Belgiorno-Nettis: “[The government] has stopped listening”

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, the founder of newDemocracy Foundation, which designed and oversaw the nuclear dump citizen jury process for the South Australian government, has an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in the aftermath of the jury’s decision to reject the proposed dump. Belgiorno-Nettis softly criticizes SA Premier Jay Weatherill’s newly-announced intention to have a referendum on the dump:

From the time the royal commission report was handed down earlier this year, the South Australian government has been trying to listen, very carefully, to its community.

But now it has stopped listening, even after the citizen jury concluded their deliberations. A referendum has now been floated as a way to finally determine the question; never mind the most recent lessons from the Brexit experience. The jury tried to find common ground. A referendum won’t.

In fact, the Weatherill’s maneuver suggests that the SA never did listen to the community. Weatherill’s aim is, and always was, getting the dump approved. He saw the jury as merely a tool for doing so. Had that tool served its purpose, we would all have been lectured by Weatherill about the usefulness of the jury process and its advantages compared to other ways of decision making – exactly those same advantages that Belgiorno-Nettis mentions. Since the jury turned Weatherill down, he pushes on in other ways. Other elected officials will no doubt take notice – citizen juries may not produce the desired results (at least not when following the process designed by newDemocracy).

Instead of meekly admonishing Weatherill and pleading with him to at least send the jury’s report together with the referendum ballots, Belgiorno-Nettis should reconsider his foundation’s strategy for promoting government-through-sortition. The newDemocracy Foundation strategy has been elite focused: approach elected officials and tell them that using the citizen jury process will serve their ends. To begin with, it is clear that this guarantees that the jury process wil not be applied as long as the elected officials are certain of their ability to achieve their goal through the normal channels. There are then two scenarios in which the jury process may be realistically applied. The first is when decision-making area is one in which the elected officials have no strong preferences. In this case using the jury process serves as a way to generate good publicity, while incurring no risk.

The other scenario is when elected officials wish to attain a policy goal, but are unable to do so, or at least are unsure of their ability to do so. This is the case of the nuclear dump. Weatherill knew it was going to be an uphill battle and he saw the jury process as a relatively low-cost way to gain the upper hand in it.

Instead of pursuing this elite focused strategy, if newDemocracy really would like to see the decision making process democratized, it should appeal to the people and convince them that this process can serve their interests. This could be done in various ways, but one clear way would be to set up an allotted body that monitors elected government for conflicts of interests and corruption. Using its resources newDemocracy could mobilize the community to support this process and in this way make it hard for government to ignore its findings and recommendations.

7 Responses

  1. Good points Yoram.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Under the SMH article is a comment which reflects our thinking in Vienna, exactly.

    “So Luca. when does the Federal “newDemocracy Party” open its doors and what will be the requirements and procedures for joining? :)”

    “To put it bluntly, I won’t be voting for any of the people who are currently members of our 150 strong federal parliament.”

    “So, that being the case, start the party and I will be one of your first fully paid up members.”

    Only a party run by demarchic principles solves the issue of democratic legitimacy because it receives it by such party being elected (no sortition needed). People would be simply electing a process instead of electing some bigwig (wig…) to decide for them.


  3. Honestly, I’m not sure what exactly you want. Do you expect sortition to be imposed on the entire political class, against its will, by a movement of ordinary people? If so, I’m not aware of any major social change won that way. Universal suffrage, for example, definitely require the existence of political elites who saw benefits to them in the extension of the franchise.


  4. Peter,

    I thought the last paragraph makes it quite clear what I think is the way forward, including a specific course of action that newDemocracy can take.

    As for elite support – I am not sure to that it is strictly necessary, but in any case once there is significant popular support behind a democratic agenda, there will doubtless be elements within the elite that will find it beneficial to adopt it. For example, an allotted anti-corruption body will likely find support from an elite party that would attempt to use it against its opponents. This is very different, however, from expecting that such a party would make that proposal itself and try to rally the public behind it.


  5. Peter:> I’m not aware of any major social change won that way

    Unfortunately the vanguard for the People’s Republic of Aleatoria has no interest in history. It would be comic were it not for the fact that elites are unlikely to want to participate in a project specifically designed to put them out of business. That’s why I share Peter’s antipathy to what he calls “sortinistas” (those advocating pure sortition). Even if that is a worthwhile goal (I doubt it) it’s very bad strategy.


  6. […] bodies were convened to handle corruption in local government, and to consider a nuclear dump in SA. David Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections was published in English and received some […]


  7. […] was stopped, in a large part by its rejection by a citizen’s jury. This citizen jury and its aftermath were covered on Equality-by-Lot at the time (end of […]


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