|Page tools: Print Page Print All|
Progress in Australia: The headline dimensions
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. While couple families are the most common family type, there have been increases in the proportions of one parent families over recent decades. One parent families with dependent children have increased from 7% of families in 1976 to 11% in 2001. (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. Community bonds can be strengthened 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 for community engagement. 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 by both the wellbeing of individual citizens in terms of tangible factors such as income, wealth, health and education and by less tangible factors 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.
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 2005, 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 81% of eligible 18-25 year olds were enrolled. (Endnote 15)
Standing for public office is another form of political participation. The number of candidates who stand for public office can be considered an indicator both of public interest and motivation in standing for election, as well as commitment from political parties in selecting and supporting candidates to stand in elections. It is not possible however, to gauge the diversity or quality of candidates from information on the number of candidates.
Between 1993 and 2004, the number of candidates standing for election at Australian federal elections increased. Over 1,400 candidates stood for election (1091 for the House of Representatives and 330 for the Senate) at the 2004 federal parliamentary election, compared with 1,200 in 1993. During this period the number of seats in the House of Representatives increased by three from 147 to 150 accounting for some of this change.