A Dose of Local Democracy – I run a democratic reform foundation. A lot of people around the world complain about how we do democracy today, so we try new things to see if they earn public trust. The Local Government Minister is making an announcement about the State Government’s response to the Geelong Citizens’ Jury’s recommendations on Saturday morning at 10am (Geelong Library and Heritage Centre ‘The Dome’ if anyone wants to come along!)
When the council here was dismissed by the state parliament we were asked for advice as to what approach to take to restoring democracy in Geelong. We suggested that the best people to decide that were a random sample of local people of all ages given the time and information to see if they could find agreement among themselves. This became the Geelong Citizens’ Jury.
As the name suggests, we think the jury model has a lot to teach us in making trusted public decisions. Today, we trust the verdicts made by juries in complex criminal trials which can result in people being imprisoned for decades. A random group of people listen to a range of evidence, have time to discuss among themselves what they found compelling (or didn’t trust!), then see if they can find a common position among at least 11 out of 12 of them.
This mix of everyday people does a good job. They don’t have the incentive to scream for shallow headlines which can be a function of anyone subject to the electioneering imperative. Think about what you don’t trust about how democracy works today, and it probably revolves around people saying something you are fairly sure they don’t actually believe in – they just say it to toe the party line or keep someone influential happy. Juries don’t do this.
The great thing with your Geelong Citizens’ Jury was how they answered the question of how they want to be democratically represented by a future council. Their answer is not something advocated by any university or research foundation: they have listened to an array of experts and interest groups and settled on a unique local solution. There isn’t a single ‘right’ answer to how democracy can work. There is simply one that works for a local community.
People from national journalists, to MPs in other states to International Democratic founders are taking a look at what happened in Geelong and are asking how to copy it. That’s the accomplishment.
I hope you might take a look at what they came up with and decide for yourself whether you think this solution is right for Geelong. These jurors had no other incentive or inducement other than “we live here”, and I want to suggest that’s the only way a good democratic model can emerge.
Full details and report – http://newdemocracy.com.au/ndf-work/329-local-government-victoria-democracy-in-geelong
Iain Walker from the New Democracy Foundation