6 October 1998

Committees make for peaceful political processes

Imagine a political system in which elections, fanatical interest groups and parliamentary slanging matches are a thing of the past.

According to Dr Gilbert Burgh, a lecturer in the University's Philosophy Department, such a system - in which decisions and laws arise out of deliberative processes rather than conflict - is possible.

For his PhD thesis, Dr Burgh developed the system he calls cross-section demarchy, using John Burnheim's 1985 book Is Democracy Possible? as a starting point.

Demarchy offered an alternative means of governing society from our present adversarial electoral democracy, he said.

Instead of electing one person to represent the interests of an entire constituency, the model recommends that committees of interested people deal with specific issues. Committee members interested in the particular issue are selected by random lot similar to the current jury selection system.

"At present, issues are debated in an adversarial atmosphere usually couched in terms of rights. Inevitably this leads to a conflict of rights," Dr Burgh said.

"With demarchy, issues are couched in terms of community problems that we must all work on together."

He said the difficulty with the present system was that each elected parliamentarian had to try to represent the interests of an entire electorate. Furthermore, while the rhetoric of the present system claimed to represent the general interest, it in fact represented sectional interests and safeguarded the social and political conditions conducive to existing power structures, he said.

"He or she ends up selecting the lowest common denominator in each issue leaving everyone dissatisfied," he said.

"This person cannot hope to be an ?expert' in so many areas. Under the demarchic system I propose, people with expertise or interest in a particular issue make up the committees and work together for the best outcome. Each committee has an independent facilitator who keeps the lines of communication open and free of conflict."

Dr Burgh said a rotational system would allow a new person to replace an existing committee member at regular intervals, safeguarding the integrity and relevance of the committee without overly disrupting continuity.

The random selection of committee members incorporating the role of facilitators and "experts" as well as the emphasis on rotational representation were the main areas where his model departed from Dr Burnheim's model, Dr Burgh said.

For more information, contact Dr Burgh (telephone 07 3365 1970).