ELECTION 2010: Expert defends Gillard’s citizens’ assembly

A political expert from the University of Western Sydney says a citizens' assembly on climate change could become a fantastic asset for the Australian Government, if their views are seriously considered in policy-making.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard today outlined her plan to convene a citizens' assembly to examine the evidence on climate change and the case for action.

"If we are re-elected, I will develop a dedicated process – a Citizens’ Assembly – to examine over 12 months 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," Ms Gillard said.

"These methods have been used in a number of countries, and in some Australian communities, to work through complex long term issues. 

"At the same time the Citizens’ Assembly is at work, I will work with State and Local Governments, business and community groups to maximise information and discussion in the community overall."

Professor Lyn Carson, from the Centre for Citizenship and Public Policy at UWS, initiated, co-designed and co-convened Australia's first citizens’ assembly, the Australian Citizens' Parliament (ACP), in February 2009.

She says the initial ACP, which considered how Australia's political system could be reformed to serve the Australian people better, proved to be extremely successful.

"A randomly-selected group of people, who become extremely well informed, can be a valuable asset," Professor Carson says.

"Prime Minister Julia Gillard's announcement that the nation's response to climate change will be in the hands of such a group, demonstrates a willingness to bring people back into politics.

"A citizens' assembly will give the PM an insight into the considered judgement of typical Australians in a way that is impossible using opinion polls or focus groups.

"It's a worthy idea, as long as the Government is prepared to act on the peoples' recommendations. Otherwise more distrust will emerge."

Professor Carson is on the executive board of the International Association for Public Participation and on the editorial board of the Journal of Public Deliberation and a director of the newdemocracy foundation.

Professor Carson has been involved in convening or facilitating Australia's first Consensus Conference, Australia's first two Deliberative Polls, Australia's first Citizens' Parliament, numerous Citizens' Juries and Community Summits and a host of other public engagements related to public policy exploration and improvement at local, state and national levels.

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Excuse me for being cynical, but there have been several local government conferences, including one on constitutional recognition and another for mayors and chief executive officers’,  by invitation from Kevin Rudd.

What became of them all? Nothing. They were just feel good forums luring local government into the false sense of believing the Federal Government is actually interested in this tier of government – the one closest to the people.

So now we are going to have a citizens assembly. 150 people chosen at random? Give me a break. If the taxpayer picks up the tab for yet another talkfest then I object.

Tina Klein
Eden Hill WA

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