Australian prime minister proposes “people’s assembly” on climate

The Brisbane Times reports that a “people’s assembly” to investigate climate change is being proposed by the Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, as part of her re-election platform:

A JULIA Gillard government would create a ”citizens’ assembly” of ”real Australians” to investigate the science of climate change and consequences of emissions trading, under a plan to build a national consensus for a carbon price.


Few details will be given [in an upcoming speech] about how the citizens’ assembly would operate, other than that an independent authority would select people from the electoral roll using census data. Membership would be optional.

Gillard seems quite frank about the objective of the “investigation” – to legitimate Gillard’s preferred policy:

The citizens’ assembly will be pitched as the means of developing consensus through ”a real debate involving many real Australians”, as the Prime Minister will say.

”It will not convince everybody, and I will not allow our country to be held to ransom by a few people with extreme views that will never be changed. But I want to see a process that directly involves a representative range of ordinary Australians.”


The assembly would have a year to examine ”the evidence on climate change, the case for action and the possible consequences of introducing a market-based approach to limiting and reducing carbon emissions”.

It would provide an indication of the level of consensus over the current emissions trading model, but would not be ”the final arbiter or judge” on what the government does.

Ms Gillard will say she believes the assembly would back her commitment on climate change. ”If I am wrong, and that group of Australians is not persuaded of the case for change, then that should be a clear warning bell that our community has not been persuaded as deeply as required about the need for transformational change.”

Opposition leaders Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop poured scorn on the proposal:

“One of the sillier Athenian practices was choosing officials by random draw (sortition) – did this inspire the citizens’ assembly? […] For a chilling Athenian view of realpolitik, read the Melian Dialogue,”


Reaching for parallels to rubbish Julia Gillard’s ”citizen’s assembly” on climate change, Ms Bishop likened it to locking participants in the Big Brother house, while Mr Turnbull trawled the opposite end of the cultural spectrum, telling guests that Ms Gillard’s proposal was akin to the ancient Athenian practice of ”sortition”.

This apparently consisted of picking public officials by inscribing their names on shards of pottery and pulling them out of an urn.

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