Carson’s Take on Australian Citizens Parliament
Lyn Carson (“Carson”) sent me the following text last night for the NCDD blog. Carson is the University of Sydney’s Chief Investigator on the Citizens’ Parliament Project, and it’s great to have an insider’s view…
I have just returned from Australia’s first Citizens’ Parliament (www.citizensparliament.org.au) which really was an extraordinary event, focused on how to strengthen Australia’s political system to serve us better. It seemed like a curious counterweight to this bushfire tragedy which raged as 150 randomly-selected citizens collaborated (some of the CP folks were affected by it—homes, friends and family—but remained at Old Parliament House with us). The fires were ghastly, really ghastly. The CP was uplifting and empowering. It was a strangely beautiful juxtaposition which participants will never forget, any more than those so cruelly affected by those fires will ever forget.
Held over four days, it was a terrific combination of small group work in the Members’ Dining Room with networked computers that beamed back their collective ideas, along with some plenary sessions in the former House of Representatives chamber. Fred Chaney and Lowitja O’Donoghue chaired the formal proceedings and introduced and closed each day’s proceedings. Academics and politicians came along as resource people to share their expertise. Twenty three capable facilitators kept the 23 small groups to task with a massive agenda that was determined by the participants themselves. The 150 Citizen Parliamentarians were supported by these facilitators as well as two Lead Facilitators, Janette Hartz-Karp and Max Hardy.
By the final day, many members of this citizen body had shifted dramatically and they spoke passionately about that change—from the youngest member (18 years old) to the oldest member (93 years old). The youngest member went from being a timid young woman to suggesting she might aspire to be Prime Minister. Citizen Parliamentarians wanted an extra copy of the final report (which was handed to them on departure) to lobby their local Member of Parliament. Senator John Faulkner opened the event and promised to take the recommended seriously. Parliamentary Secretary Anthony Byrne closed the event and reiterated that promise. More information is available from www.citizensparliament.org.au or contact Lyn Carson at firstname.lastname@example.org.