The democratic audit of Australia
Australia is a democratic nation with a reputation to be envied. It is one of 87 free countries in the entire world. See Freedom in the World 2014. However, a recent study conducted by Scott Brenton in 2008 concluded that while Australians are proud of the perception of their democracy, they are not all that inclined to engage with it.
What is the Democratic Audit?
The Democratic Audit of Australia is an annual report card identifying areas of weakness and strength in the Australian political environment. The audit began in 2002 with a team at the Australian National University. Since 2008 the Audit has been based at the Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology, with continuing input from researchers at ANU and other universities.
The Audit recognises that democracy is a complex notion, and so applies a detailed set of questions which has already been field-tested in overseas countries. The framework was pioneered in the United Kingdom and then further developed under the auspices of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) in Stockholm. IDEA further tested the framework in eight countries including New Zealand. IDEA is currently updating its Audit framework to take account of the experience of further national Audits, including the Democratic Audit of Australia. The Audit benefits from funding under two Australian Research Council discovery grants.
The values used as a basis for assessment are:
- political equality;
- popular control of government;
- civil liberties and human rights; and
- the quality of public deliberation.
Contributors to this year’s audit have explored areas as diverse and numerous as the following titles suggest:
- Norman Abjorensen, Not good news: Australia’s shrinking media freedoms, ANU, 2007
- Peter Brent, Time to introduce automatic enrolment in Australia, ANU, 2008
- Scott Brenton, Public confidence in Australian democracy, ANU, 2008
- Geoff Cockfield (University of Southern Queensland) and Scott Prasser (University of the Sunshine Coast), Rolling out the regional pork barrel: A threat to democracy?, 2007
- Anika Gauja, Enforcing party democracy, University of Sydney, 2006
- Kathy MacDermott, Whatever happened to frank and fearless?, 2007
- Brendan McCaffrie, Removing partisan bias from Australian electoral legislation, ANU, 2008
- Peter van Onselen, Watchdog independence compromised?, Edith Cowan University, 2006
- Parameswary Rasiah, Question time – a failing institution?, University of Western Australia, 2006
- James Walter, Political ‘hitmen’, Monash University, 2006
- John Warhurst, The lobbying code of conduct: an appraisal, ANU, 2008
- Operation Sunlight, Department of Finance
- The right to vote Is not enjoyed equally, Australian Human Rights Commission
- Marian Sawer, The Museum of Australian Democracy, a review in reCollections
Is the Australian Parliament really a platypus?
In an earlier paper, Stanley Bach (2003) used the objective view of an overseas visitor to describe the ‘accidental genius of Australian politics’. He likened the Australian system generally and its bicameral parliament to that unique animal, the duck-billed platypus. The analogy raises some interesting and some disturbing notions. While the hybrid nature of the political system can provide some vigour, the platypus is threatened by loss of habitat. Few Australians have seen one in the wild…
Tony Smith, New fangs for the platy-tiger? The Senate and the Rudd Government in 2008, page 6.
Is there really too much marketing and not enough policy?
In Marketing Government: The public service and the permanent campaign, Kathy MacDermott argues that the marketing of government has invaded the core business of policy development and the everyday work of public servants such that the public service has become part of the ‘permanent campaign’ and that this has put at risk the distinction between marketing and explaining.
In Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy, former ALP Government Minister for Finance and Deregulation, the Hon. Lindsay Tanner, argues that politics and governance have been degraded by the collusion of politicians and the media, and this has trivialised the serious business of maintaining democracy in Australia.
What was the true cost of the Informal vote at the 2007 election?
During the 2007 federal election informal voting dropped from 5.18% to 3.95%. Despite, this apparent good news, Peter Brent, in his ANU paper Time to introduce automatic enrolment in Australia, claimed that accidental informal voting remains significant. In his paper, Brent explored the relationships between different voting systems at the state level and non-English speaking voters.