How Australia can change democracy

8 October 2018

Internationally, disenchantment in democracy is on the rise. Why? And what can we each do individually to save democracy, not just in Australia – but globally? 

This talk was recorded at the Sydney Policy Lab program launch and features leading political theorist and Lab director Professor Marc Stears. 

Keynote speaker: Professor Marc Stears

Moderator: Professor Annamarie Jagose

Chair: Professor Duncan Ivison

Producer: Anna Burns

Editor: Serena Adamedes 

Professor Marc Stears
Marc Stears is a leading political theory academic and Director of the Sydney Policy Lab.

A democratic paradise?

Trust in traditional politicians is on the decline. Entire political parties are disappearing, while reality television stars and extremists are elected. The eager desire for a new way of governing is palpable internationally.  

It’s a reality reflected back to us on our television screens and in the podcasts we listen to. Many of us assume that, while this might be the case in other democracies, Australia is somehow immune to this upheaval.

We assume that our history of compulsory voting, uninterrupted growth and welfare state protects us from political extremism. No Corbyn, No Trump in Australia – only the centre ground.

And here lies the mistake, Marc argues. Australia is not a democratic paradise by any means. On one end of the political spectrum, there is no shortage of politicians in denial. Denial about climate change. Denial about social equality. Denial about political stability. On the other end, sit the purists – those who believe that they hold the answer to solve the challenges of our time, those who broadcast their opinions behind the safety of their computer screen.

The power of the everyday

When it comes to grappling with the challenges of our time, another idea holds us back: the notion that it can only be done by experts – the scholar in the ivory tower, the scientist in the lab.

Marc disagrees.

“If democracy doesn’t find a way to open up to the wisdom that resides in the everyday experiences of people at large, democracy will fail,” he says.

The reality of the everyday lived-experiences of our citizens is where the opportunity to create meaningful change lies. Because in reality, active citizenry is not confined to overtly political spaces. It’s learned through everyday experience – the conversations at the bus stop, the chatter in the doctor’s waiting room, the discussions in museums and public libraries.

Our role as changemakers

And here lies our challenge at the Sydney Policy Lab. Our experiment: to tip the scale toward political optimism in Australia. To create a political environment that breaks down the barriers between academia and the places where the challenges are being experienced.

“By opening the doors of this great university to anyone who wants to be part of it. By listening to your stories, your experiences, and your ideas for a better future.”

“Not in grand theorising, or in complex models, or in opinion polls or focus groups,”

 “But in a politics that genuinely opens its doors to all of our expertise.”

Interested in bold ideas? 

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