Sydney Ideas: Deliberative democracy

I attended a Sydney Ideas talk yesterday on deliberative democracy.

I had not considered deliberative democracy previously, so it was great way to brush up. The speakers were of a high standard. However, I keep the disclaimer of being new to the topic when I give my opinion on the possibility of deliberative democracy replacing our current representative democracy: As a movement it seems a bit naive.

The basic gist seems to be getting getting ‘ordinary folk’ into a room to hear the evidence to come to a decision on a question, and then come to a decision. This might be a decision on a new policy or law, and could be binding or could be used to provide guidance to the rest of the community for a referendum.

It differs from direct democracy where the community is asked to vote for a yes/no answer, in that the focus is on deliberation, or discussion, to come to a joint agreement. The best parallel was given to the role of a jury in deciding on the application of law.

The group could be 25, or hundreds, or thousands on a global question. Indeed, experiments have been held on all these scales.

A better description can be found at this website. The organisation linked to, newdemocracy, believe that Australia’s political framework should be replaced by something closer to deliberative democracy. This is where I felt the naivety crept in.

I do think that deliberative democracy is a great addition to the politicians and policy makers toolkit. However, to believe that Parliament can be replaced along these lines seems a bit of a stretch. It assumes some post-political nirvana in which the current systems of power/society are adequate. If you believe that major changes are required to ensure some form of equality and fairness; the interests of minorities are taken account of; and the rights of individuals and communities are protected, then I don’t believe that you could achieve this change through deliberative democracy.

I think the techniques are methods are worth keeping an eye on, but I don’t see deliberative democracy as a replacement to the representative democracy that we currently have. I see it as a way of enhancing representative democracy instead.


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