Thursday 7th of July 2022

Direct Democracy in Local Government

My goals and reasons for doing this are the same as those on the www.powerup.org.au homepage. They have said it better than I can. My plan is to implement a Direct Democracy system in my local Council. I chose the council to try this because it's impact would be confined to a geographically and influentially small sphere if something were to go wrong. The smaller catchment area of local government would make the process easier logistically. Council elections do not have mandatory voting, which means I would have less competition for the votes if required to win an election. Also, it would provide a template for others to start quickly once it is proven. For this to work I would need to be voted in as councillor or have the cooperation of a councillor. I must stress that I am not trying to take over local government, replace it or anything like that. This is to prove that it works and show that we as citizens can make the right choices. The DD part runs on a forum, which is free. I have endeavoured to cut out what I think are useless parts of the forum to leave the bare minimum of functionality required to implement DD. Namely, a bunch of categories (not many, keeping it simple) and voting on polls. I'll either stick it up on the web (leaves it open to hacking, but is readily available to many people) or set it up in a shopping centre type place (not connected to the internet so far safer from hacking but requires more effort to get to). I haven't decided yet. Perhaps there is a middle ground I've missed. As I understand it, the items of business for council meetings are released about a month before the actual meeting. I will use this time to set up polls and provide relevant information on the forum so participants can vote for what they want. There will also be an area for discussion. Discussion is kept separate from polls. Participants could use the discussion area to bring up subjects for me to address (as a councillor). It is probable that the discussion area will be user moderated (users can create their own forums). From the little I have seen of council meetings the councillors are given recommendations from various committees. The recommendations would be posted with the relevant poll. Voting options would be yes or no. If a person does not vote on a particular issue, there vote would count as a vote for the recommendation. There may be other types of issues which are not so clear cut, which brings me to my next point. The reason I made the forum was to prove to myself that I could set up a webserver and forum. However, most of what I have come up with for the forum's processes is based on speculation. The next step for me was to research exactly how local government runs so that I can tailor the DD system to it. I figured the best way to do this would be to talk to a councillor. So I emailed my local 12 asking them if they knew about DD and if so, what were their views on it? So far the replies are mixed. One didn't know what it was, but when I told him he was opposed to it. Another knew of DD, but didn't understand the second question. It will be interesting to see what the other councillors and CEO think. I'll keep you posted.

Brisbane Plan

Hi Matt. I'm always excited about practical suggestions for developing direct democracy. Below I've pasted the best part of a paper I presented at the Brisbane Social Forum last year. There is a small dedicated group working with this plan but I haven't found time for it for a while. I publish it here for your info and for comment.

Is there any other actual schemes to promote direct democracy at the Council level out there?

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The Plan

This is a plan for people to begin to take political control of their lives. Although principles may be useful anywhere and its implications are much broader, it is specifically a plan for the people of Brisbane to take control of City Hall, and for the powers of local government to simultaneously be radically expanded.

Step 1.
Enrol to vote, and encourage people to do the same. There’s a little piece of paper the Electoral Commission sends you to confirm your enrolment. Keep this and encourage people to do the same. If like normal people you have not kept yours, get around to changing your address with the AEC after all these years and they’ll send you a new one. It will become the basis for the right to vote and participate fully in the institution you are creating, hereafter just called, ‘the Assembly’.

Step 2.
Form cells according to your electoral ward. These cells are ad hoc organisations of people who wish to promote directly democratic institutions. They do not have to agree on policy and may come from a large range of political positions.

The only common commitment these cells require is a belief in democracy (according to commonly recognised convention or, if you like, Robert’s Rules of Order). Importantly this must include a willingness for respective beliefs on policy to be in the minority, and hence ultimately overruled, so long as the process is democratic. If you are not comfortable with participating in a democratic institution as a minority then do not proceed. I have every expectation that this aspect of the plan will be a challenge for many committed activists, who may have invested enormous energy into their organisations and visions, and may easily harbour, unconsciously or not, a resistance to the idea of being a mere vote and voice amongst the community who unfortunately are mostly strangers.

The most important core features of democracy must be:

  • That everyone (who is enrolled to vote) has equal opportunity to participate in every aspect of the institution.

  • That the majority decision, after due process, deliberation and debate, decides policy.
  • That any minority has the right to continue to develop and argue its position. That is, that the minority is institutionalised as a “shadow policy

Willing Councillors

Hamish, I see you've put a lot of thought into that, thanks.

Have you tried talking to your councillors to see if they want to help? The hypothetical person from step 11 may already exist and just needs the organisation behind them.

Re: Councillors

I agree. But no, we haven't gone there yet.

Re: the Brisbane Plan

Hi Hamish, I'm very interested to hear about this plan (and any others) to reinstill some democratic values into our aged bureaucracies. And what better place to do it than our current messed up situation which you or someone else has already mentioned on this site:

'Liberal' Lord Mayor Campbell "let's build some tunnels" Newman.

Labor City Council.

Highly corrupt state Labour government which now uses anti-corruption watchdog to avoid prosecution.

Old Rich White Men still running Federal Government in an increasingly undemocratic manner.

I have various talents which may not be of any use to your team but at the very least I am a registered voter who would love to hear more about and get involved with this plan.

Welcome Aboard

Thanks for the interest. I'll keep you in the loop.

Brisbane is also the largest municipal target in Australia.

Waiting for the Count

Postal votes in my council's election came out today. I'm going to put things on hold until the election is decided.

Re Direct Democracy

Matt, this is based on a shallow knowledge of the topic, so I don't expect too much slack.

I suppose governments in Australia are not likely to view direct democracy with enthusiasm, and may even get down on political websites, until they can get volunatary voting through. Then DD will be very good, because it will be conduit for political donations.

In the meantime, if I subscribe to Powerup, and the AEC sends the AFP round to check the books, will the hosts of powerup have to give over the lists?

We're Innocent

As far as I know T.G., we're not breaking any laws. Yet.