The Future of Democracy
Something unforeseen has happened to Western democracy in the early decades of the 21st century, and professors and pundits around the globe are struggling to make sense of it. Seven years after the empty democratic promises of the Arab Spring, a bleak Occidental Autumn has settled over the landscape. Populism is on the rise. And the political class – statesmanship itself – is on the nose.
The future of mainstream politics may depend on its capacity for renewal and reform, a point Luca Belgiorno-Nettis is keen to drive home. His ambitions are focused on reform of the system from the outside.
"When I say to people that a lot of political debate seems quite shallow and self-interested, that it's more about winning the daily news battle than the long cycle of policy formulation, that it's about cheap point-scoring, they begin to see the need for an alternative. Our democratic structure is sub-optimal. We can do better. But unless you can provide an alternative as robust as the present model, they think you're talking hot air."
Based on a national survey of 1071 people, taken for newDemocracy in March, in which 54 per cent agreed that the current political system is broken and isn't working. 71 per cent felt that everyday people should play a bigger part in government decisions that affect their lives.
These question we are seeking ideas and contributions to is simply: Can democracy be done better?
Hivers and event attendees shared their thoughts and lived experiences with Luca Belgiorno-Nettis on 27th July at Parliament House, Queensland, Australia.
Challenge Opened: 02:41 AM, Thursday 20 July 2017
Challenge Closes: 04:30 AM, Wednesday 30 August 2017
Time to go: Closed
Since 2004 Eidos has engaged with national political, corporate, government and public leaders on the single issue: better policy, better Australia. From his lived experience as an Australian Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, we are continually inspired by Terry Moran’s throughout the years of Eidos’ work:
- ‘… there are important elements, such as a measure of shared responsibility for the wellbeing of all in our community and the social cohesion it promotes that are not readily tradeable in a market place’ Terry Moran, ‘The Quiet Revolution — Observations on public policy’, IPAA Seminar (May 2005)
- ‘the engagement of citizens is ‘not only the right thing to do but will provide a rich new source of ideas to government’…‘that ‘we need not only to consult citizens, but invite them to collaborate in the design of services and of policy. Citizen engagement in service and policy design is not only the right thing to do but will provide a rich new source of ideas to government’ Moran, The future of the Australian Public Service: challenges and opportunities, CPA Australia's 2010 Neil Walker Memorial Lecture, 13 October 2010 , viewed 6 February 2011, http://www.dpmc.gov.au/media/speech_2010_10_14.cfm
- ‘that ‘new technologies are creating opportunities for government to improve the services it offers to citizens’; and that ‘collaboration with the public, industry, academia and other governments will be needed to identify the best solutions’ APSC, Empowering Change: Fostering innovation in the Australian Public Service, 2010, p. ix, viewed 10 December 2010
- ‘the times have changed. The needs and expectations of the Australian people have changed. And the public service must change with them. ... It must deliver better services for citizens and better policy advice to government. And it must renew its commitment to putting people first. ... As our reforms propose change not simply to structures and procedures but to practices, attitudes and minds, they will take time to be embedded.’T Moran, ‘Ahead of the Game: Moran’s mixed reviews’, The Public Sector Informant (Canberra Times), 6 April 2010, pp. 1–5.
It’s for this reason that Eidos seeks to deepen the discussion by inviting New democracy’s Luca Belgiorno-Nettis AM to Brisbane to share his thoughts on the Future of Government in Parliament House on 27th July, 2017. Luca is Managing Director of Transfield Holdings and many of its subsidiary companies, as well as a Director of Sydney Harbour Tunnel Ltd. Luca holds a Bachelor of Architecture (UNSW), a Graduate Diploma in Urban Estate Management (UTS) and a Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Western Sydney University. He also held a number of positions on not-for-profit boards and committees, including Chairman of the University Art Committees at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and Western Sydney University. Luca also chaired the Biennale of Sydney from 2000 to 2014. Luca was made a member of the Order of Australia in 2009 for service to the arts and to the community through a range of philanthropic endeavours and executive roles.
The future of mainstream politics may depend on its capacity for renewal and reform, a point Luca Belgiorno-Nettis is keen to drive home. His ambitions are focused on reform of the system from the outside. Something unforeseen has happened to Western democracy in the early decades of the 21st century, and professors and pundits around the globe are struggling to make sense of it. Seven years after the empty democratic promises of the Arab Spring, a bleak Occidental Autumn has settled over the landscape. Populism is on the rise and the political class – statesmanship itself is on the nose. The future of mainstream politics may depend on its capacity for renewal and reform, a point Luca Belgiorno-Nettis is keen to drive home. His ambitions are focused on reform of the system from the outside. Here’s his most recent thoughts for consideration in preparation for a lively discussion on the 27th July in Brisbane:
Thank you Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Deans, Staff, distinguished guests, graduates and your families and friends.
In the beginning, eons ago, before graduations, sex and comedy, there was sound – a Big Bang apparently - and probably some malodorous gases. But there was no one to hear, nor smell. Today we have music, talk and Real Housewives of Sydney. In this fine country, we’ve made great advances: we’ve got a Reality TV show fusing comedy and tragedy, without even knowing it.
Australia was a special place when my parents arrived from Italy in the 50’s. It still is, but there are ominous signs of decline. Just one viewing of Real Housewives reveals a creeping malaise. It’s our duty to fight back against bad makeup and fashion. I’m sure our fashion undergraduates here tonight are onto it.
Also as a sophisticated and well travelled audience, you’ll all appreciate the need for good design. My father, loved industrial design, and Italy still surprises. One invention of theirs may be a small, but it brings great happiness.
The French have a word for it: they call it ‘the little pony’, and it’s the Italians who have universally hopped onto it. However, there are very many countries - and I’m sorry to say Australia is one of them - which have been slow to mount the pony. We think we’re living in the first world, but let me tell you something. A few weeks ago, my family and I were with with my Italian father-in-law…. my wife is here in the audience to attest …well, we all travelled to London, to give him a treat for his 90th birthday. He’d never been to the UK before, and he was simply shocked to see how incomplete his hotel bathroom was. You don’t have to be a clinical psychologist to appreciate how convenient the bidet is over showering.
Well, this may appear to be a bit rambling so far… but I am trying to cover off all our fine graduands here tonight. It’s not easy, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Seriously, what I really want to focus on, in the few minutes that I have, is the question of choice. Life is as much about choices, as anything. Some personal, some public. It’s our lot…we can’t escape having to make choices. In a real sense, it distinguishes us as humans. We choose to do this, that or the other. One might say chance plays a role, but that’s not really up to us. Often the art is in making the right choice when the chance presents itself.
In 1951, my father, as a young engineer had the opportunity to come to either Australia or Argentina. At the time, my mother advised him that Australia would be a better choice. Italy had just come out of a military regime, and it wasn’t such a good idea to go into another. And so they chose to come here. That was a great chance and a good choice. It was also a fortuitous time, as Australia was embarking on its biggest ever resource infrastructure program, and my father, and the company he was about to establish, rode that pioneering wave.
I was born lucky. I’ve been blessed with building a career around that successful family business. I graduated as an Architect, and then came to UTS to do a postgraduate in Urban Estate Management. Now, after 30 years in business, together with my brother, I look after the family investments, as well as my own private ones. But it was in the course of doing large infrastructure projects with government, that I started to get interested in how public choices are made. And how the political machinery worked. I was regularly approached by political parties to donate to their election campaigns. And that got me thinking: Why support one party, and not the other? And I often saw how good projects became sidelined because of political expediency. For example, a new road project wouldn’t proceed in a particular location, as it was in an opposition electorate. That wasn’t often, but I thought that should never be part of democratic, public decision-making.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well I don’t know how to tell you anything tonight, or how to even pretend to give advice, without uncovering my own lived experience. And perhaps my experience, and my thinking, might give you some insight. Just perhaps!
When my parents settled down in Australia in the 50’s, Robert Menzies was Prime Minister. He was like a good sofa, not just part of the furniture, he was the furniture: comfortable and reliable: the longest serving Prime Minister ever. Back then, we respected our politicians. Now, it’s completely changed. When Australians are asked today whether ‘People in Government can be trusted’, barely 25% agree. Correct, only a quarter of us trust our politicians. But we’re not alone. In virtually every country, survey after survey, politicians don’t rate much higher than car salesmen. Plumbers are more respected. Doctors and nurses remain the most respected. Even though politicians are hard working and well meaning, we still don’t trust them. Why?
Because, I think, in the past, Politicians were more like Patricians. Today it’s a continuous election contest, a never-ending Punch and Judy show. And people are sick and tired of it. Real Housewives is better viewing.
There is so much media, so many voices, that the power has dispersed, and there is limited space for political elites. And because they’ve lost the capacity to collaborate (if they ever had it) there is just so much more disillusionment around politicians.
So with a few other sick and tired friends, we set up The newDemocracy Foundation. We wanted to see if democracy could be done better, and we really think it can. We think it’s the system, not the politicians, who are generally good people, stuck in a fight club.
I wouldn’t have gotten that interested in politics if it weren’t for my career in public infrastructure, and the support of the big family business. So how do we think the system can be fixed?
Democracy, when it was originally conceived, never had elections. Yes that’s right, elections are a recent device. The genius of democracy was that it encouraged social cohesion. And Elections do the opposite: they divide and conquer. I know this sounds like blasphemy. Every book on democracy has as its first chapter: ‘Free and Fair Elections.’
The Council of Athens was randomly selected, like a jury, from the citizens at large, rich and poor. We use it everyday in our criminal courts, over matters of life and death. Many European city states, during the Renaissance, used it to determine their governing class. But for a peculiar set of circumstances - mostly to do concentrating power – it fell out of favour. But there is a growing sense that the time is ripe again for citizen juries.
The Irish used it in 2012 for their Constitutional Convention, where most of the delegates were randomly recruited. That Convention was the one that agreed to proceed on their marriage equality referendum. And in South Australia last year 350 citizens deliberated on, and determined not to proceed with an international high level nuclear waste facility.
I won’t labour on…for now. I just want to say that there are proposals in several countries to trial a third house - a Citizens’ Senate - like paid national service.
So that’s my career.
I thought some insights might come out for you.
I’m hoping one of you clinical psychologists can counsel me after this.
As well as the comms graduates.
I’m sure this speech could do with some serious editing, if not a total re-write. My wife would probably agree.
What can I say by way of conclusion. Each of you will have your own trajectory, your own passions. I hope that you all prosper and find fulfillment.
We are a lucky, lucky country…
…and before planet earth dissolves into malodorous gases again - taking Australia with it...
...before we drown in plastic, and Reality TV...
...before we get dispirited by bad design and fashion...
We have choices to make.
Thank you Chancellor.
Hivers and Attendees share their thoughts and live experiences with Luca at Parliament House on the 27th of July.
Challenge Opened: 02:41 AM, Thursday 20 July 2017
Challenge Closes: 04:30 AM, Wednesday 30 August 2017
Time to go: Closed
Documents associated with this Challenge
|File name||File type||Date uploaded||Size (KB)|
|What is a Citizens' Jury?.pdf||
|WHY NOT HAVE A RANDOMLY SELECTED CONGRESS?.pdf||
|Citizens' engagement in policymaking and the design of public services.pdf||