Citizens' assemblies work fine - in theory

27 July 2010

Will a citizens' assembly help build consensus in Australia on how to deal with climate change? On overseas experience, probably not, writes Associate Professor Anne Twomey in The National Times.

"The biggest criticism is that they usually fail to achieve anything, other than to educate the participants themselves.

"Where the assembly's role is purely advisory, the government will most likely leave its report to suffer a lingering death of neglect if it conflicts with what the government wants to do. (Remember the much-hyped 2020 summit.)

"If, on the other hand, it is used to initiate substantial change, experience shows a referendum on such a change is likely to fail as it did in Ontario and British Columbia (twice).

"Why? Because a citizens' assembly turns the ordinary voters who participate into a well-informed elite.

"It does not transform the electorate or build a consensus in the community.

"Worthy as a citizens' assembly might be, if the purpose of this proposal is to build a consensus, then much more will need to be done."

View the entire article - Citizens' assemblies work fine - in theory - Associate Professor Anne Twomey

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