More citizen juries in Australia

The newDemocracy foundation has recently been managing the citizen jury process in regards to the South Australia nuclear waste dump proposal. Now it has been hired to manage another citizen jury process – this time in Victoria:

Jay Weatherill has issued an “I told you so” over his oft-criticised Citizens’ Jury model, after it was adopted by the Victorian Government as it seeks to mop up in the wake of its dramatic sacking of the Geelong Council.


Sacked Geelong Mayor Darryn Lyons outside the Victorian Parliament.

The Government in April moved to dismiss the entire council – including colourful mayor and notorious former paparazzo Darryn Lyons and his deputy Bruce Harwood, the father-in-law of former Adelaide star Patrick Dangerfield – after an inquiry found it had become so dysfunctional and riven with internal conflict and a bullying culture that it could no longer govern properly.

Fresh elections won’t take place till October next year, with an administrator overseeing the region in the interim.

But Premier Daniel Andrews has announced the formation of a Citizens’ Jury to help set the parameters of an overhaul of the next council’s governance structure – to be overseen by Sydney-based newDemocracy Foundation, which selected the 50 jurors involved in this month’s Adelaide forum on the merits of a high-level nuclear waste dump.

The 100-strong Geelong jury will consider how Lyons’ successor is elected, whether a deputy is required, how many councillors are needed and whether the local government area should be subdivided into wards and, if so, whether they should be single or multi-member zones.

Victoria’s Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins said in a statement that “the Andrews Labor Government wants to know what the people of Geelong think is best for their future council and to help design it”.

“The last council failed to deliver good governance – and a Citizens’ Jury will help ensure that does not happen again,” she said.

newDemocracy has published a document titled “Process design for local government Victoria”:

This process aims to provide the Minister for Local Government with two things: a practical solution, and an aspirational solution. This will provide the Minister with both an immediately actionable solution which is compliant with Victoria’s local government legislative framework, but also a sense of other solutions which may provide an option for innovating in ‘how we do government’ which is worthy of consideration by the Victorian Parliament.

One interesting part of the document is the budget proposal. While the 100 members of the jury are offered $300 each for their three days of participation, i.e., $30,000 for all jurists combined, the budget total is $221,750, including $20,000 for a “research fund” and $55,000 for “the newDemocracy fund”, as well as an unspecified sum for “a reasonable level of expenses for nDF representatives and expert speakers.”

It seems that sortition in Australia is indeed shaping as a lucrative field for government contracting.

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15 Responses

  1. Yoram, you will note in the process design that the Minister is open to also receiving a recommendation which does not comply with existing legislative structures. That is, we have a review being conducted which is not constrained by the existing Electoral Act. I can’t see any instances of that occurring to this point.

    We’ll be doing a global call for submissions, so for those who think they can design a better democracy, you’ll get a chance to make your case.

    Given those two points I’m amazed you focus on the service charge ($55,000) spanning an eight month project. You will note from our website (as we publish all our annual returns) that the Foundation relies on philanthropic support/ underwriting given a shortfall every year, so ‘lucrative’ seems out of place. What we do has value, and government should be prepared to contribute. That which isn’t paid for isn’t valued.

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  2. Hi Iain, I appreciate your response.

    Yes, my point of view is quite skeptical about the approach to democratic reform that this process exemplifies. It seems to me that this approach, while nominally putting the allotted body in a central decision making role, actually creates a situation where the allotted are a prop in a show set up by various professionals – elected officials, subject-matter experts, discussion facilitators, and professional government reformers.

    The allocation of the budget is both a symbolic and a substantive issue. You say that “[t]hat which isn’t paid for isn’t valued.” Isn’t the fact that the allotted get paid less than 1/7 of the budget indicate that their role is not valued? (Those answering the global call for submissions would presumably not be paid at all.)

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  3. It seems to me that there are two vital tasks… 1. is to think through optimal designs for how to implement sortition (including small details like remuneration levels for jurors), and 2. to promote a large number of real-world experiments that will both give data to allow us to refine our initial designs, and even more importantly spread wider public awareness of sortition as a possibility for the population to consider in other situations. There COULD certainly be very BAD implementations that give sortition a bad name, or only serve as a fig leaf for elite policy makers… but none of new Democracy’s efforts fit that description.

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  4. Hi Terry,

    Yes – increasing public awareness of the sortition mechanism is the top item on the sortitionist agenda. However, we must beware of the possibility of diluting the value of the idea of sortition, or even discrediting it, by associating it with applications in which it is abused by primarily serving elite purposes rather than democratic purposes.

    (I disagree regarding the other goal you mentioned – I don’t think design optimization is a high-priority item on the sortitionist agenda. This is something that allotted bodies should be empowered to do by themselves rather than something that should be done a-priori and exogenously.)

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  5. Yoram:

    >I don’t think design optimization is a high-priority item on the sortitionist agenda. This is something that allotted bodies should be empowered to do by themselves rather than something that should be done a-priori and exogenously.

    And what if each allotted body came up with a different design — presumably that wouldn’t matter as each design decision would be, by definition, “democratic”? And what about the decision rule — would it be decided (a-priori and exogenously) that it would be a simple majority vote? That would be problematic in deeply-divided societies such as Turkey and the UK. If the Brexit decision had been taken by allotted bodies that made up their own rules there would be a high probability that one group would vote to remain and the other to leave, so which one would be the “democratic” decision, binding on everybody else?

    >we must beware of the possibility of diluting the value of the idea of sortition, or even discrediting it, by associating it with applications in which it is abused by primarily serving elite purposes rather than democratic purposes.

    And who, pray, is “we” in the above sentence? Not everybody accepts that the archaic distinction between the “elite” and the “masses” is entirely relevant to modern societies. What is more likely to discredit the idea of sortition is wild proposals to abolish elections and replace them with sortition. The two reviews of David van Rebrouck’s new book that I’ve read (Guardian and Sunday Times) ridicule sortition largely on account of the polemical title of the book (Against Elections: The case for democracy).

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  6. All we’re really setting up is a chance for a group of people to consider the merits of Keith’s approach, or Terry’s approach, or one of an array of other different structural and incremental changes. They will consider different voting models AND approaches beyond voting models (and blends of the two no doubt).

    If I was a citizen of Geelong I’d think its a pretty good offer. Particularly so given the level of authority and visibility being given by the Minister – including the explicit OK to go beyond the legislative limits which apply to day in electoral regulations.

    To be clear, our proposal does not redesign a council structure: its a process to let citizens answer the question of how they want to be represented.

    I’m keen to see other approaches being taken to the practical task of improving ‘how we do democracy better’. Hopefully projects like this help put it on the agenda elsewhere.

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  7. Iain:

    >I’m keen to see other approaches being taken to the practical task of improving ‘how we do democracy better’.

    Agreed. Unfortunately some commentators on this blog want to see electoral democracy overthrown rather than improved. So any exogenous agenda setting for an allotted group is rejected in principle as “the allotted are a prop in a show set up by various professionals”. If anything is going to give sortition a bad name it is this uncompromising refusal to sleep with the enemy, especially as it means turning against the few friends that we have.

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  8. Iain,

    > They will consider different voting models AND approaches beyond voting models (and blends of the two no doubt).

    This agenda is far too broad for a body with a three-day term.

    More fundamentally, the entire affair is managed by professionals. It would be very surprising if the result would not be shaped by that. In the particular case here it seems that the broad agenda guarantees that anything discussed and decided would be too vague to constrain established power, but this is just an example of how the elite-managed process essentially determines the outcome.

    > I’m keen to see other approaches being taken to the practical task of improving ‘how we do democracy better’.

    How about promoting a more specific agenda: putting in place permanent allotted supervisory bodies to which elected officials would be accountable? I suspect such an approach – because it is focused and potentially effective – would encounter much greater resistance from the authorities.

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  9. >putting in place permanent allotted supervisory bodies to which elected officials would be accountable

    As suggestions for the improvement of democracy go this sounds pretty a-priori and exogenous to me, but then that will always be the case with policy proposals, as they don’t just manifest themselves out of thin air.

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  10. >I’m keen to see other approaches being taken to the practical task of improving ‘how we do democracy better’. Hopefully projects like this help put it on the agenda elsewhere.

    I can confirm that the hands-on nDF cases help a lot, at least in my elsewhere. Internationally, the “other approaches beyond legislative limits” element in the Geelong project is especially interesting as it gives sortitionist innovators some “market” feedback of what a larger, representative group of citizens thinks about the various approaches’ pros and cons.

    It would be great to to have this citizen feedback documented and made available online. Any chance?

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  11. Yes, the citizens report (and media examples of comment and response to it) will be added to the project page as we go – http://newdemocracy.com.au/ndf-work/329-local-government-victoria-democracy-in-geelong

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  12. David Schecter and I are preparing a submission for Geelong. Keith will be relieved that our plan will not go all the way to proposing the abolition of elections, and Yoram will be glad to hear that one ongoing sortition body we propose will be in charge of oversight of elected officials (enforcement of the existing councillors code of conduct, which is flagrantly violated) with power to remove elected officials for cause.

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  13. Terry,

    > remove elected officials for cause

    What constitutes “cause”? Do the elected officials get to set the rules?

    More importantly, what about sanctions that go beyond removal from office, and what about oversight over elected officials after they leave (or are removed from) office?

    Would a Clinton-like politician who cashes in on their power by collecting tens of millions in “speaking fees” be held to account?

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  14. Yoram,
    Those would be worthy goals, but no, our proposal is about crawling rather than running. We hope to establish the precedent that a mini-public can be in a position superior to elected officials (starting in at least some realms). As for “cause” we propose a separate Agenda Panel that can initiate rules changes for how the sortition system works. Presumably “cause” would be evidence of corruption (short of that needed for a criminal prosecution), but primarily the local government Councillor Code of Conduct that was established be state law long ago (not by the particular politicians who would be subject to removal).

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  15. […] citizen assemblies to review various issues. In Australia, allotted bodies were convened to handle corruption in local government, and to consider a nuclear dump in SA. David Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections was published […]

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