Many Australians would baulk at the idea of importing elements of the American political process into Australia, but federal MP Andrew Leigh and a team of researchers at the University of Canberra are hoping they can replicate a process that will bring "fresh air" into Parliament.
It's called "Connecting to Parliament", and through a series of forums with the constituents of Fenner in Canberra's northern and western suburbs, the Labor MP is seeking to have his vote guided by conversations with those he represents.
Based on a town hall concept started at Ohio State University called Connecting to Congress, Dr Leigh will spend one online forum and one face-to-face forum listening to the views of those he represents on the issue of mitochondrial donation.
Mitochondrial diseases are inherited conditions that in severe cases can affect life-expectancy, but new reproductive technology involving using genes from the mother and father, as well as mitochondria from a donor egg, is being considered in Australia. The IVF procedure is already legal in the United Kingdom.
As it involves ethical considerations, it is likely that the legalisation of mitochondrial donation will go to a conscience vote, which is why the issue was chosen for this process, as Dr Leigh will not be bound to vote along with party policy.
"This is is probably the only conscience vote that comes up in this term of Parliament, so if we were to explore deliberative democracy then this is the moment to do it," he said.
Associate Professor Selen Ercan, from the University of Canberra's Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance, is part of the team working with the Ohio State University to deliver the forums. She hopes this process can be the start of many more in Australia and improve the connection between voters and their representatives.
"When we talk about connection, it's not bonding, it's not emotional, the type of connection is communicative connection - it's about opening up the channels of communication between [the] public and elected representatives, about opening up the channels of listening and accountability as well," she said.
"It's about creating those spaces where the system can breathe, there's some fresh air coming through those windows."
While Canberrans may be familiar with deliberative democracy through the use of a citizen's jury to decide the territory's model of compulsory third party insurance for drivers, Dr Ercan said the Connecting to Parliament process was less about deliberative democracy and more about connection.
"It's important the connection goes in different ways, both horizontal (between citizens) and vertical as well," she said.
Participants will fill out a survey before and after each forum, tracking their views on the issue of mitochondrial donation and whether they changed through the conversation, as well their views on the process itself. There will be 30 to 35 people at each session, with the first taking place on Sunday and the second to take place on Monday.
In the United States it is more common for representatives to vote outside party lines than in Australia, somewhat limiting the chance for more such processes in Australia, where MPs in major parties rarely cross the floor to vote against the party line.
Dr Leigh was coy about whether he already had a view on the legalisation of mitochondrial donation.
"My vote will be guided by the process, not bound. The forums, online and in person, will be a chance to have a conversation about the pros and cons of removing the ban on mitochondrial donation," he said.
Dr Leigh said he wanted participants to leave feeling that they have the power to shape political outcomes and become more involved in the process of making legislation.
"Politics isn't just about making the right decisions, it's also about having a process that engages the community," he said. "This is a process that will better inform people in the community about mitochondrial donation."
Dr Leigh isn't the only Australian politician directly asking the public to guide his vote on a controversial issue. Independent Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie recently ran a poll on her website asking people to tell her whether she should vote in favour of government legislation to ban mobile phones in detention centres, something she will have the deciding vote on.
Senator Lambie also asked those who voted to tell her their reasons why they wanted her to vote in a particular way.
"It's still my call, at the end of the day. I'm asking if you want to give me your two cents before I make it," Senator Lambie tweeted about the process.