Club troppo economic, legal, political and social commentary grade 9 electricity questions

The OECD has joined The Movement. In a new report it’s saying that plastic recycling isn’t working. So we’ve got to make it work. Fair enough. Perhaps we should. But you’d think that reading their material on it, there might be some discussion as to whether this was the most economic way to address environmental objectives, or at least the most environmentally sound way to do so. I mean recycling plastic involves a lot of pollution – with trucks running round collecting stuff, toxins being difficult to remove from the plastic on recycling. So you’d be interested to hear how it all stacks up.

And when we hear that plastic waste is converted via incineration to energy and that this emits greenhouse gas, you’d want to know what the counterfactual was wouldn’t you? You’d want some reassurance that more recycling would lower plastics in the oceans – since, though it’s referenced as an important issue in the report, it seems to be a littering, rather than a recycling problem. And when you hear about the benefits of ‘extended producer responsibility’ you’re also waiting to hear about the very substantial costs and how the benefits and costs – economic and environmental – compare. But I had a quick read of the executive summary, and I was still waiting.

For some time now we’ve been ‘proving up’ citizens’ juries as a means of consulting the people, but generally within the context of governments being in charge. As a result they’ve been mostly relatively innocuous. For instance the first two in South Australia were focused on making Adelaide’s nightlife safe and vibrant and getting motorists and cyclists to share the road more safely. They’re pretty anodyne and boutique issues for politicians so it’s pretty low risk. They might generate some answers they’re happy with, help get community buy-in to tricky issues. And if they don’t work out as hoped for, governments can walk away without too much angst.

Having tried exercises with a degree of difficulty of about 3 out of ten, the then Premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill had a rush of blood to the head and tried the citizens’ jury with pike and triple twist – rated in the diagnostic and statistical manual of democracy at 10. Should South Australia start a nuclear waste storage industry? The answer was … no, which wasn’t much fun for anyone. Elsewhere in Melbourne a citizens’ jury worked on a ten year budget plan which was certainly well received at the time. The plan is now a few years old and I’m not sure how well it’s stood the test of time.

In the UK, a consortium of academic and other interests held a citizens’ jury on Brexit but, in the angst ridden atmosphere of Brexit Means Brexit Britain, they were at great pains not to antagonise the politicians who were planning on spending the next four years masterminding what the overwhelming majority of them understood to be the disaster of Brexit (you know, the way Australia’s politicians did abolishing carbon pricing against the better judgement of around 80 percent of them – it’s costing the budget over $10 billion a year since you asked.)

Thus, as the organisers collateral put it dutifully, “The UK’s voters have decided to leave the EU. The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit is not reopening this question. This decision has already been made.” 1 However I can’t think of any big change that came about from people playing by the rules of the existing system and asking nicely. And the fact is that sortition has roots going deep into our history and culture – in fact back two and a half millennia to Athens, the birthplace of democratic politics, but also back more than 800 years to Magna Carta in our legal system in the form of juries. As public trust plummets for so many institutions, it’s trust in juries is alive and well and while ‘vertical’ trust – the trust of people in large and powerful institutions – has been falling, horizontal trust – in people’s peers and People Like Them has not fallen and may have risen.

And, not being able to recall any form of political activism that brought about major change except by asserting its own legitimacy in competition with the legitimacy of the existing system, I want to find ways of confronting the existing system in its weakest places with the legitimacy of citizens’ juries and sortition where they are strongest. This is the way I put it in a recent interview: Continue reading →

Urban development ideas are invariably bedevilled by community dissension, much of it uninformed and anything but constructive. However, part of the cause is failure by governments to adopt clear collaborative and consultative processes. Protesters with NIMBY motivations and instinctive Nabobs of Negativism often achieve levels of community fear and concern that their arguments and motives don’t merit, because governments have failed to make proposals and their underlying rationale clear and failed to build a consensus in favour of them before formally announcing them.

The proposed but now abandoned Myilly Point Indigenous and Multicultural Museum, which was to form part of the long-awaited Darwin City Deal with the federal government, is a classic recent example. Darwin badly needs an attraction that will honour our rich Indigenous and multicultural history and make it more accessible both to tourists and local residents. There’s no doubt in my mind that a well-conceived museum/cultural centre would have been really exciting and a big success. But the concept was never explained or “sold” clearly by the Gunner government either to the public or stakeholders. As a result, widespread misunderstanding and ignorant opposition were inflamed and the Chief Minister felt compelled to abandon the whole idea on pragmatic political grounds.