Australia Deliberative Town Hall

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About Connecting to Parliament

Connecting to Parliament is a new IDEA initiative to adapt Deliberative Town Halls to a parliamentary system. The first experiment in this initiative is a collaborative project between IDEA and the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis. The purpose of this project is to link a representative sample of constituents with their elected official in productive town hall conversations about the issues that are subject to parliamentary debate in Australia. The project seeks to involve more Australians in the democratic process, and to expand knowledge about the potential benefits and uses of deliberative democracy.

This project builds on the insights gained from the Connecting to Congress project undertaken by IDEA Director Dr. Michael Neblo and his team. Connecting to Parliament replicates this work by designing and analyzing a series of deliberative forums with citizens and elected representatives. Through administering a range of Deliberative Town Halls (in-person, hybrid, and online) C2C aims to identify the modes of deliberative engagement that produce the greatest gains in engagement and increase positive aspects of civic behavior among diverse populations of citizens.

 

Town Hall on Mitochondrial Donation

In September 2020, Connecting to Parliament held two Deliberative Town Halls with Member of Parliament Andrew Leigh. These events focused on Mitochondrial Donation, a medical procedure – illegal at the time – that was set to undergo a conscience vote in Parliament. As a “conscience vote,” a relatively rare (occurring roughly once per term) type of vote where MP’s do not have to vote along party lines, Leigh MP was free to vote entirely at his discretion. 

Greeted with this unique opportunity, Leigh MP partnered with the Connecting to Parliament project to engage in a deliberative democracy exercise with his electorate. In two town hall meetings, one online and one face-to-face, a series of constituents from Leigh’s electorate of Fenner were randomly selected to weigh the issues surrounding mitochondrial donation. Prior to these events, Member of Parliament Leigh agreed that his vote would be guided by the conclusions of these Deliberative Town Halls.

 

Town Hall on Young People and Australian Politics

In August 2021, Connecting to Parliament held a  Deliberative Town Halls with Member of Parliament Alicia Payne on the issue of increasing youth participation in politics. The focus of young people was chosen as there is an increasing generational gap between those in power and the nation’s youth; today, the average age of an Australian MP is 52. As the decisions these lawmakers make will have lasting effects for decades, including young people more in the political process will give them greater agency over those who make the decisions that will affect their futures. 

 

The Conclusions 

Overwhelmingly, participants in both town halls believed that Mitochondrial Donation should be made legal in Australia. In a statement on the Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform Bill in late 2021, Leigh MP said that: “the overwhelming sentiment among those who attended the forum was to support mitochondrial donation, and I will be voting in favour of this bill.” The majority of the House of Representatives, including Leigh MP, voted in favor of the Bill on December 1, 2021. The Bill passed in the Senate on March 30, 2022; mitochondrial donation will be legal in Australia starting October 2, 2022. More information on the Bill may be found here at the Parliament of Australia website

 

Mitochondrial Disease

More information on mitochondrial disease and mitochondrial donation may be found here at the National Health and Medical Research Council website