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1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2010  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/09/2010   
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Democracy

DEMOCRACY, GOVERNANCE AND CITIZENSHIP AND PROGRESS

The wellbeing of society depends not only on the wellbeing of individual citizens, but also on the quality of our collective public life: on factors such as the fairness of our political system, the health of our democracy and the participation of citizens in public life.

Democratic government has been characterised as having two underlying principles:

  • popular control over public decision making and decision makers through democratic elections, and
  • equality between citizens in the exercise of that decision making.

    But many other factors reflect the strength and health of democracy in practice: the effectiveness of political institutions such as Parliament, the fairness of elections, the existence of an independent judiciary, equal laws and a free press (IDEA 2001). Other important factors include the confidence citizens have in government and public institutions, and the extent to which citizens participate in civic life and understand and uphold their rights and duties as citizens.

    It has been argued that a healthy and stable democracy needs citizens who care about, are willing to take part in, and are capable of shaping the common agenda of a society (Lawrence 2003). As a result, citizen participation (whether through the institutions of civil society, political parties, or the act of voting) is seen as important in demonstrating whether life in Australia is getting better.

    There are a wide range of views as to which aspects of democracy, governance and citizenship are most important in demonstrating whether life in Australia is getting better. For a long time these elements, while seen as critically important, were not measured as they were harder to define and measure than more tangible aspects of life such as the value of goods purchased or life expectancy. However, in recent years work has been undertaken, internationally and nationally, to identify indicators relating to democracy, governance and citizenship, and further research will continue to shape what we present in future issues of Measures of Australia's Progress (MAP).

    Due to the complex nature of this dimension of progress, the following commentary presents a range of indicators to help assess whether democracy, governance and citizenship in Australia is getting better. These include: changes in the take-up of Australian citizenship, the proportion of informal votes cast in a federal election, the number of federal parliamentary candidates, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation in parliament, women in parliamentary and leadership positions, and Australia's Official Development Assistance to overseas countries.

    The selection and organisation of the indicators has been drawn from the framework developed by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). The discussion that follows is not intended to comprehensively cover all elements set out in the IDEA framework. In some instances the data are not available, while other elements may not be regarded as significant for Australia.

    Further information has also been provided relating to voter turnout in elections; civic participation in Australia; Australians who volunteer for management work, to sit on committees or manage a service program; and the environmental citizenship of Australians.

    For a full list of definitions, see the Democracy, governance and citizenship glossary.
  • RELATED PAGES

  • Democracy governance and citizenship glossary
  • Democracy governance and citizenship references
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