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Democracy - the Noosa way

Noosa Council is set to become a Queensland and national leader in sharing decision-making with its community.

A Noosa Community Jury of 24 randomly selected citizens will be used to consider certain complex and weighty local issues.  Council could either ask for a recommendation, or in some circumstances Council may agree beforehand to implement the jury's decision.

Mayor Noel Playford says the Community Jury will not take over the Councillors' role, but will complement their work when everyday citizens, given time and access to all the information they need, in independently facilitated forums, can make an informed decision that earns community trust. 

A citizens' jury statistically reflecting the whole community will be randomly selected by an independent agency, not by the Council.

"These are the vital ingredients" Mr Playford said, "random selection, time and access to information and facilitated forums, independent of the Council."

The Mayor described the jury as "innovative, genuine democracy".

"In the de-amalgamation battle, our community was not just fighting for the return of their council, but also for a bigger say in local decision-making."  

The new democratic structure in Noosa will be organised in partnership with the newDemocracy Foundation, a respected, national research foundation made up of former leading politicians and academic experts in the field.

Executive Director of the newDemocracy Foundation Iain Walker says the jury concept has been successful overseas, and in trials around the country with local and state governments, where they've earned strong community support.    "We think people have more trust in public decisions when they see more everyday people involved - the same way we trust the criminal jury" Mr Walker said.

He said "Governments can be held to ransom by single issue activists, while governments everywhere can be guilty of consultation processes where they already have the final result firmly fixed in mind.  The jury process helps to protect us from those pressures and to achieve a trusted outcome for the whole community."

Mr Walker praised the Noosa decision as "a first for Queensland, and of national importance because it brings the practical and trusted democracy of the jury system inside the local decision-making process to a greater degree than anyone has previously attempted."

He said "Noosa Council has taken a leadership role here, and newDemocracy is delighted to be able to assist in discovering how we make more trusted public decisions."

Mayor Playford said issues that best fit the model of a community jury are complex ones that need time to sift through competing arguments.  "The future of waste management in Noosa Shire is one that could fit the bill, and perhaps the contentious issue of responsibility for houseboat hulks left to pollute our river."

"We could see both of these issues tackled by a Noosa Community Jury during 2015."  

10 September 2014