Civil society is 'the non-government and not-for-profit groups and organisations that have a presence in public life, expressing the interests of their members and others in society' (World Bank 2006). If citizens participate in such arenas, their concerns, needs and values can be incorporated into government decision making. The overall goal is to arrive at better collective decisions that are supported by the population, and to foster population wellbeing (World Bank 2002). Civic engagement is seen as resulting in better government because citizens in civic communities expect better government, and (in part through their own efforts) get it; and because the government performance is improved by the social infrastructure of civic communities and the democratic values of both officials and citizens (Putnam 1993; Putnam 2000). From a perspective of individual wellbeing, civic participation can often extend social networks and develop skills for further participation in democracy and governance (ABS 2004a).
In measuring civic participation, we consider collective and individual activities that reflect interest and engagement with governance and democracy: for example, membership of civic organisations such as political parties and trade unions; serving on committees or clubs, voluntary organisations and associations; contacting members of parliament; participating in demonstrations and rallies; and attending community consultations. More recent forms of civic participation include support for global or local advocacy groups or campaigns, email networks, or one day activities such as 'Clean Up Australia' (630,000 people participated in Clean Up Australia day in 2009) (CUA 2009).
In 2006, 19% of adults reported that they had actively participated in civic and political groups in the previous 12 months. This level of involvement varied with age, peaking at around 24% for people aged 45-64 years. The civic or political groups that people were most likely to be active in were trade union, professional and technical associations (7%), environmental or animal welfare groups (5%), followed by body corporate or tenants' associations (4%). Only 1% reported active participation in a political party (ABS 2007b).
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