Let’s take Australian democracy to the next level

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democracyCo was recently contacted by a resident of Victoria – Robert Salter, who has a passion for improving our democracy. Robert contacted us as he was wanting to set up a community group to advocate for improved involvement of citizens in the work of government.
We have offered to assist Robert by putting him in touch with you, a community who has shown interest in deliberative practice. If you are interested in being part of this group please feel free to make contact with Robert by clicking here!

“If you’re reading this there’s a good chance you see great possibilities for deliberative democracy. You know there’s increasing distrust, often contempt, for politicians and politics alike. You recognise that in many ways our system is failing to adequately address the key challenges of our time. More than ever we need active, informed citizens in our society influencing policy between elections – not just casting their vote at the ballot box every 3-4 years.

When citizens are engaged in good deliberative decision-making something different happens. These participants relish being part of deliberations on important issues in their lives. They learn that governance is a complex and challenging process, but they generally come to very sound decisions when given the necessary information. And the judgement of an informed and representative group of citizens has a special authority in the eyes of the broader public.

But there’s a problem. Deliberative democracy is generally initiated by governments, but they don’t do it very often. There can be many reasons for this. They may not know about it, or perhaps it isn’t in the forefront of their minds. They may not be committed to greater citizen engagement in political decision-making, or they may dislike having their options limited. Or they may not want to fund the deliberative processes.

Because it doesn’t happen very often, not many people know about it, so there isn’t a popular expectation that governments will employ it.

But we can break this vicious circle.

We can create a community organisation to do a number of things: to run deliberations; to engage larger numbers of people, directly or indirectly, in each of these; to systematically publicise them as widely as possible; and to generally promote the place of deliberative democracy in a healthy political system.

Such community-led deliberations wouldn’t seek to replace government-initiated ones. Rather, they’d aim to encourage their initiation by government. If governments commission deliberations, they are more likely to accept the recommendations generated. But we can’t realise the benefits of deliberations if they don’t happen. We need to reach a ‘tipping point’ where community expectations that they will occur mean that governments ignoring these expectations do so at a cost.

There are a range of challenges to running community-led deliberations, but there are ways to address them.

Would you like to be part of this project? It will be exciting and inspiring!

If you’re interested in this project, I invite you to fill out the form at this link.

I don’t have a clear plan as to how we will make this happen – I want to talk with those of you who want to get involved and together we can plot a way forward.

The next step will probably be to arrange one or more face-to-face meetings, the locations of which will depend on where interested people are located, as well as online discussions.

I’m not a professional in this field, though I have been involved in deliberations as a participant and as a volunteer, and I’ve also privately researched the subject. In my working life I’ve had a range of community sector jobs, and subsequently been an academic in the areas of politics, sociology, community development and sustainability. I believe strongly that by making deliberative democracy more of an everyday part of our political system we can help citizens to become a more informed and effective force for the sort of political change we seek.

So I’m excited about this project and its possibilities. I look forward to hearing from you if you also want to be part of it.”

From Robert Salter

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