Greg Barila

Journalist. Editor. Social Media specialist.

Why Jay Weatherill is overdoing the whole decision-making by consensus thing

JAY Weatherill rose to office on a promise to break up the “announce and defend” culture of the old Rann Government and replace it with a fresh new plan to “debate and decide”.

The centrepiece of Weatherill’s strategy has been a website (bureaucrats probably call it a portal) called yourSAy (say, SA, get it?), which invites ordinary Joes like you and me to have their say on a smorgasbord of policy areas affecting daily life here – from waste management and public transport, to aged care and time zones.

The brand also extends to social media and the Government says the strategy is all about “bringing the community’s voice into government decision-making”.

Asking the punters to give feedback about various policies and issues isn’t new.

But on the highly contentious issue of bike laws, the government went further, setting up a Citizens’ Jury, not just to give people a say on the issue, but to actually put forward ideas for ways to end the escalating road war (and it is a war) between cyclists and motorists.

The recommendations, which included letting cyclists ride on footpaths, a 40km/h speed limit trial in the CBD and laws forcing drivers to leave a 1m gap when overtaking riders, went to the Government in November, were backed by the Premier in January and could be passed into law any day now.

The Weatherill Government should be applauded for seeking to fold public opinion into the democratic process, and for using digital and social media to do it.

Participatory democracy is a beautiful thing.

But you can overdo this kind of decision-making by consensus.

By leaning too heavily on its “debate and decide” model, Labor is essentially contracting out the core business of government, which is to make bold, sometimes unpopular decisions and articulate a strong vision for the future of our state.

It’s not hard to see understand the Government’s motives. It is a shrewd strategy. Because many of the issues out for public consultation – time zones, libraries, waste management, aged care – are benign, boring or touchy feely.

And together they create the illusion that the Government is really taking care of business and bringing you along for the ride, all while SA’s economic situation grows ever more parlous.

At the same time, the Premier has already said he’s prepared to go it alone to make tough decisions to “turn South Australia around”, and when pressed on ABC radio about the contentious Gillman land deal, he said “if you think this is controversial … you haven’t seen anything yet”.

“We are going to be putting in front of South Australians some very big changes which I think will cause them to gasp a little”.

Just what big changes the Premier was referring to are anyone’s guess; the nuclear industry Royal Commission? The $610 million revamp of Festival Plaza?

But his tough talking only serves to confuse the message around the Government’s approach and sounds awfully like the old “announce and defend” model he tried so hard to distance himself from.

The Government needs to pick a path. Bring ordinary voters into the tent to work on the really tough and urgent issues facing our state.

Or develop a clear blueprint for the state and stop pretending South Australians have any real power except to tinker on issues around the edges.