On June 25 and 26, the South Australian government held the first of three citizens juries, dedicated to discussing the recommendations of the recent Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. The sessions are being run by the South Australian company DemocracyCo.
From the start, there are problems with the purpose of this Citizens' Jury. Premier Weatherill did not really help to clarify this, in his opening speech, as he explained its purpose:
It is not to arrive at a decision, but to arrive at a decision that the government can make a decision.
The initial company charged with setting up the jury plan was the Sydney company New Democracy. They used the term "Citizens Jury" which is trademarked by the Jefferson Institute. Here's where the trouble starts. The Jefferson Institute, in in its definition of Citizens' Jury clearly states:
The Citizens Jury convenes diverse groups of citizens to study an issue deeply, discuss different perspectives on the issue, and recommend a course of action or craft their own solutions to address the issue at hand.
The Citizens Jury process has been used in several countries, and was used Adelaide in 2015. On that occasion, the Citizens' jury recommended the mandatory desexing of cats and dogs. All of these Citizens' Juries made a decision and a recommendation, in keeping with that trademarked definition. To my knowledge, this Nuclear Citizens' Jury is the first in the world to abandon that principle of making a decision, verdict, or recommendation. Instead, it is charged with the job of developing a readable, understandable, summary of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission's 320 pages of recommendations.
How did New Democracy come to this decision to abandon an intrinsic purpose of a Citizens' Jury? One can only surmise that this was done under pressure from the South Australian Labor government and the Royal Commission?
No wonder that Premier Weatherill floundered a bit in his introduction at the jury opening.
Having arrived at this plan for the jury, New Democracy handed over the process to the South Australian company, who, by the way, had managed the Adelaide Cats and Dogs desexing question.
There are intrinsic flaws in this Citizens Jury process
For one thing, there are too many members (50) in this "jury", and in the one planned for later this year (350) . A jury should be made up of 10 to 20 members.
Apart from that, the process looks good at the start. New Democracy and DemocracyCo have gathered their 50 members following a random selection from a database of over 820,000. A payment of $500 (Citizens Jury 1) for the four day commitment ensures that the members are not disadvantaged, by for example, missing work, and other costs. Facilitators are selected to be neutral. DemocracyCo have gone to a lot of trouble to ensure that the hearings are transparent and accessible to all. They provide videos, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=260PBScNcJ8 and at http://yoursay.sa.gov.au/nuclear/livestreams/citizens-jury-one-livestream and will be providing transcripts. Watching these videos, it is clear that DemocracyCo's facilitators are endeavouring to manage the hearings in a fair way, courteously giving space for jury members to question the speakers.
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