The Rudd Government has just released a second so-called “green paper” on electoral reform, entitled Strengthening Australia’s Democracy [PDF/DOC/RTF]. Public submissions on the weighty document, which runs to a meaty 251 pages, are open until Friday 27th November 2009, and an online discussion on the document will be held from Monday 9th November 2009 until Friday 13th November 2009.
Personally I think it is very good that the federal government is taking an interest in matters concerning Australia’s democracy. I have not had a chance to take the document in as yet, but will certainly endeavour to do so and to make a submission. The book I am currently trying (failing?) to write is squarely focused on the health of Australia’s democracy in the twenty-first century, so this green paper should certainly prove topical.
It is a little disheartening that this document is so difficult to engage with. All Australians have a stake in the health of their electoral system, but it’s a fair bet that very, very, very few value their stake to such an extent that they will be willing to digest a dry, book-sized document and to make a contribution to the associated consultation process over the next couple of months. The online discussion forum scheduled for early November is a reasonable idea, but there is only so much that a week-long online discussion forum can do. Once again the participants are almost certainly going to be that fraction of a percent of the population who have a strong or vested interest in electoral reform.
What are some other ways that the federal government could engage? Let’s just kick around a few ideas here. The government could post out a succinct survey that asks questions on the gist of the green paper to 10,000 households, and invite participants to both respond to the survey and to participate in a conference on the topic. Engage programs like Insight and Q&A to host shows specifically focusing on the content of the green paper. Offer financial rewards for meaningful contributions by members of the public. Work with high schools and universities to make formulation of a response to the green paper a mandatory part of the syllabus, or a “bonus” task for bright sparks trying to go above and beyond.
More than ever, we need better, more incentivised methods of encouraging people to participate in their democracy. We don’t need to talk about rocket science here. We just need to talk to people about their democracy in a way in which they can relate, and just as importantly, respond.