Democratic Conversations Uncensored
Democratic Conversations Uncensored is a new public lecture series jointly hosted by IGPA and the Museum of Australian Democracy
“Democratic Conversations Uncensored” was launched in the historic setting of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House on the evening of the 22 April 2015. The event forms part of a broader partnership between the Institute and the Museum of Australian Democracy. It has three aims:
- Firstly, to co-design and analyse unique data sets on the qualities of Australian democracy and (where appropriate) processes of democratisation internationally. For this see our annual survey of political engagement.
- Secondly, to co-author innovative ways of visualising and imagining Australian democracy. For this please see the “Power of One Voice” Exhibition.
- And thirdly, to make full use of the Museum as a unique space for disseminating our research findings and debating future democratic governance.
“Democratic Conversations Uncensored” has been designed to help meet our third aim. 22 April 2015 signaled the launch of a new program of public provocations, debates and panel discussions aimed at enhancing the quality of debate here in our nation’s capital on the important democratic questions of our time. We will provide a neutral space in which public servants, members of the public and academics can feel free to discuss the critical democratic issues confronting Australia in an open and frank way.
As the rain fell on Monday evening I was reminded of an exchange I witnessed between the maverick British MP Tony Benn and Ben Okri the Booker prize winning author at the 1991 Charter 88 Constitutional Convention in rainy Manchester – which ironically had the subtitle ‘Britain’s Crisis of Democracy’. In a ‘Q and A’ session after Benn had given an address on his proposals for a Brave New Commonwealth Bill (a Parliamentary Bill aimed at protecting individual rights and freedoms) Ben Okri asked him how should we evaluate the quality of democratic life in Britain?
He answered, that whenever he met a powerful person he always asked them five questions
What power have you got?
Where did you get it from?
In whose interests do you use it?
To whom are you accountable?
And, how can we get rid of you?"
And if they can’t answer the last of those five questions then they can’t be living in a genuinely democratic country. For Benn living in a democracy gave us the right to ask those questions. He argued that:
“Only democracy gives us that right. That is why no one with power likes democracy,” “And that is why every generation must struggle to win it and keep it—including you and me, here and now”.
For Benn then given that we can’t get rid of many of the powerful people that govern our everyday lives democracy will always be both essential in protecting any notion of a good society and in perceptual crisis – plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (“the more it changes, the more it's the same thing”).
Indeed it is the absence of perceptions of crisis that we should fear most.
This of course is the stuff of democratic imagination and this issue and many others will be debated in this important new series of public debates.
Professor Mark Evans
22 April 2015