A South Australian City wants councils to volunteer to trial innovative public governance models including Liquid Democracy to fight against the “alarming” erosion of trust in local government.
“Liquid democracy” is described as delegative democracy whereby a community engages in collective decision-making through direct participation.
The City of Holdfast Bay Council says there are national indicators that trust in government is being eroded at the same time as community expectations are increasing.
It wants local government associations to investigate and, where feasible, work with willing councils to trial models to strengthen the connectivity and relevance of Local Government.
The Council is taking its idea to the Australian Local Government Association National General Assembly which starts in Canberra this Sunday.
It is one of 104 motions to be debated during the Assembly.
If the Central Coast had councillors, at least one could attend the Assembly with voting rights and be part of the discussion around this motion.
Administrator, Rik Hart, is attending.
The matter would have come up at a council meeting where he could give himself permission to attend and that has not happened.
Holdfast says its motion relates to the future of democracy, particularly at a local level.
“With the exception of universal suffrage being introduced, the existing model of democracy has remained largely unchanged for over a century,” the SA Council said.
“Public governance has been one of the last segments to explore and implement opportunities that new technologies offer, communities expect and waning trust requires.”
Holdfast Council says that exploring such opportunities “courageously” could help rebuild trust and futureproof the relevance of the local government sector, particularly in the face of ongoing pressures to streamline expenditure.
Continue on to read the full Holdfast Bay submission to the Assembly.
Motion: City of Holdfast Bay, South Australia
“This National General Assembly calls on the Australian, state, and local government associations to investigate and, where feasible, work with willing councils to trial innovative public governance models (including liquid democracy) to strengthen the connectivity and relevance of the local government sector into the future.”
Trust in government has been in decline for decades across the globe. Notwithstanding this, trust increases with localisation.
Where there is local trust, this should be used to strengthen the overall health of democracy.
For better or worse, technology has been disrupting every sphere of human endeavour at an increasing rate, leading to greater community expectations across the board.
The same things cannot keep being delivered in the same ways.
While the principles of democracy are arguably more important today than they’ve ever been, the perceived relevance of institutions, including governments, is waning.
With the exception of universal suffrage being introduced, the existing model of democracy has remained largely unchanged for over a century.
Public governance has been one of the last segments to explore and implement opportunities that new technologies offer, communities expect, and waning trust requires.
Exploring such opportunities proactively and courageously can help rebuild trust in government and futureproof the connectivity and relevance of the local government sector into the future, particularly in the face of diminished trust, and ongoing pressures to streamline or minimise government expenditure.
The Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual global survey of more than 36,000 respondents in 28 countries, has tracked trust for over 20 years.
The Barometer has tracked an alarming erosion of trust in government, which is now the least trusted sector and widely perceived as being unable to solve societal problems.
While local governments are generally perceived as more trustworthy than their federal counterparts, there is nevertheless a significant trust gap.
If left unchecked, a cycle of distrust can negatively affect social stability.
On the other hand, there is an opportunity to build on existing local trust to strengthen the social fabric of our nation, from the ground up.
While technology has the potential to create significant gains and benefits, it has also contributed to social, economic, and environmental volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) at local, state, national and global levels.
Echo chambers, fake news, manufactured outrage and being addictive by design have all contributed to the fraying of social fabrics and have sown seeds of distrust and discontent.
Technology has also put pressure on all services to be fast/immediate, available anytime, personalised, and available via many channels (including digital).
Expectations for services of this kind create a stark contrast against public governance models, which are not real-time or digitally accessible, and tend more towards bluntness than nuance or personalisation.
Examples include party-line voting and only being able to exercise a vote every several years.
With such a substantial contrast, it’s not difficult to understand why many people eschew engagement in public governance.
In the face of VUCA conditions and threats to social stability, the health, strength, and vitality of democracy are all the more important.
While voting is compulsory across all levels of government in many parts of Australia, trust levels indicate an underlying level disengagement.
Many people across our communities have forgotten (or are unaware of) Franklin D Roosevelt’s words that ‘government is ourselves and not an alien power over us’.
Innovative public government models can reverse the cycle of distrust and negative perceptions of relevance, while improving connectivity.
Such models could include liquid democracy (delegative democracy whereby a community engages in collective decision making through direct and dynamic participation), amongst others.
Choosing to proactively explore and, where feasible, trial new models of public governance can ensure local government builds on its strengths, provides added levels of connectivity to its communities, and leads by example, for state and federal counterparts to learn from.
It also demonstrates significant courage and foresight, which are in keeping with the values and characteristics often found in local government.
The first steps would be to explore and articulate a range of possible models, followed by small-scale trials to test feasibility.
Undertaking this as a sector-wide initiative protects democracy and provides appropriate public governance oversight, while also providing pathways to implementation should new models be worthwhile.
End of the City of Holdfast Bay Motion.