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Deliberative Democracy or Discursively Biased? Perth’s Dialogue with the City Initiative

The author of this article is Paul J. Maginna of the School of Earth and Geographical Sciences at the University of Western Australia. Published in the Journal Space and Polity, Volume 11, Issue 3 December 2007 (pages 331 – 35). The article can be purchased for $30 at www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a788595083.


The State Government in Western Australia has portrayed itself as a champion of revitalising local democracy and civic engagement. This can be seen in the plethora of community consultation/participation policy documents that have emerged from the Premier’s Citizens and Civics Unit over the past five years. Dialogue with the City, a major participatory planning process that formed part of the development of a new strategic plan—Network City—for metropolitan Perth, has been heralded as an exemplar of deliberative democracy. This paper draws on deliberative democratic theory, performative policy analysis and institutional discourse analysis to interrogate the efficacy of this claim by examining the discursive practices leading up to and including the Community Forum, a major consultative and participatory event of the Dialogue Initiative.

It is argued that, whilst the Dialogue Initiative was supported by rhetorical deliberative utterances from political leaders and planning experts and exhibited, superficially at least, a number of attributes associated with deliberative democracy, the overall process fell short of this ideal. The primary reasons for this were that the process was scripted and stage-managed and lacked sufficient space and time for citizens to engage in genuine inclusionary argumentation and social learning. Hence the Dialogue Initiative may be viewed as an exercise more reflective of a mix of consultative and participatory planning conducted widely.

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