How can Australia’s Democracy Deliver? | ROUNDTABLE | November 2017

Key documents for the roundtable:

Speakers: Dr Nikolas Kirby (Research Fellow and Departmental Lecturer in Philosophy and Public Policy, University of Oxford, and Director of the Building Integrity Program at the Blavatnik School of Government), Professor Glenn Withers (Research School of Economics, ANU), Tony Douglas (Director, Essential Research), Dr Heather Smith PSM (Secretary of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science), Terry Moran AC (Chair of CPD & former Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet).

Our roundtable on 10 November asked how Australia’s democracy can deliver. It formed part of CPD’s 10th Anniversary Series, which has democratic renewal as its centrepiece. It took place a week after former Indonesian Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, delivered CPD’s inaugural John Menadue Oration on the topic: ‘Can Democracy Deliver?’

We were delighted to bring together a diverse group of leading thinkers. The agenda was an ambitious one for three hours and over thirty people, but the group rose to the challenge and were equally candid and creative.

Our roundtable delved further into the question of democratic renewal. Democracy and the international rules-based order face profound pressure across the globe. Australia is not immune to this pressure. There is a gap between expectations of government in the community and government’s capability to build and deliver an agenda. There is a question mark over assumptions that have underpinned public policy over the past few decades, such as the nature of growth, economic structure, the role of government, and the delivery of human services.

Broad sections of the Australian community appear to have ‘buyers’ remorse’. CPD’s motivation for holding this roundtable is our belief that successful democracies are stable but not static. We also believe the debate about democratic renewal cannot be resolved by focussing simply on ‘trust’, ‘leadership’, and ‘deliberation’. It requires a deeper discussion about Australian attitudes to democracy and to government, the connection of those ideas and preferences with more effective government, and a clearer shared purpose of what Australia’s democracy should pursue.

We had an interactive discussion about:

  • what democracy and the social compact means for Australians today;
  • what the community expects of government (informed by new CPD research on this question) and;
  • what reforms Australia’s democracy needs most – new ideas, structures, institutions and processes.

We were not seeking a communiqué or attempting to reach an artificial consensus. We wanted a frank exchange of views under the Chatham House Rule on the pressure facing Australia’s democracy and new ideas to ensure Australia’s democracy can be fit for purpose.

We are in the process of distilling all the remarks, including the feedback on the discussion paper and the roundtable received after the event. The paper itself will be released next month.

Next year CPD will take forward several of the recommendations that emerged from the roundtable and hope to do so with many of the people and organisations involved on 10 November. We look forward to providing updates about this work in due course.

Related links

Terry Moran AC, CPD’s Chair, addressed some of the themes of CPD’s attitudes research in a speech for IPAA Victoria on 21 November 2017. Read the speech here, along with the coverage in The Guardian and The Mandarin.


CPD would like to thank John W.H. Denton and the team at Corrs Chambers Westgarth for hosting the event, and participants who contributed to an engaged and candid discussion.



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