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Is Australian Democracy in decline?


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How healthy is democracy today?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about that question, after reporting on what it takes to strengthen the liberal world order after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and as Australia’s campaign season intensified.

Worldwide, the diagnosis is not good.

“Anti-Democracy Coalition.”

“Root in democracies.”

“Stop pretending about competitive elections.”

Here are a few sub-titles in the latest Freedom House report on global governance. One study even draws on data from more than 3,000 global scholars regarding V-Dem Institute in Sweden recently reached a similar conclusion, noting that liberal democracies such as Australia are increasingly rare.

Their number peaked in 2012 with 42 countries and has now fallen to its lowest level in more than 25 years, with 34 countries and just 13% of the world’s population.

“Electoral autocracy” remains the most common form of government, with 44% of the world’s population. And it’s not hard to see why. Under an electoral autocracy, there is enough systematic repression to put opponents at a disadvantage, but elections persist. They are manipulated only to serve those in power. I saw a version of this when I covered Cuba – the government there held elections without freedom, and put the Communist Party back in power many times.

But lately, democracies have been sliding in that direction instead of through revolution.

As Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote in their book How Democracies Die, “Since the end of the Cold War, most democratic breakdowns have not been caused by generals and soldiers but by governments themselves. caused by the election. “Like Chávez in Venezuela, elected leaders have overthrown democratic institutions in Georgia, Hungary, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Ukraine. The slide of democracy today begins at the ballot box. ”

Their book and these global reports make the same point: Democracy is fragile and should not be taken for granted. No country – as the United States has discovered in recent years – should consider itself immune to the slippery slope of democratic decline.

Where does Australia fit into this bleak portrait?

Australia is stronger than most. Freedom House gives the country a score of 95 out of 100. Experts at V-Dem rank Oz 14th in the measure of liberal democracy, below New Zealand (5th place) but well ahead of the United States (in 5th place). wisdom 29).

A big part of that has to do with the way Australia runs elections. Mandatory voting ensures high voter turnout; Australia’s Independent Electoral Commission administers elections with technocratic efficiency according to national standards, widely supported and respected by political parties and the public. Politicians do not decide district boundaries, where polling stations are located, or set up how many polling stations.

Judith Brett, professor emeritus of politics at La Trobe University and author of a book on Australian electoral history called “From Secret Vote to Sausage Democracy. ”

But there are still many causes for concern. Polls have shown over the years more and more Australians distrust the government and feel disconnected from politics.

Australia’s leaders and major political parties have also shown a disturbing tolerance for secrecy – especially when it comes to funding their campaigns. Like me Written in February, Research from the Center for Public Integrity shows that over the past two decades, nearly $1 billion in party income has been hidden.

The combination of big money and a disgruntled electorate is also reshaping Australian democracy in other ways. Prof Brett points out that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has a habit of spreading government money across the districts it needs to win in order to take power, often for projects that defy logic but come pretty close to an attempt to buy Vote – from the dams to the BMX courses to the boardwalk.

The Australian media have called these “election sweeteners.” Critics call it soft corruption and they fear it could become the norm, making Australia’s election results more transactional, while encouraging leaders to avoid major challenges than society has to face.

“We have a constituency where party loyalty is less strong,” said Prof Brett. “It’s for grabs and if the way those votes are taken is by money for a sports facility and serious policy issues are ignored, I think we’re in big trouble.”

So what can be done? The solutions are there, and according to democracy scholars, interactions that bring people together across political and social divisions tend to create stronger, more responsive governments .

With that in mind, I will be helping to organize an event at the New South Wales Parliament on 11 May in Sydney with the Athens Democracy Forum asking how we can reconnect people with elected officials. surname. Presented by The New York Times in partnership with New Democracy, an independent research organization, we will bring together citizens, politicians and experts every day for a wide-ranging discussion that will help produce a report with recommendations on how to better engage us all in democracy, around the world.

If you want to be a delegate, Please fill in the blanks.

You’ll hear from six speakers, including former Premier Geoff Gallop and Greater Sydney commissioner Rod Simpson, in a participatory panel format. We will select about a dozen readers in Sydney (or those willing to travel to Sydney) to join the meeting.

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