2020 Summit. Actually that’s wrong. I did have hopes. High hopes and low expectations.

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Senexx
11 years ago

Or we could just put all the requisite information online under open government, open australia and do it all via the best mechanism available that is most cost effective – On the Internet

Alan
Alan
11 years ago

I think the political class may get a surprise from the citizens assembly and I agree it’s sad that it is being written off so quickly. The government’s motives in proposing the assembly are clearly not all that high-minded, but that doesn’t destroy the value of the idea itself. Citizens assemblies have been reasonably successful in British Columbia, the Netherlands and Ontario, although they focused on the electoral system, not climate change. It read a bit strangely in English to discover the Dutch word for citizens assembly is ‘burgerforum’. Hopefully no-one will tell the opposition.

James Farrell
James Farrell(@james-farrell)
11 years ago

The idea of assembling some ordinary strayans to try their hand at policy development, and make a spectacle of it, is excellent. The problem is that it will be all over in a flash and forgotten. It needs to be something that the whole country tune in to over many weeks, with a cast of familiar characters and plenty of suspense and human drama. In short, a public policy version of Master Chef.

The contestants would be instructed to develop various kinds of greenhouse packages, varying in duration and tailored to different climate and geopolitical scenarios. At the end of each contest they’d have to submit their policies for examination by by a panel of experts — I suggest Garnaut, Quiggin and McKibben — who would judge them according to the soundness of the science, the competence of the economic modelling, the political feasibility and the persuasiveness of the rhetoric (plating up).

If a TV game show can enthuse and educate a whole population about cuisine, then why not economic policy?

Peter Q
Peter Q
11 years ago

re previous – put it online and on the interweb. This would give Conroy an excuse to expand the filtering to include political messages and also justification to increase the blackhole//budget for NBN.

observa
observa
11 years ago

As Oakes noted somewhat poignantly we already have a 150 strong peoples chamber. It’s called the House of Reps.

As for the Accord it worked well because of the calibre of the people organising it at the time, not least Hawkey who had years of experience at it. Their longevity like the Howard Govt said it all. You look around now and wonder if this lot is a shocking indictment of post-modern education as the critics keep banging on about. Either that or increasing CO2 levels may have more widespread implications than we thought. Drought and water quality….??? Help me out here somebody?