Our democracy is broken:- Is there a better way?

The next Public Forum hosted by The Newcastle Institute will feature the work of the newDemocracy, an independent, non-partisan foundation which works to develop alternative models of citizen-based democracy and restore trust in public decision-making.

newDemocracy was founded a decade ago by Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, prominent philanthropist and Managing Director of industrial giant Transfield Holdings. It’s easy to be critical of current politics” he says. “We need innovate in how we do democracy.”

Senior Supporters of NewDemocracy include a range of ‘wise heads’ from across the political spectrum, including former premiers Geoff Gallop (Labor) and Nick Greiner (Liberal), business leader Jennifer Westacott, prominent journalist Laura Tingle, and the late John Kaye from the Greens.

The Executive Director of newDemocracy, Iain Walker, will be visiting Newcastle to discuss the way ‘Citizen Juries’ have been convened as a way for the community to deal with difficult issues that cannot be solved through conventional democracy. “Sometimes our election-based democratic processes just can’t handle complex issues” he says. “Time after time, we find communities becoming fractured and bogged down in arguments dominated by polarised opinions.”

 NewDemocracy has promoted the use of ‘Deliberative Democracy’, based on a random sample of the community members coming together to explore the complexities of difficult decisions. This ‘citizen jury’ or ‘senate’ then advises governments on a way forward that is more acceptable to the community than a ‘winner takes all’ outcome that just fosters frustration, anger and bitterness in the community.

“We have successfully used this approach with multiple governments and government agencies, in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia” says Walker. “Ironically, we have conducted less work in our home state of NSW, and yet the need for this approach seems clear”.

Many in Newcastle would consider our history of poorly resolved divisive political issues as clear evidence of the need for a new approach.

NewDemocracy’s website (www.newdemocracy.com.au) provides information about the organisation’s work over the last fifteen years. The Public Forum on October 11th provides an opportunity for the general public to hear more, and discuss how these ideas could be applied in Newcastle.

The forum is open to anyone genuinely interested in a better future for our community.

Open to the Public – All welcome

Souths Leagues Club

Llewellyn Street, Merewether.


We request a $5.00 donation at the door to assist with our event costs.

Contact:              Speakers available to the media (Contact Ross 0401 522875)

Conversations with Campbell Newman

Local public policy think-tank, The Newcastle Institute, is hosting a ‘Conversation’ event with the Honourable Campbell Newman, former Premier of Queensland. The conversation will be facilitated by local journalist and academic Paul Scott.

This special event follows the successful July conversation with former NSW Premier, Nathan Rees.

Campell’s unique blend of career phases, from military service to corporate roles to local government, and in state politics, place him well to reflect on the current social and political landscape.

Born to parents who were both former Federal ministers, Campbell spent 13 years in the Army and reached rank of Major, before obtaining his MBA from the University of Queensland and embarking on a successful corporate career for 10 years before standing for Lord Mayor of Brisbane in 2004.

Following many accomplishments as Lord Mayor of Brisbane, he challenged for the leadership of the Queensland Liberal Party in 2011 and led the LNP to a landslide victory in the 2012 state election. After being narrowly defeated in 2015, he has since left parliament.

Campbell will speak about his time in politics, lessons learnt and implications for those interested in, or contemplating, participation in the political process. He will share insights about policy, the media and trust in the political system. He will also reflect on the causes and effects of the increasingly volatile nature of the electorate.

The Newcastle Institute spokesperson Robyn Considine said these Conversations series are providing an opportunity to gain unique political insights from those who have been at the heart of the political process.

The forum will be held at South’s Leagues Club on September 13th from 6 to 7.30pm. This forum is open to the general public. No RSVP is necessary. Entry is at the door and a $5 donation to cover costs is appreciated. Visit newinstitute.org.au

Mayoral Candidates’ Forum

2017 Lord Mayoral Election Forum

6pm-8pm August 31st.

Newcastle City Wests

(formerly Panthers & The Workers Club)

Independent think-tank The Newcastle Institute, will be conducting a public forum for the coming Lord Mayoral Election on Thursday August 31st, in the lead-up to the Local Government Elections

The Institute’s high-quality forums before local, state and federal elections have become a respected tradition in Newcastle in the last decade.

There are four groups contesting the election with Councillor and Mayoral candidates. The main attention will be on the Lord Mayoral candidates, who have all agreed to participate.

The four Lord Mayoral candidates from Groups contesting the election are Nuatali Nelmes (Labor); David Compton (Liberal); Therese Doyle (Greens); and Kath Elliot (Independent Group).

This forum will be modelled on the ABC’s popular Q&A program. The moderator for the night will be journalist Paul Scott from the University’s School of Communication. As with previous events, Dr Bernie Curran shall be Master of Ceremonies.

Each candidate will be invited to give a short policy speech, and then respond to questions covering a range of topics about the future of Newcastle.

The public is invited to submit questions through the Newcastle Institute’s website. A Panel representing a range of community interests will select questions to ensure there is good balance, and to make sure the forum is fair to all the candidates.

Newcastle Institute spokesperson Robyn Considine said “Political meetings in Australia have become stage-managed and scripted – and boring. The Newcastle Institute’s events are now unusual in Australian politics. This meeting will bring together politicians from across the spectrum in a genuine face-to-face contest. We see this as demonstrating yet again that Newcastle is a city of innovation in many facets of public life”.

The Event is open to any member of the general public, subject only to requirements for appropriate behaviour during the meeting.

The Newcastle Institute requests a $5 donation on entry to assist us with venue hire costs.

If you’d like to submit a question for the forum then click below

Questions will be accepted up until 5pm on 29 August, 2017

Conversation Number One

Conversation with Nathan Rees

The Newcastle Institute, is hosting a ‘Conversation’ with the Honourable Nathan Rees, former Premier of NSW. This July event is part one of a two part series featuring conversations with politicians.

The second in this series, in September, will feature the Honourable Campbell Newman, former premier of Queensland.

Despite being from opposite sides of the political fence they share reputations of being courageous and standing up for what they viewed was right for their states. Both were young men when premiers of their respective states and both had short terms in office.

In an era when trust in the political process is seen to be under stress, this conversations series provides a unique opportunity for insight into the political processes and lessons learned from the time in office of each of our guests.

Nathan Rees was the 41st Premier of NSW between 2008 and 2009 and a member of the NSW parliament representing Toongabbie for Labor from 2007 to 2015. He replaced Morris Iemma as Premier and in late 2009, was replaced as leader of the Labor Party by Kristina Keneally. In his attempts to clean up the Labor party, he stood up to Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi, a position which ultimately cost him his role as Premier.

His post political career has seen him in roles as the chief executive of the Public Education Foundation, and more recently as Deputy Leader of the Finance Sector Union,

Nathan Rees will speak about his time in politics, lessons learnt and implications those interested in participating in the political process. He will share insights about policy, the media and trust in the political system. In a time when Newcastle is changing dramatically he will provide insight into lessons for Newcastle and its leaders to ensure a productive and sustainable future.

The Newcastle Institute spokesperson Robyn Considine said the Conversations Series will provide an opportunity to gain unique political insight from two well regarded politicians. The Honourable Nathan Rees will share these insights next week at the important first event of the series.

The forum will be held at South’s Leagues Club on July 19 from 6 to 7.30pm.

This forum is open to the general public.

No RSVP is necessary.

Entry is at the door and a $5 donation to cover costs is appreciated.

Navigating the Truth in the Post-Truth Era

Post-truths, alternative facts, fake news. These terms are thrown about in the traditional and social media, by politicians and by people wanting to discredit statements they disagree with. The post truth era is described as when objective facts and scientific evidence are less influential than a narrative and appeals to emotion and personal beliefs. In a democratic society with freedom of speech at its core, how do we distinguish facts from fiction and navigate the truth in this post-truth era?

The next public forum hosted by local think-tank the Newcastle Institute – to be held at 6pm on June 14th at South’s Leagues Club – will focus on the challenges of navigating truth in the post-truth era.

These questions will be answered, and followed by a vibrant discussion with a diverse multi-disciplinary panel of experts. The panel will be made up of a health scientist, a political scientist, a communications expert and a philosopher. The panel discussion will be facilitated by Mr Brad Webb, an experienced local senior executive.

The expert panel will be presented with a number of scenarios relating to: the Australian economy and in particular debt and deficit; managing the threat of terrorism; and decisions in health care. The panel will    not be required to comment on the facts but on how we navigate truth when confronted with a range of often conflicting statements. They will be challenged to explore how we as citizens validate statements made by media and politicians. Importantly the impact of alternative truths on trust and on the future of democracy will be explored.

This interactive evening will provide an opportunity for participation and exchange of ideas on one of the most significant challenges facing our democracy for many years.

What?     Public Forum:- Navigating the Truth in the Post-Truth Era

When?    6.00 – 7.30pm, Wednesday 14th June 2017

Where?  Souths Leagues Club, Merewether

Who?  Open to the general public. Admission $5 donation

What are the solutions to the electricity supply crisis?

Recent events in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria have shown that dramatic changes are needed if we are going to have a secure, reliable, cheap and sustainable power supply.

Intermittent renewables like wind and solar are becoming cheaper than conventional power sources like coal. But there is still the major challenge of energy storage.

New technology batteries may be one solution. What about pumped hydropower? Are there other solutions combining electricity, heating and cooling supply? Is it time to move away from the big power suppliers – will households soon go off-grid and save money?

The next public forum hosted by the Newcastle Institute will feature two leading researchers dealing with different aspects of the electricity supply challenge.

Assoc. Professor Steven Weller is from the University’s School of Electrical Engineering, where he teaches on sustainable energy. He will discuss the current problems with Australia’s National Electricity Market, and look at the technological and commercial realities of renewable technology. Could Tasmania become the ‘Battery of Australia’? He will look at the numbers.

He will be joined by Professor Behdad Moghtaderi, from the Newcastle Institute of Energy Research. The Professor leads a team of researchers that have developed ‘world-first’ power storage and management technologies. In two years they aim to have a fridge-sized power plant that could provide a stable and secure power supply to a household. It is an example of the promise of the high-end science and engineering being performed right here in Newcastle.

This interactive evening is a chance to move beyond the dysfunctional and politicised climate change debate, and to learn about the technological developments that promise to solve the energy supply crisis altogether.

Open to the Public – All welcome

What?     Public Forum:- Solutions to the Electricity Supply Crisis

When?    6.00 – 7.30pm, Wednesday 10th May 2017

Where?  Souths Leagues Club, Merewether

Who?      Open to the general public. Admission $5 donation

Renew Newcastle:- Now and Then

One of the most exciting stories in Newcastle in recent years has been the success and achievements of ‘Renew Newcastle’.  What started as an off-beat idea to revitalise Hunter Street has gained international recognition and is being applied in many other cities.  Enabling creative individuals and groups to work together has been shown to be an effective and successful strategy to deal with the problems of decaying business centres in modern cities.

The next public forum hosted by local think-tank the Newcastle Institute – to be held at 6pm on April 12th at South’s Leagues Club – will focus on Renew, and will look to the future of this remarkable organisation.

Why was Renew established?  What have Renew achieved?  Where is Renew heading now?  These questions will be answered, and followed by a vibrant discussion with one of Renew Newcastle’s most experienced participants – and now an integral part of the Renew team – Edwina Richards.

For 4 years Edwina headed up the successful maker collective Make Space based at over 5 locations in the Hunter St Mall. Make Space was one of those projects that made under-utilised spaces look really appealing. They were so successful that they got moved out and relocated 5 times to allow for fully paying commercial tenants to move in.

For the last 2 years Edwina has been working as part a Project Advocate for Renew Newcastle. Her role involves facilitating professional development and business incubation opportunities for project participants. She is also the company photographer and was a board member for 3 years.

This interactive evening will provide an opportunity for participation and exchange of ideas with this extraordinary urban renewal experiment that has become Newcastle’s biggest cultural export in the last 10 years.

What?     Public Forum:- Renew Newcastle:- Now and Then

When?     6.00 – 7.30pm, Wednesday 12th April 2017

Where?     Souths Leagues Club, Merewether

Who?         Open to the general public. Admission $5 donation

Contact:     Speaker is available to the media (Contact Ross 0401 522875)

Understanding the Trump Phenomenon

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th US President confounded most political experts. Not only was his rise wholly unanticipated by the political class, speculation about his ‘inevitable’ demise – right up until election night – was grossly exaggerated. So why and how did Trump win?

In the Newcastle Institute’s first public forum for the year, leading national commentator on american politics Professor Michael Ondaatje will consider these pressing questions to get to the heart of today’s ‘Trump Phenomenon’.

Professor Ondaatje will deal with issues broader than just the election of Donald Trump himself. What does his victory tell us about US politics? Are the factors that led to Trump’s victory as relevant in other countries, particularly Australia? And what will his presidency mean for America and the world?

Michael Ondaatje has been a popular speaker at previous Newcastle Institute events. He is a regular commentator on US politics in the Australian and international media. Academically, he is National Head of Arts at the Australian Catholic University, a prize-winning researcher and teacher, and a recipient of the Max Crawford Medal. Recently he was selected by the United States government for an International Leadership professional exchange program.

As always, the evening will include plenty of time for questions and discussion.

This forum is open to the general public. A $5 donation is suggested.

What?    March Public Forum: Understanding the Trump Phenomenon

When?     Wednesday March 8th, 6-7.30pm

Where?   Souths Newcastle Leagues Club

Llewellyn Street Merewether

The Politics of Indigenous Organisations

The final Newcastle Institute forum for the year will be on Wednesday November 9th, 6pm in the usual venue at Souths Newcastle Leagues Club, Merewether.

Supporters will be aware of recent controversy surrounding the Awabakal Land Council, which has recently been placed into administration.  There have been persistent rumours of internal tensions within the organisation.  This is of particular interest because of the councils success in claiming title of the old Newcastle Post Office, and plans for development of some of its landholdings.

Many other indigenous organisations have been thorough periods of internal tensions.  In this they are no different from most organisations with a varied membership.  Indigenous organisations, however, are viewed differently by the broader Australian community.  There is considerable confusion about their roles, function, legal status, funding and governance.  There may be ignorance of the cultural differences between the various organisations.  The political tensions inevitable in any group may be misunderstood.  And occasionally, criminal individuals will emerge who will exploit organisations for their own gain.

Recognising these issues and misunderstandings as being widespread, the next forum of the Newcastle Institute will discuss ‘The Politics of Indigenous Organisations’.

The leading speaker will be Professor Steven Larkin, of the Wollatuka Institute at Newcastle University.  Professor Larkin was recently appointed as the University’s first pro vice-chancellor for Indigenous Education and Research.  Before coming to Newcastle, Professor Larkin was a leading academic at Charles Darwin University, having previously held senior leadership roles in both government and non-government organisations.  He is uniquely placed to discuss the internal politics of indigenous organisations and their interaction with the wider Australian community.

As always, the forum will include plenty of time for discussion – which may even include reflections on the results of the US elections.

The forum is open to all who are interested.