Weatherill’s plan to create a “new democracy”

Aug 13, 2015
Jay Weatherill

Jay Weatherill

The Weatherill Government will today commit to a raft of measures to broaden participation in public policy, with the Premier insisting engaging the electorate is “the single biggest issue confronting politics”.

InDaily can reveal Labor’s policy paper on ‘Reforming Democracy’ will commit to holding at least two more citizens’ juries in the next two years, along with three participatory budgeting projects “to decide how government funds will be allocated”.

The paper also flags various other forms of “community conversation”, with Weatherill repeating his mantra that “the old days of ‘announce and defend’ decision-making by Government are over”.

“A new era of genuinely engaging people – of ‘debate and decide’ – has arrived,” he writes in the policy paper.

That era will be ushered in with a week-long “innovation and democracy festival” to be held next year, designed to “showcase SA’s leadership to the world”. The Government will also invest $200,000 in four “deliberative democracy projects”, wherein non-government organisations and businesses will collaborate with Government on forming key policy.

Weatherill told InDaily the process was about redefining political leadership.

“The urgent work of politics, that affects everything we do, is getting more people involved in more decisions,” he said.

“People are feeling that it’s not real, they’re not engaged with it and it doesn’t deal with issues that are important to them … that’s one of the first things I said when I put my hand up (to be Deputy Labor Leader in 2010), and I still think it’s the single biggest issue confronting politics.”

He insists “consultative leadership is what modern leadership is about”.

“It’s certainly that way in the private sector,” he said, arguing people are “excited” by the idea of being “invited in to be part of the solution”.”

I think what they want is a clear vision for the future, but they also want to be involved in making it happen,” he said.

“Government doesn’t have all the answers (and) it’s down to all of us to make it real.

“I think that old-fashioned notion of leadership is being rejected… I don’t think it’s working for Tony Abbott; he’s trying to change, with difficulty, and it was catastrophic for Campbell Newman.”


Consultative democracy in action, a Citizens’ Jury portrayed in the policy pamphlet.

Weatherill paints his concept as a Third Way-style model of public policy-making.

“It’s not as simple as saying we’re abdicating all decision-making to ‘the mob’, or the other way, impose Campbell Newman-style (decisions),” he said.

“(Voters) don’t expect to wake up one day and be affected by a decision they had nothing to do with.”

He denies the concept will draw out decision-making, arguing “it needn’t slow things down”.

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“While it might look like the long way, in the long-term it actually speeds things up,” he said.

“The number of policies that go off the rails because you tried short cuts are numerous.”

Weatherill points to the ongoing royal commission into the nuclear fuel cycle and Health Minister Jack Snelling’s contentious Transforming Health reforms as recent examples of consultative democracy.

“Transforming Health is not perfect, but it’s a great example of our intention, asking how can we have high-quality health care but impose a series of quite challenging ideas and work them through (and) I think we’re winning that argument,” he said.

The various Reforming Democracy projects will address policy areas raised in Governor Hieu Van Le’s parliamentary address in February, including “the transformation of the economy” and better service delivery.

“There’s still the function of leadership; Governments propose questions and invite people into the debate,” said Weatherill.

“It’s about Government trying to get people involved in the critical issue of the transformation of the SA economy … our vision of a carbon neutral city, that’s an exercise of the function of leadership.

“We’ve said ‘look, here’s our vision for Adelaide as a carbon neutral city’, and that’s not something Government can just pass legislation to make happen.

“It requires the collective effort of the community … the business community, universities, NGOs.”

Weatherill argues “it’s a question of where you think the public get involved”.

“Most people think the public get involved at the point of (policy) announcement, when you go through what most people think is a pretty contrived process. This is the opposite of that.”

He said the Government would consult on various questions, including “whether we’ve even got the right questions”, and “drawing on the expertise, talents and skills that exist in the community to raise awareness about these issues and engage in a discussion about them”.

“We’ve moved from what I call ‘raw opinion’, which is a first impression in an uninformed state, to what I call ‘wise judgement’, where they’re not grappling with wishful thinking about what they’d like the world to be, but real choices,” he said.

Of course, the participatory democracy model has its limits.

“I’m not talking about this being applied to everything — there are some things we need to get on and do,” Weatherill said.

A citizens’ jury report last night recommended a raft of reforms to dog and cat management, including mandatory desexing.

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