Socratic Forum

Long known as the Athens of the South for its vibrant intellectual life*, Brisbane is treating us to yet another feast for the mind, a Socratic Forum on the topic “That Canberra is taking too much power from the states”, which will be held at Parliament House (6-7:30 pm) tonight. I’ll be speaking along with Andrew Bartlett, Jim Soorley, George Brandis and others.

* A joke of course, but Brisbane is making up for lost time. There’s a lot more enthusiasm for events like this here than I’ve encountered in places where such things have been around for a long time. And that’s reflected in the frequency and range of these events – this is my third plug this week, and there’s plenty more happening.

16 thoughts on “Socratic Forum

  1. I’m not familiar with the format. Do you speak in favour, against, or do you say what’s on your mind in response?

  2. and after the talking is done, or you run out of time, is there any consequence to this simulated political activity?

    will there be a citizen initiated referendum coming from a citizen action group?

    doubt it.

  3. Hey Brisvegas is really pouring on the brain juice these days, I’ll be fulfilling the child care duties while my partner attends an atmospheric chemistry confrence there in sept.

    at your little socratic do, will there be drinks and a general undermining of youthful morals as well as a few scribes to misrepresent your lifes work?

    “will there be a citizen initiated referendum coming from a citizen action group?” CIR in this superstitious land Al, i surely hope not, we’ll be back in Cromwell’s England before the Wiggles finish singing hot potato.

  4. With all the church-state foibles of the past few years in Federal politics (“Judaeo-Christian values” and marriage, Nelson and Intelligent Design, Abbott/Abortion/Secret meetings etc) Cromwell’s England seems a tad too apt.

    Incidentally on the topic of apathy towards thinker’s festivals in those states with a tradition for them, I can attest to a strange ennui towards Adelaide’s Festival of Ideas. I keep meaning to go, but I can’t feel the motivation for some reason.

    It’s the same deal with attempts for revivals with the likes of “Philosophy in the Pub” and so on.

    Good to see Queensland is having a bit of an upturn in it’s intellectual social life.

  5. Wilful, I just say my piece.

    Al, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop with your consistent criticisms of Oz-style democracy, but I’m surprised to its such a worn-out piece of leather as CIR. Not that I have anything against the idea, but it’s hardly transformed politics in the many US jurisdictions where it’s been in place for a century or more.

  6. Could somebody offer some thoughts at the forum about whether Canberra is taking too much power away from the people? After all surely people matter more than states and have a greater moral claim to sovereignty.

  7. Terje, you’ll be glad to know that both Andrew Bartlett and Jim Soorley made this point.

  8. From the little I know about the Adelaide Festival of Ideas – mainly through Philip Adams replays on LNL – I would say one of the major problems is a paucity of new ideas.

  9. Just roughly, Professor, what is your broad view on this topic? As a regular reader, I don’t think I’ve gained a specific impression.

    Personally, as someone with an informed view about the relative competencies of State and Federal bureaucracies and their responsiveness to local concerns, I am frightened by the idea of Canberra gaining more power. State bureaucrats are much more closely connected to the communities and stakeholder groups that they are responsible for – abstracted rubbish is far more likely to come from Canberra than from Melbourne (in relation to most things I can think of).

  10. “CIR… hardly transformed politics in the many US jurisdictions where it’s been in place for a century or more.�

    Comparative studies in the USA show that CIR is associated with closer orientation to the wishes of the citizens and with lower expenditures where the signature requirement is 5% (or less). My reference for this is a 1999 book by three economists, Kirchgässner, Feld and Savioz: “Die Direkte Demokratie�. CIR works in the US states but is not all that impressive. They are mostly pretty crude systems.

    In Switzerland it is transforming. The 26 cantons and some 3000 municipalities have varying degrees of direct democracy and make much use of it (since the late 1800s) so there is a large amount of comparable data. It is one-sidedly clear that it leads to better economic performance: lower expenditure, lower public debt, more efficient public services, higher GDP per capita.

    At the national level, constitutional change goes to referendum as do all international treaties. Every ordinary law is subject to referendum if 50K signatures are gathered. Around 6% of laws suffer it and half go down. The country has a top environment record, one of the highest per capita incomes, good welfare, low or zero import tariffs. The international relations record is outstanding: not a soldier lost since 1848. Compare with the similar highland German culture next door.

    If the American people had the determining voice the US would not have gone to Vietnam. Same for us. They would not be in Iraq and nor would we. If we had had a veto no politician would have dreamt of passing laws to legalise taking half-caste children from their mothers.

    The lesson of a thousand years is: the more democratic (the more the people rule), the better.

  11. John,

    Thanks for the update. Well done to Andrew and Jim. Such a pity the point is not more widely made.

    In 1996 the federal government cost the average Aussie under $8500 in inflation adjusted 2007 dollar terms. Today in per capita terms the cost is 34% higher and they are projecting further price increases in the forward estimates. If anybody here thinks the product they provide is 34% better that a decade ago then please speak up. If bread had gone up 34% more than inflation Rudd would be howling at retailers. However he is largely silent about the cost of the Howard government product bundle.


  12. Pepper,

    You may be interested to know that CIRs are part of the governance policy of the LDP. Essentially for the reasons you state. The details are at the website:-

    We’re also advocate mandatory 20 year sunset clauses for laws that don’t have a parliamentary super-majority of 75%.

    Whilst I’m a fan of CIRs as a way to strike down bad laws I’m not in favour of using them to enact new laws. In California they ended up with laws that directly contradict eachother.


  13. I am sure that women and migrants are not so impressed by the Swiss record. A serious problem attached to CIR, both in Switzerland and the US, is it’s inability to protect the rights of excluded and/or minority groups.

  14. Melanie

    Women and migrants do better elsewhere?

    Switzerland is the only country on earth where the men voted to enfranchise women. And women have much more power with their vote there than anywhere else. The proportion of women in parliament is one of the world’s highest. The current prime minister/president is a woman.

    The openness of Switz to foreigners is legendary. I doubt Switz detains migrants in barbwire concentration camps.

    What lack of rights are you are talking about? In the US is the situation better in states without CIR?

  15. Federalism – what would Socrates think?…

    Who knows? But there was a “Socratic Forum” held on the topic “That Canberra is taking too much power from the States” at the Legislative Council Chamber in the Queensland Parliament House on Wednesday night. Speakers included b…

  16. Pepper,
    Leaving aside the remnants of the feudal order, Switzerland was the LAST country in the world in which men voted to enfranchise women. In all the other countries it was done by male representatives in parliament at a much earlier date.

    The openness of Switzerland to foreigners is not legendary. It is possible that they don’t have detention camps now, but the ones who do get let in live in a far more vulnerable state than the ones that we let in. The Swiss have repeatedly voted to exclude them from citizenship.

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