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The Greens and democracy

By Dan Denning - posted Monday, 6 September 2010


We see the Greens and Labor have made a deal and that US police have shot an armed man at the headquarters of the Discovery Channel in Maryland after he took people inside the building hostage. And we see that in some strange way, the events are not unrelated. Not causally, mind you, but philosophically.

Part of the big agreement announced last week by Labor and Green honchos was the set-up of a multi-party parliamentary committee to put a price on carbon. You can read about it here. But when you read about it, it’s clear that it’s a pretty undemocratic way of pretending to have a debate without having a debate. Typical, but pretty cynical. And as ever with the political class, it defers to the exalted power of “experts”.

Green’s Senator Christine Milne says that this very European process will, “Set up a parliamentary committee representing all the interests in the parliament committed to a certain idea and then enabling the appointment of experts to that committee. So the experts are not just to give evidence to the committee. The experts are part of the deliberations of that committee and that way you create the space in a parliament for people to talk through their own perspectives, nuance those perspectives and try to come up with a parliamentary consensus which has the support of everyone around the idea.”

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Emphasis added is our own. But really, how much nuance can you have when everyone on the committee can only be on the committee if they are already committed to a certain idea? How hard is it to build consensus when you exclude everyone who might disagree from participating?

Milne continued: “You will note in the agreement the proviso for membership of the committee is that the people going onto it are committed to a carbon price. They may not all agree with the mechanism of achieving a carbon price but they all want to a carbon price and the idea is to invite everyone to it and the Coalition clearly if they were in opposition would be invited to join it on that proviso. So, it really is about grown up politics in Australia. It’s about ending the all or nothing, it’s about ending the accusations of back flips and sell outs and back downs and so on.”

In order to end the all or nothing false choice, it was necessary to create an all or nothing committee. Everyone who’s on it has to be all for a carbon price. No one who’s against a carbon price can be on it. That really is an effective way to end the argument. By not having it all and excluding other points of view.

Of course the justification for this is that the people against a carbon price are really whack jobs who don’t believe in global warming OR climate change. What’s more, they aren’t even experts. They’re just people, people who believe that common sense is more valuable than credentials. They’re just people. Very little people.

Milne says, “It’s a process we adopted in Tasmania to a very small degree when we achieved gay law reform by bringing in experts from the university, the justice department and so on to work with the parliamentarians. This I think can resolve this issue of a carbon price. It’s very important to us. We want one as soon as possible and we think this mechanism is the best way of delivering it.”

In other words, the best mechanism of delivering an outcome that the public hasn’t clearly endorsed is to use a non-democratic process that only includes people committed to the desired outcome. And that’s democratic how?

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Honestly, we have to give credit where credit was due on this one. Julia Gillard had it right. Get a phone book from each city of 10,000 people or more in Australia. Pick ten people at random from each phone book. Put them on a Climate Change Committee. Put them in a three-star hotel outside the airport in Adelaide and give them six days to debate the issue and, if they decide, come up with a law.

What could be more democratic than that? If a random jury of your peers is good enough to deliver equal justice under law in the criminal justice system - where judges and juries must deal with complex evidence and experts - why is it not good enough to for public policy too?

In fact, the more we think about it, legislative conscription may be the best way to run the country after all. Each term, a new randomly selected group of conscripts is drafted to serve in Canberra. They are paid the minimum wage. You can be sure Parliament wouldn’t sit for long and that the government would generally stay out of most people’s lives and wallets, affording Australians the time and money to be good parents and neighbours.

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First published in The Daily Reckoning on September 2, 2010.



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About the Author

Dan Denning is the author of 2005's best-selling The Bull Hunter (John Wiley & Sons). Dan draws on his network of global contacts from his base in Melbourne. He’s the managing editor of resource newsletter Diggers and Drillers and the editor of The Daily Reckoning Australia.

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