• C. Lupus

    Thank you for a very thoughtful contribution to the discussion and our collective revisitation of the question of representative democracy.
    I’m not sure that the sortition proposal (as e.g. proffered by the NewDemocray Foundation) will take us further towards the rule of the many, as opposed to the current tendency towards the rule of the few.
    A progressive devolution of representation and powers to smaller geographies and constituencies would seem to be a more attractive objective. The closer proximity to the coal face (or grass roots) by decision makers and administrators would re-balance the playing field away from the professional political class and towards the supposed beneficiaries of democratic development: the people.
    How to facilitate a more participatory new democratic model is our challenge and not the re-arrangement of deck chairs.

    • Nicholas Gruen

      Thanks for your comment CL.
      Having looked at the next article do you think it’s just a rearrangement of the deckchairs? I hope not but would be interested in your view.

      I agree that local democracy can be less polluted by what I call ‘vox pop democracy’, but there’s a fair bit of it about. Even at the local level a great deal of campaigning must go through the media and once that is the case most of the pathologies follow. People’s attention is not infinite, and so the focus goes on high arousal sound bites. Some of the states of the US are quite small, but citizens initiated referendums are still manipulated by special interests according to the laws of vox pop democracy with referendum propositions like mandatory sentencing and tax ceilings, the latter of which have bankrupted states.

      • C. Lupus

        Thank you for your considered response, Nicholas.
        I’m not much swayed by your arguments regarding a more localised form of democracy – the pervasive influence of mainstream adversarial politics you rightly mention could equally be expected to find it’s way into a citizen’s jury environment, so I don’t see a relative advantage there.
        The more recent US experience with citizen-initiated referenda is certainly a cautionary tale, I agree. However, this has more to do with the accelerating repatrimonialization of that politic as Frances Fukuyama so eloquently describes in “Political Order and Political Decay”. All constituent parts of the US political order are heavily compromised by sectional and vested interests which are at exceptional liberty to express their constitutional individual (corporations = person) rights to representation while the requisite checks and balances in favour of the common and public interest having been either legislated away or progressively ruled down through their byzantine court system.
        That leaves Switzerland and New Zealand as the two other examples where CIRs are used. Their experience is far more encouraging it is generally agreed that the CIR option has provided a useful, if seldom used, avenue for political expression and participation. For all his faults, Senator Madigan introduced a quite worthwhile Bill in the Australian parliament in 2013 seeking to find support for CIR in this country. Due to the lack of exposure and public discussion, it received no support from any side and now languishes on the list of bills that are due to lapse.
        I do believe that CIRs have the capacity to enhance democratic engagement, give expression to the popular will of electors, provide an important safety valve and therefore should not be ruled out a priori.

        Your second article does give much more shape and context to the idea but it also raises some new questions and issues. Giving the new ‘branch’ a delay power as its’ sole instrument may fall a little short of the potential of the idea – why not add the power of a legislative veto as a second instrument? Why not give the responses to the questions and issues that are referred to the jury some sort of status (e.g. the jury may impose…, may restrict…, may mandate…)? On the other hand: the present system can barely manage to be bound by the findings of a royal commission, so how can we expect to a citizen’s jury to be integrated but as yet another consultative body, the findings of which can be effectively sidelined (see e.g. the SA jury finding on the question of a nuclear waste dump)?
        Meanwhile, Australia’s High Court does enjoy near-universal respect and, while it must decide questions coming to it from the exclusive viewpoint of law, it’s decisions are thoroughly considered and, above all, binding on the executive. The initially surprising decisions on e.g. Mabo or Commonwealth powers (Tasmanian Wilderness) have proven to be enduring and widely accepted. (Retiring) Chief justice Callinan’s remarks on e.g. the readiness of the High Court to consider sovereignty questions associated with international trade treaties are a useful reminder that the judiciary, if working within it’s remit, can give excellent guidance to the executive on contentious issues and where a difficult proposition on the nation’s agenda may end up, following a proper deliberative and independent process.
        In view of the current constellation in the Australian Senate, with minor parties and independents holding the balance of power, we are also seeing a greatly enhanced deliberative and political contribution from this place. I think that this is likely to be on-going situation (much to the chagrin of the incumbent government) and there is great potential to return the Senate to a more deliberative and independent chamber, more in line with constitutional intent, I would argue. Certainly, with able people like Xenophon, Wilkie and the Greens sitting on the cross benches, there is scope for further reform and perhaps even an enduring change in parliamentary culture and practice, at least in that place.
        All this said, I am not completely discounting a possible role for a jury-style branch to have democratic and effective input. I am interested in finding the right role for this idea, one that can enhance democracy without slowing it down unduly. A role that stimulates popular involvement but doesn’t formalise the ‘pub test’ as a constitutional benchmark.

  • John Mackay

    Hi Nicholas, late to the party I know but I arrived here courtesy of Antony Funnell’s story yesterday on ABC where he quoted some of the ideas presented here. One of the problems to this idea of random selection is that random does not equal representative and it’s that representative nature of the legislature that I think is more important than random. I am really heartened to see people moving beyond the routine “canary in the coal mine” commentary on democracy’s shortcomings to actually canvassing solutions–it’s the solutions we need. In my book (shameless plug–sorry) “Colocracy: The Best Government Money Can’t Buy” I went one step further by stepping outside of democracy completely for a solution which to quote CL below often results in little more than “re-arrangement of deck chairs.”

    I’ve included a link to my book. Please feel free to delete it if it does not meet with your policies. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0721QJ554

    Best Regards…John.

  • Themistocles 2

    Greetings from Greece – where the people are deeply proud of their ancestors’ invention, but uniformly disgusted at what it’s devolved to.

    Excellent tour d’horizon & much food for thought – ta.

    Does this kind of democracy ultimately just ‘recommend’ things, or actually decide (legislate) them?

    If the former, could it be employed somehow to make binding decisions?

    The fear I’d have is that it would go to a lot of trouble to recommend X or Y, only to have a government ignore or water it down.

    I also read Detoxing Democracy 2, and think the idea (contra Athens) of sortition selecting legislators for several years is a superb idea. (An improvement on my hero Cleisthenes, which is high praise.)

    By way of a non sequitur, it seems that most Greeks (to my amazement) do not like their former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, despite his standing up to the deeply undemocratic EU establishment, & his strenuous attempt to reject austerity. On asking them why, they’d usually say ‘He kept changing his mind’, ‘He wanted us to leave the EU’, ‘He’s just a showman with no substance’, etc. As none of this is IMO true, I concluded that they had been conditioned to believe these things by their establishment media.

    Can democracy prosper without some kind of media reform?