Democracy is the system of government which is favored and held in high esteem by most countries in the 21st century. This system is characterized by fair and equal treatment for all members of the society and the right of every person to take part in decision making.
Despite these lofty standards which are synonymous with democracy, it does not always result in everyone’s voice being heard. Instead, democracy is concerned more with achieving the “common good” at the expense of promoting the private good of each citizen (Young, 1997). While this approach may work in a homogenous society, it is detrimental in societies which have minority groups.
This is because in direct democracy there are no political representatives who are used to make decision for their people. This paper will argue that deliberative democracy, which entails the involvement of the community in public affairs, is the most appropriate model and it results in community development.
The paper will reinforce this assertion by critically reflecting two arguments presented in the article “Communication and the other: beyond Deliberative Democracy” by Young and “Local Cross-cultural planning and decision-making with indigenous people in Broome, Western Australia” by Kliger and Cosgrove.
The Aboriginal Issue
Kliger and Cosgrove (1999) highlight the situation of the Indigenous population of Australia. This people make up 2.4% of the Australian population, according to the 2006 Census, and face incredible social disadvantage with about two-thirds living in areas that are classified as “rural”.
Debates are ongoing concerning land issues which white settlers from Britain annexed and subsequently assumed dominance over while ignoring the Aboriginal laws.
The Aboriginal people were therefore sidelined in the decision making of their country but also lost their land due to the legal laws that were formulated by the government. Cultural difference especially towards the Aboriginal resulted in this people being termed as difficult people which resulted in discrimination (Kliger & Cosgrove, 1999).
Direct Democracy and the Aboriginal
To most people, the ideals of democracy are symbolized by parliament where elected members go and hold debates that supposedly represent the views of the common citizen. Young (1997, p.63) asserts that “parliamentary debates or arguments in court are not simply free and open public forums in which all people actually have the right to express claims and give reasons according to their own understanding”.
In direct democracy, once the government makes decisions it rarely considers the different racial, cultural and other factors of the citizens. Kliger and Cosgrove (1999) reveals that while the state had developed welfare and service provision programmes for the Aboriginal and Torres, these indigenous people seldom participate in the development and implementation of the same.
The government may therefore offend its citizens who perceive justice not followed and feel oppressed. Young (1997) proposes that democracy must involve listening to the opinion of people from a diverse cultural, racial and social background and recognizing the validity of the points they make.
Direct democracy has failed to achieve the desired results in the case of the Aboriginal. Kliger and Cosgrove (1999) state that the Federal government, through the Shire of Broome, made little recognition of the Aboriginal. While there are forums in which the Aboriginal are asked to attend, they are not given a chance to voice their concerns.
The hierarchical communication the government uses through representative on the Shire council only send paper to the Rubibi Working Group for them to see the they have already discussed as the Shire.
The Aboriginal were therefore marginalized and disempowered. The choice of model used can work for the detrimental of a community almost facing it off despite them being the native of the land due to the injustice they have faced.
Deliberative Democracy Applied to the Aboriginal
Young (1997) defines deliberative democracy as discursive or communicative democracy and in it, the public is core to the decision making process.
The model borrows from direct and representative democracies and the system does not consist of voting; instead, it makes use of deliberation to form, endorse and implement the laws. Kliger and Cosgrove (1999) also reveal that there is a difference of deliberative democracy model and democracy where the decision making process relies on the discussions and exchanges between people.
This thought is corroborated by Young (1997) who reveals that in deliberative democracy the participants of law making are free for they are not bound by any prior requirements, norms or authority. They hence act on the decisions they make and also state why they gave a certain proposal (Kahane, 2010). Their proposals are either endorsed or rejected due to the reasons given for reaching to a particular decision.
Young (1997) states that one of the virtues of the deliberative model of democracy is it promotes a conception of reason over power in politics.
The success of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) is attributed to the fact that it “considers the needs, aspirations and requirements of the Aboriginal People of the Shire of Broome in relation to town planning and development” (Kliger & Cosgrove, 1999, p.54).
Through this model, the Aboriginal can express their point of view in a forum where their view is respected. The success of the development plans is therefore greater since it involves the members of the community.
Deliberative democracy results in all members of the constituency having a voice. Kliger and Cosgrove (1999) reveal that while Australia is a democracy, the local government while elected through the democratic process operations in a highly constrained manner and does not represent all the constituents.
Having a voice in the affairs of the community is of huge significance since social conditions also impact the physical well being of communities. Gray and Saggers (2003) asserts that “Poor Aboriginal mental health and risky health behaviors are not simply the fault of individuals”.
The authors declare that here is a link between health and social wellbeing of indigenous populations. It is therefore of great importance for the Aboriginal people to perceive the government as both fair and just. Justice can only come about from a democracy model that encourages collective decision-making.
Young (1997) states that in most formal situations, the better educated people have a greater say over the less educated parties. Government and court debates do not allow for public forums for people to air their reasoning for the good of all in the community. Their method of argument is agonistic and not an open reciprocal acknowledgment of the public’s point of view.
This is contrasted by the deliberative model where participants do not have to be formal or follow a particular hierarchical order but anyone can take part. They come to a conclusion after deliberating and reaching a consensus.
Deliberative democracy thus allows for individual citizens to collectively speak about their problems, morals, actions and goals without competing endorsing individual ideas. The community gets a chance to reason together and thus distinguish the bad ideas from the good ones.
From this paper, it is clear that while public involvement does not necessary mean that everyone will be involved in the decision making process, the opinions of the “common citizen” are taken into consideration. Public involvement and development of a community go hand in hand (Fishkin & Laslett, 2003).
The more engaged the community is in the formulation and implementation of developmental and laws. Kliger and Cosgrove (1999) demonstrate that the success by the RMIT is because it involved the Aboriginal people in the planning and development efforts. As such, development and success can best be achieved though a democratic process that involves all members of the community.
This paper set out to argue that public involvement is a necessary for any sustainable community development to take place. The paper in particular discussed the deliberative democracy model with the Aboriginal people in mind. It has been stated that direct democracy has some major setbacks since it fails to consider the needs and views of some members of the community.
Deliberative democracy on the other hand removes this obstacle by involving a wider range of people in the decision making process. From the arguments presented in this paper, it is clear that the deliberative model of democracy is not only desirable in Australia, but is the only way that justice can be served to the Aboriginal people.
Fishkin, J.S. & Laslett, P. (2003). Debating Deliberative Democracy Philosophy, Politics and Society. Wiley-Blackwell.
Gray, D. & Saggers, S. (2003). “‘Substance Misuse’ in N. Thomson (ed) The Health of Indigenous Australians”. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Kahane, J.D. (2010). Deliberative Democracy in Practice. UBC Press.
Kliger, B. & Cosgrove, L. (1999). “Local Cross-Cultural Planning and Decision-Making with Indigenous People in Broome, Western Australia”. Ecumene, Vol. 6, no.1. pp.51-71.
Young, I.M. (1997). Intersecting Voices: Dilemmas of Gender, Political Philosophy, and Policy. U.K.: Princeton University Press.