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Trust an engaged public

By Ron Lubensky - posted Monday, 11 May 2009

The Rudd Government has released its response to its 2020 Summit, held in April 2008. Rather than responding at the end of last year as promised, they waited precisely one full year. Their commitment to the outcome has waned.

Commentators have treated it superficially, if at all. Most blithely accept the claim that the global financial crisis has hijacked the agenda. Many would rather talk about the shift to an Australian Republic. Yawn. Fizz.

The nine Summit ideas that the Government has opted to support are all worthwhile. But most of the 900 others deserved to miss the cut.


The invited Summiteers attended with special interests, with little interest in finding new, common ground. It was just a contest of pre-existing ideas. The high expectation of innovation was misguided.

I care about how government engages with its citizens, so I turned to the governance stream of the Summit. There were several ideas put forward that related to enhancing participatory democracy, for citizens to be more than just consulted or heard.

Rudd crows about his Community Cabinets, which are fine for the listening exercises that they are. There is nothing binding about them. They remind the Ministers that they are serving people rather than just the camera. Aside from the usual suspects who show up to whinge, the events provide an opportunity for spruikers to get an inside track. This is hardly the high bar of citizen engagement.

The 2020 Response report says:

[T]he Government agrees with the idea of enhancing community engagement. The Government’s approach is to trial different and innovative mechanisms and draw on specific suggestions across several streams in that context.

The Government is also considering holding a set of forums that will bring together experts, business and community representatives and others with a strong interest in a number of topics to promote a collaborative approach to challenging issues and better inform government decision making.

The problem is that Rudd prefers to look no further than hand-picked elites and stakeholders when considering public engagement.


Rudd's concept of community does not actually include the public!

I wonder what Rudd and his Cabinet think about trial juries, comprised of citizens who are randomly-selected and conscripted? Juries bring their diversity of values and beliefs to the court. With little assistance, they are collectively capable of judging the credibility of the presented evidence and witnesses. Our judicial system has depended on juries for generations.

If it is acceptable to have randomly-selected juries compliment and check judicial power, then it also seems reasonable to have them compliment and check legislative power. It has been done elsewhere.

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About the Author

Ron Lubensky is a PhD candidate in the School of Social and Political Studies at The University of Sydney and a researcher on the Australian Citizens' Parliament project (

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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