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When measuring progress for Living together in our society, we consider three headline dimensions - Family, community and social cohesion; Crime; and Democracy, governance and citizenship. However, headline indicators are only available for the second dimension.
Family, community and social cohesion
Family and community are important aspects of society, but there is no single indicator that captures all that might be important. The quality and strength of people's relationships and bonds with others - their family, friends and the wider community - are important ingredients of the level of social cohesion. And a more cohesive society is one in which communities are strong and inclusive, and where fewer people 'fall through the cracks'. When the support offered by people’s families and communities declines or is absent, it can contribute to serious social exclusion and problems.
The family can be seen as the wellspring from which some of the dimensions crucial to social cohesion develop, such as trust, social support and the extension of social networks. Most Australians live in households as members of a family unit. A key role of families is to raise capable and functioning people. In 2004, 40% of the 5.5 million families in Australia contained children under 15. While the majority of these families were couple families (77%), between 1994 and 2004 the proportion of one parent families with children under 15 increased from 17% to 23%. Most one parent families are supported by government and many by family, friends and ex-partners. Nevertheless, one parent families generally have a much lower level of economic wellbeing than couple families. In 2002, about 12% of couple families with dependents had an equivalised household income in the bottom 20%, compared with about 40% of one parent families with dependents. (Endnote 15 )
The vast range of services provided within communities by groups, clubs and charitable organisations are a crucial adjunct to the care provided by families and the institutionalised care provided by governments. Strong community bonds can be formed through things like volunteering and donating money to groups and organisations in the community. The likelihood that people will voluntarily give their time to do some work for an organisation or group might be regarded as one of the stronger expressions of social capital, as it involves providing assistance, fulfilling needs and providing opportunities in the community. Between 1995 and 2002, the proportion of people aged 18 years and over who reported that they did some voluntary work during the previous 12 months increased from 24% to 34%.
Crime takes many forms and can have a major impact on the wellbeing of victims, their families and friends, and the wider community. Those most directly affected may suffer financially, physically, psychologically and emotionally, while the fear of crime can affect people and restrict their lives in many ways. There are other costs as well, including the provision of law enforcement services by the police, courts and associated legal services, and corrective services.
Although it would be desirable to have a single indicator of the cost of crime to society, one does not exist. Instead the headline indicators are two measures of victims of common criminal offences: 'household crimes' and 'personal crimes'. The former refers to actual or attempted break-in and motor vehicle theft. The latter refers to assault, sexual assault or robbery. Personal crimes are not restricted to crimes committed in the victim's home, and so include crimes at people's place of work or study and so on. The victimisation rates for personal crimes are for assault and robbery victims among people aged 15 or over, and sexual assault among people aged 18 and over. The victimisation rates for household crimes are for actual or attempted break-ins and motor vehicle thefts across all households.
Though small, the changes in the prevalence rates for victims of personal crimes between 1998 and 2002 showed an increase from 4.8% to 5.3%. Most of these people were assaulted. Between 1993 and 2002, there was little change in the proportion of households that were the victim of a household crime (an actual or attempted break-in or motor vehicle theft) and it remained at a little below 9%.
Democracy, governance and citizenship
National life is influenced, not just by material qualities such as economic output, health and education, but also by many intangible qualities such as the quality of our public life, the fairness of our society, the health of democracy and the extent to which citizens of Australia participate actively in their communities or cooperate with one another. Whilst democracy is supported globally, there are many different views about the ways to measure progress in this dimension. There are many possible indicators that relate to governance, democracy and citizenship.
It has been argued that a healthy democracy needs citizens who care, are willing to take part, and are capable of helping to shape the common agenda of a society. And so participation - whether through the institutions of civil society, political parties, or the act of voting - is seen as important to a stable democracy. In Australia, enrolment and voting in State and Federal elections is compulsory. In June 2004, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) estimated that 95% of eligible Australians were enrolled to vote. However, there were differences in the proportions enrolled among different age groups and the AEC estimates that 80% of eligible 18-25 year olds were enrolled. (Endnote 16)
Only Australian citizens can vote in elections, and so the proportion of people living here permanently who are citizens is one measure of support for democratic decision making in Australia (although people become citizens for many reasons, not necessarily to vote in elections). In 2001, about 95% of the people living in Australia were citizens. However, not all people residing in Australia are eligible for citizenship. Therefore, when considering progress it can be more informative to consider the changing proportion of Australian residents who have lived here for at least two years (those generally eligible for citizenship) who are citizens. In 1991, about 65% of long-term overseas-born residents were Australian citizens. This had risen to just below 73% by 1996 and by 2001 almost 75% of overseas-born residents were Australian citizens. However, changes in this indicator may be affected by changes in the number of long-term residents who are eligible for citizenship.