My brother and I just had a skype conversation about a radio program he heard in the car recently- a Triple J discussion about sexting. Rest assured, I have no intention whatsoever to talk about sexting. But it was interesting to hear- and then read– his description of the program.  There was no debate.

I’ve been studying at the United States Studies Centre for a semester now.  The centre has three real aims- to act as a think tank, to be an educational centre, and to provide outreach into the community.  It’s a noble venture, in my opinion, but the very fact these three aims are compartmentalized is, to my mind, reflective of an attitude that is endemic in Australia.  We teach or we learn.  We either have the answers, or we are seeking them.

The notion that only those who are in positions of power, influence or authority can have important ideas is absurd, and ultimately exceptionally limiting for the country.

Public discourse should exist not just to debate the relative merits of ideas- it also include the process of formulating and refining ideas.  It seems often the public is only involved in the very last stage of the process.  In the recent Human Rights Consultation- in which the Australian public was given the chance to make submissions about a possible charter of rights- submissions were only invited if they related to a legislative charter of rights.  Taking a constitutional bill of rights off the table immediately- and failing to involve the public in that stage of the decision-making process- completely undermined the endeavour.  That discussion should take place only in a rarefied realm, between a chosen few, is absurd.

Part of the value of the American political blogosphere is that discussion exists around the shape and form of policy and policy proposals.  By having bloggers acting as conduits between the public and the usually-dry policy papers, the public have an accessible way to engage in the process, and understand policy as it’s being shaped.

There is great virtue in having these discussions in the open, rather than debating the relative merits of already fully-formed ideas.  Opening up the conversation can only be good for democracy, even if it slows the process, or exposes it to the occasional (or not-so-occasional) nutter.

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