John Burnheim, March 2015

The article by Tim Flannery and Catriona Wallace (February) is imaginative and perceptive. It is right, in my view, to emphasise the importance of an open and responsive decision-making process if we are to get good decisions in a rapidly changing situation. It is wrong to think that a new political party might do this. In the party system, anybody who wants to succeed must trade their vote on matters they care less about for others’ votes on the things they most care about. Compromises between conflicting considerations are necessary, but the current political process leads to the wrong sort of compromises, based on power-trading that is insensitive to the merits of the case.

If we are to get the best compromises in a public-policy area, conflicting interests must be weighed up by the people who would bear the brunt of those decisions. The only way of doing this is through an independent, transparent, well-advised and thorough deliberation in a small committee that is chosen to be representative of the different interests most strongly involved. The focus must be on the authority of good thinking, not partisan power struggles.

Our public affairs are like an ecosystem, not a machine or a single organism. Forget grand plans. Start with the specific problems.

John Burnheim
Camperdown, NSW