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Citizen Shadow Parliaments – an alternative planning approach?

By Matthew Mitchell

Do you ever wonder what our society would look like if everyday people were calling the shots? If everyday people had more influence rather than a few privileged rich and large corporations? Would we have sold our public utilities? Would the centre of Melbourne look less like Manhattan; have less poorly constructed and dangerous residential towers? Would citizens be forced into selling off the backyards of family homes to pay their outrageous mortgages? Would we ever have allowed negative gearing and its looming financial tsunami?

Well we might not be able to go back in time, but citizens may have good ideas of how to fix this mess and minimise the damage of past decisions. What planning decisions should be made now? What planning proposals should be stopped or allowed now? This article presents an idea for citizens to form their own representative decision making bodies, and if we wish we can see how real democratic decision making compares with our current donation driven party based system.

All you need to start a democratic process in your own area is just 5 people. From this it can grow to include up to 2 million people. The system proposed below would be extremely difficult to corrupt. It is a system that truly allows ‘rule by the people’ as it consists of everyday people, not career politicians.

It would allow communities to make and express their own decisions. For example, as to whether a particular planning proposal should be allowed or not.

If you are interested, read on.

Purposes of the Proposal

The proposed ‘alternative’ system may serve the following two main purposes:

  1. Offer an alternative decision making forum where communities could make their own decisions in contrast to (or perhaps support of) the current official structures. Kind of like a community ‘Shadow Parliament’.

  2. Provide a community decision making framework that could be transitioned to if needed in an emergency situation.

It is intended that this system should also model a possible feasible replacement for our current representative democracy should communities ever hold a constitution convention. As mentioned above, it can start with a very small group of volunteer participants, but it is designed to be ‘scalable’ should it get more popular.

Basic Outline

Here is the basic idea:

That parliaments should be formed of people selected for duty in the same way people are selected for juries. No political parties, no donations needed or allowed. No political campaigning by representatives.

So here is how it would start:

All citizens over 18 years of age (defined as permanent residents of Australia – i.e living here for 2 years or more with an intention to stay at least 3 more years – verified by sworn witnesses and affidavit – the system is not linked to any current Australian authorities) are able to voluntarily register themselves on the Parliamentary role. Once registered the parliamentary representatives are selected at random from the role/list. The number of representatives is determined by a combination of the number of registered enrolments and discretion of the existing representatives.

The initial parliament cannot consist of less than 5 people. Parliaments must increase this number as the role grows, annually adding (on May 1st) at least one other representative for each additional 10,000 people enrolled (to be selected by the random selection process which is described below). Once the number of registrations reaches 1,000,000 people the parliament must consist of no less than 100 representatives. If the number of registrations exceeds 2,000,000 the parliament must be split along geographical lines into two or more smaller parliaments within 2 years (otherwise the parliament is dissolved). In such cases the number of fractures and the borders are to be decided by the original parliament. Each fracture inherits all the passed Acts of the original parliament. No parliament can be subordinate to any other, although they can possibly create subordinate authorities – but as you will see in the next paragraph, they cannot do this off their own initiative.

Representatives can propose no new legislation. But any enrolled citizen who is not a member of parliament can compose and put a bill to the parliament for them to pass into law (or not), or place amendments for existing laws. The parliament can appoint a panel (consisting of any citizens) to assess whether laws are well prepared or not, the panel can reject poorly formed laws, or recommend them for improvement, but the citizen always has the right to place his or her bill before the full parliament. If such as request is made the enrolled citizen’s bill must be included on the list of bills to be considered by the parliament within 3 months of the placement request being lodged (i.e lodged with the parliamentary secretary or his representatives – details below).

Thus if any area has at least 5 willing volunteers, they can compose such a parliament. Thus once formed, and as others enrol, this parliament can accept various planning proposals and make their rulings almost immediately. They maintain legitimacy by increasing the number of representatives as the enrolment grows as described in the next paragraph.

If there are only 5 members on the role at the time of foundation, they are automatically all selected as representatives, in which role they stay until the 3rd passing of May 1 after they assumed office (i.e a maximum of 3 years), or until they resign, die or are otherwise incapacitated. Once they have completed any period of office they are ineligible to be selected for the parliament for at least three subsequent 3 years from the date of completion, but must be added to the role within 5 years of completing their term or partial term.

Each initial parliament can determine its own boundaries of authority provided no existing community parliament already claims coverage of that geographic area. Under the rules no new parliament can initially claim an area that contains more than 1,500,000 people who are eligible to enrol. Parliaments can vote to merge or break up as they please within the rules. Parliaments can pass acts that include agreements with other parliaments or sovereign bodies, but no such act can ever reduce or remove the sovereignty of the enrolled citizens or it is invalid. Citizens of parliaments can lodge a dispute. If the number of enrolled citizens is greater than 100 a dispute can only be lodged if it is signed as approved by 9 other citizens. Disputes between parliaments or citizens and parliaments are to be decided by a citizen jury consisting of at least 3 and up to 12 people (must be 12 if the jury role allows for 12). In these cases, the parliament(s) involved in the dispute can draw from citizens on the role of other parliaments or can initiate the construction of a role specifically for the purposes of solving the dispute (which would essentially rely on volunteers from other areas). The citizen jury role should be comprised of volunteers (the call for which can be advertised by the parliamentary secretary or his or her nominated representative). The role can include any citizen from outside the areas of authority involved in the dispute, as long as those citizens are over 18 years and have not been residents of the areas involved in the dispute for at least the last 10 years. All volunteers of sound mind must be added to the jury role. Jurors are selected by lot by a selection panel which can be composed of any 3 enrolled citizens. The jury must be selected within 3 months of the dispute being lodged with all affected parties. If parliaments are disputing each other, the parliament lodging the dispute must organise the jury. The selected jury must provide each party in the dispute with the jury’s selected process for reaching a decision within the first month following their selection. All jury decisions (i.e including on process) must be passed by a simple majority. A jury’s decision can be appealed once, in which case the entire process must be repeated with another citizen jury. The parties to dispute must be notified within 7 days of a jury’s decision being reached, appeals must be lodged within 14 days of a decision. The jury must provide each party to the dispute with two copies of their decision transcript signed by all jurors. The transcript must include minutes of all decisions made by the jury. The minutes must include the voting majority for each decision on process and the outcomes of the dispute. A jury must provide its final decision to all the parliaments/citizens involved in the dispute within 3 months of its selection. The jury decision must obeyed by the parliament.

How it works

Here are some details clarifying the above:

  1. To propose legislation, a citizen must be on the role. Once the number of registered citizens on the role exceeds 10,000, citizens require the signature of 9 other enrolled citizens (who are not selected representatives in parliament) to propose legislation. Any revisions also require the signatures of all 10. Bills must be presented to the secretary or his nominated representative. They are marked as received on that date and time and must be added to the list of bills to considered by parliament.
  2. If the number of people on role is exactly 5, these 5 can form a parliament – see Point 9) below. If there are more than 5 on the role, the selection of representatives is to be done by a panel of any three people who are not on the role. Any random analogue device can used eg: die rolls. These three people on the selection panel must not have any family relationship that is less than 4 times removed (eg: 3rd cousins are out).

  3. Legislation cannot be retrospective. Acts can be repealed retrospectively if appropriate legislation is introduced in the parliament following the process in 1) above. Thus ‘bad’ laws can be undone as if they never existed.

  4. The selection panel must provide four copies listing the elected representatives and the date and time of the selection: one to the secretary and one to his or her second (once they are appointed) and one to each of two randomly selected members of the parliament. If there are disputes regarding the creation of a parliament these are to be resolved using the inter-parliamentary dispute mechanism described above. All four copies must be signed by all members of the selection panel. The secretary or his second or nominated representative must honour at least the first request to see his copy received after 9.00 am on Monday of each week. If the secretary or the second resigns, dies or is incapacitated the parliament must select another secretary or second from its ranks at its next meeting. If the secretary position becomes vacant from any of these circumstances, the second assumes the role of the secretary until the next parliamentary meeting.

  5. Other selected representatives who are not given a copy of the list, must produce their own copy which is to be verified as accurate with the signatures of no less than 4 of any of the other elected representatives.

  6. Legislation that is approved by parliament must be signed by all voting representatives. No less than 80% of representatives must be present for legislation to be passed. The proposer must provide three copies. One copy is kept by the parliamentary secretary (selected from among the ranks of the representatives – item 7 below – the term of the secretary and his second is one year). The other two copies are to be kept by the citizen who initiated the legislation. All three copies are to be signed by all representatives who voted, and also a list of current representatives at the time the legislation was passed is to be provided to the citizen who proposed the legislation. This list is to be signed by no less than 5 representatives. In effect, it is up to citizens to ensure copies of the Act are retained, if no copies signed as above can be produced on request within 30 days of a such a request (i.e by the end of the 30th day including the day the request was lodged) by the parliament or another citizen, the Act is null and void. The parliamentary secretary can and must produce his copy if is in existence and is requested, as must the citizen who proposed the law, but in each case only the first request for a particular law received each week, as of 9.00 am each Monday, is required to be honoured. New copies can be made on request by any citizen, with no one requesting a copy more frequently than every 5 years, and no more than 5 copies of the same Act being provided in total each calendar year. Copies are to be validated in the same way as the passing of original legislation, i.e signed by all members present when the request was presented to parliament by the secretary, which must be at the first meeting following the request, and a certificate of representatives as of the date of voting also provided signed by 5 representatives. The secretary can nominate one or more representatives (assistants) from anyone on the role (i.e these could be representatives) with the clear written consent of the nominees. This must be treated in the same way as introducing a bill into parliament. Such a bill must be passed.

  7. Parliament can sit to a schedule of its own devising, but must ensure a rate of voting on legislation that allows for at least 100 bills to be voted on each year. Any bills that have not been voted on within 3 months of being lodged with the secretary, his second or representatives, must be placed in a prioritised list in order of introduction. Bills can be reintroduced if voted against, in such cases they are treated as new bills. Once selected, on their first sitting, parliament must make arrangements for a secretary and his second. This can be voluntary or through a process of nomination, or some other process determined by parliament. No one can be secretary for two years in a row, no one can be second for three years in a row. The secretary must take responsibility for the storage of all laws passed, current, future and past and the provision and making of copies for citizens as required above and at his or her discretion in other cases (i.e to replace decaying laws, or to make backup copies).

  8. If a member of the parliament dies, resigns or is incapacitated, then a new member must be appointed within 3 months. A member who does not attend parliamentary meetings for 12 months, other than for reasons of poor health, must also be replaced. All new appointments should follow the process in 2) above. Members may resign in writing only, resignation must be provided to the secretary, his second or a representative. Resignation takes place immediately upon receipt.

  9. The role is maintained by the secretary, his or her second or a nominated representative. Any 5 or more people forming and initial parliament can appoint a secretary and a second from their members using whatever process they wish. The minutes must record this. Minutes must be dated and signed by all 5 or more members with the time of the meeting conclusion recorded. The parliament is recognised and authorised from this point on.

  10. Once a Parliament is formed under this constitution, the constitution cannot be modified. The constitution must be noted as “Community Parliamentary Constitution” in either the minutes of the initial formation of the first parliament, or on the list of selected parliamentary representatives by the first selection panel. Once formed no other “Community Parliaments” can be later formed or recognised for the same geographic area. If a particular Community Parliament with at least 100 representatives and 1000 enrolments should pass an Act affirming the sovereignty of the Community Parliament formed under this constitution, the Parliament shall be recognised as the only sovereign authority for those enrolled and their descendants. This allows for a natural transition in times of emergency or should a peoples’ constitutional convention endorse this constitution.

  11. All documents must be hard copies. Signatures provided on hard copy documents must be made in person and in the presence of at least one witness. No digital signatures are to be recognised under this constitution.

Why the limit on 2,000,000 people?

For a parliament to be really responsive to the community it must share the concerns of the community and it must understand the unique features of the community. It might be difficult for example, for a very urban population to appreciate the problems faced in rural populations. This could create unnecessary tension in the parliament and slow down, or prevent the passing of, good decisions. For organisation required over larger areas and between areas, there is always the possibility of setting up agreements between parliaments, eg: for defense. But having small jurisdictions has other benefits. For example, a financial collapse is less likely to be as extensive if each area is managing its own banking (with perhaps a shared currency, or perhaps not. There are critics of ‘legal tender’ money, and perhaps a return to silver and gold based currencies will prevent the massive printing of money – and debt – that we have been experiencing over the past 150 years).

Localness has the additional benefit of low costs, as selected members can stay living in their local communities (i.e in their own homes) and travel to parliamentary meetings is likely to be much less onerous than travel to a distant capital.

For further arguments in favour of smaller communities please see Small is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered by E.F. Schumacher and related ideas at the Schumacher Institute .

This article was originally published on (We) can do better.


10 comments

  1. townsvilleblog

    This would be a great idea if we could put together a people’s party with this aim, such a party could come up with policies that would help the overwhelming majority of Australian families.

  2. ozibody

    Certainly, the prospect of Citizen Involvement has merit. The term ” Progress Association ” springs to mind …. does this style of entity still operate ?

  3. Matt

    Hettie,

    Well there is no way it will happen or not – it is an option for people that is all. Thus I will not be attempting to start such a group myself, i.e forcing it to be, but rather will leave the idea hanging there. But it is not a viable option unless there is sufficient detail. Look, people can come up with their own proposals, but if you are going for a ‘ground-up’ change like this – which is really our only hope at this stage – then to have many different versions, which may be incompatible, could be a complete disaster. Thus it had to be completed enough for people to accept or refuse, and to use if they wish – too many variations is much less likely to work. I have tried to make it as minimalistic and simple as possible so that whichever communities adopt it have maximum flexibility. Thus there is no mention of court systems – all that would be need to be created by the community. It is a bare-bones skeleton that offers some simple dispute resolution mechanisms and tries to cut out self-interest as much as possible – thus the people that decide on the laws cannot propose the laws. And disputes must come before disinterested parties. The system also explicity places responsibility into the hands of people in the community and cuts out ‘professional experts’ who can hijack power, and ultimately the system itself -eg: professional lawyers for drafting acts – this allows anyone to present an act to parliament – no matter how amatuerish it is, parliament can then adopt it or not.

    But if you want to write your own version go ahead – no one is stopping you. I will not criticise it, but I may offer suggestions.

    The truth is we are in serious trouble, and we need ideas fast. This is one. Take it or leave it. Or come up with a better one.

    Matt

  4. Marilyn Riedy

    A Citizen’s Jury is already proposed by New Democracy! If we are to fix our democracy which has been taken over by career politicians, corruption and corporations then this is the way to go. We no longer have a democracy as it is, we have a corporatocracy! Every Advisory board, forum or council has been stacked with lobbyists for the corporations and the damage they are doing in their influence is horrendous! See NAIF, TTF, Infrastructure NSA and Infrastructure Australia just for starters! Donations from foreign countries and from corporate sector must be eliminated!

  5. Win jeavons

    Roll is the record of participants, role is the part one plays.

  6. Matt

    Correction duly noted. Thank you.

  7. Matt

    Thanks Marilyn,

    I looked up New Democracy (https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/research-committee) and I found this about the director:

    “Luca is Managing Director of Transfield Holdings and many of its subsidiary companies, as well as a Director of Sydney Harbour Tunnel Ltd.”

    Their head of research is:

    Geoff Gallop

    “With a ministerial career in the Lawrence Labor Government from 1990 to 1993 Geoff Gallop held a range of portfolios – most notably Education, Fuel and Energy and Minister Assisting the Treasurer).”

    If this is the organisation you mean, sorry but I am rather sceptical that these sorts of people – corporate leaders and former politicians – are going to generate meaningful change. I might be wrong, but one of the examples they give is:

    “The Irish Constitutional Convention of 2013 is a precedent in this regard.

    The Irish had a mix of everyday people selected by lot (as in a jury) together with politicians – two thirds/one third.”

    That looks to me like business as usual with some tweaking to placate the masses.

    Matt

  8. Joe Ab

    Matt
    I agree with you we are in trouble and if things dont change soon it could have lasting effects on us all. I also like the idea of community led decision making and NDP plan to use a system that will provide opportunity for each electorate to vote/suggest projects required in their region( as one example). I am interested in the NDP proposal but please look at their policies yourself maybe you can add to their suggestions.
    https://newdemocracyparty.org.au/policy/index.php

  9. jamesss

    Thanks Matt.
    It has to start somehow, hopefully there will be more contributions, then action. All levels of our current system is self serving. My desire is to see such a community evolved system with momentum take shape in front of and observed by the failing corporation. It only takes one town then another and before you know it the people become community. The word politician could be deleted for good.

  10. lawrencesroberts

    Republics are fragile things but The Swiss keep it together with small regional arias or Cantons. This idea from Schumaker is a great 21st century way to do it. Here’s to the New Australian Republic.

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