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Australia: The State of Democracy

Australia: The State of Democracy

By Marian Sawer, Norman Abjorensen and Phil Larkin


On many criteria, Australia has been a pioneering democracy. As one of the oldest continuing democracies, however, a health check has long been overdue. Since 2002 the Democratic Audit of Australia, a major democracy assessment project, has been applying an internationally tested set of indicators to Australian political institutions and practices.

The indicators derive from four basic principles—political equality, popular control of government, civil liberties and human rights and the quality of public deliberation. Comparative data are taken from Australia's nine jurisdictions, as well as from three comparator democracies, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, to identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for reform.

Some of the findings are disturbing. For example, Australia has fallen well behind in the regulation of private money in elections and in controlling the use of government or parliamentary resources for partisan benefit. Transparency and accountability have suffered from relatively weak FOI regimes and from executive dominance of parliaments.

For those studying democracy or wanting to reform Australian politics, The State of Democracy provides a wealth of evidence in a well-illustrated and highly accessible format. Internationally, it is an important contribution to the democracy assessment literature and pushes into new areas such as the intergovernmental decision-making of federalism.



Political history
Basic political data
Basic socio-economic data

Part I - Citizenship, law and rights

Nationhood and citizenship
The Rule of Law and access to justice
Civil and political rights
Economic and social rights

Part II - Representative and accountable government

Free and fair elections
Democratic role of political parties
Government effectiveness and accountability
Civilian control of the military and the police
Minimising corruption

Part III - Civil society and popular participation

The media in a democratic society
Political participation
Government responsiveness

Part IV - Democracy beyond the state and federalism

International dimensions of democracy
Audit references 


We now have three wise persons providing us with a comprehensive picture of the Australian democratic elephant....It is an ambitious work, covering citizenship, law and rights; representative and accountable government; civil society and popular participation; democracy beyond the state (Australia's international engagement, particularly with the United Nations) and federalism....
Australian democracy is not broken. It compares favourably internationally, and has numerous strengths. The weaknesses that this book identifies nevertheless provide a starting point for a more fundamental debate on the reforms required to make democracy even stronger. It is an excellent, practical and thoughtful survey of the field.

Public Sector Informat, supplement to The Canberra Times, 12 August 2009, pp6-7

...I found Australia: The State of Democracy a succinct, highly readable and useful reference tool. It is an excellent contribution to the nation, particularly I imagine for students, journalists and politicians. For the overseas reader studying Australia it brings a wealth of material and a depth of perspective. It also adds to the global democratic picture which is important considering that one of the aims of developing the international Audit framework in the first place was to assist newer democracies. It deserves to be widely read and discussed...

Senator the Hon Joe Ludwig, Cabinet Secretary, Special Minister of State, taken from the Launch Speech, Wednesday 14 October 2009.


Published 2 July 2009
Publisher The Federation Press
ISBN 9781862877252
Australian RRP $59.95
International Price $55.00
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Government / Political Studies
Human Rights & Civil Liberties
Secondary School Resources

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