Unit of Study: GOVT1641, Introduction to Politics?
Assessment task: Research Exercise
Date of Submission: 12 April 2018?
Question / Short Title: Why is Australia often called a ‘liberal democratic country’??
Word Count: 1000 words (excluding cover page, footnotes and bibliography)
SID: 450638251 GOVT1641 Research Exercise
Why is Australia often called a ‘liberal democratic country’?
Australia, for most times can be seen as a liberal democracy. Its constitution ensures this by limiting and separating the powers of the government, the legislature, and the judiciary, and providing for a democratically elected government. In the following paragraphs, six references have been chosen to describe the concept of liberalism and democracy in Australia, and to expound how these concepts are put to practice through a responsive government, an independent judiciary, a dynamic media and energetic citizens’ groups.
History of liberal democracy in Australia
In a chapter labelled “Democracy and Liberalism in Australia”, the authors of a book on the Australian political system expound the various aspects of democracy and liberalism. They describe how in 1890s, the six British Colonies came together to form a federation. The federation soon realised the pressing need for a constitution to ensure that the values of a liberal democracy are retained. According to the authors, though the Australian political system balances the tension between liberalism and democracy by ensuring the liberal democratic values of ‘rights and freedom, participation in the political process, and equality’ are addressed well, there is scope for improvement.
This important source gives the background to Australia’s realisation of the concepts of Liberalism and Democracy in the political sphere and so will help in positioning Australia as a liberal democracy.
The practice of democracy in Australia
Weller, in his paper describes how democracy has worked in Australia since 1901. He explains that the provisions in the constitution help the states to take control of all activities that are important for a liberal democracy and the citizens, such as, education, healthcare and transportation. The Federal government has some level of control through conditions on grants given to states. The proportional representation and the powers accorded to the Senate to seek amendments to bills raised by the House of Representatives, ensure individual liberty is not unduly curtailed and enable smaller parties to also influence legislation. Finally, he elaborates how public funding and bringing it within the legal scope has further strengthened the democratic process.
Since the focus of the paper is on practical aspects of liberal democracy in Australia, it will help substantiate why Australia is considered a liberal democracy.
Judiciary in a liberal democracy
The liberal basis of Australian democracy requires a strong and independent judiciary. This is succinctly outlined in a paper discussing the Australian judicial system. It shows how the Australian judiciary has addressed most of the requirements of independent judicial system: ‘appointment, tenure and remuneration; operational independence; decisional independence; and personal independence’. It goes on to explain how most of aspects of judicial independence are constitutionally well protected in the federal court, but not completely protected in all the state courts.
This paper gives good knowledge of what a judicial structure should look like in a liberal democracy in general, and particularly, the extent of independence enjoyed by the Australian judiciary both at the federal and state courts.
Consensus on economic liberalism in Australia
In this paper published in 1996, Martin Painter explains that by the late 1970s, all political parties including the labour party were of the view that government must have minimal involvement in direct economic activities. This consensus emerged after the poor economic performance of various public-sector units, which left very little funds for development and welfare measures. The author takes the case of the Airline Industry in the 1980s where the two-airline policy was liberalised to allow many more players to compete. The ruling labour government also decided to step down from managing its ailing Australian Airlines and privatised it in 1992 to prevent further losses.
This paper is highly relevant to the question, since it demonstrates through an example how a broad consensus of all parties, including the ruling labour party, supported economic liberalism leading to flourishing of free enterprise and entrepreneurship, again a feature of a true liberal government.
Media and the political process in Australia
One of the pillars of a liberal democracy is an effective media to ensure citizens are able to influence legislations that are people centric. In a paper on this subject, the authors, Flew and Swift emphasise on how media has become the key driver for politics by a process called ‘mediatisation’ wherein the activities and decisions of political parties are shaped by interactions with the media. Media houses also used ‘political public sphere’, a media space, where citizens can voice their views and thereby influence public opinion. The authors have taken two case studies: ‘ABC’s Q&A’ program and ‘Gruen Nation’ program to illustrate the involvement of citizens, its impact on the quality of discussion on political issues and specifically, the issues discussed during the 2013 federal elections.
This article is very useful since it shows how media has shaped the political process and how it has enabled common man’s views to be heard effectively.
Advocacy and legislation: a case study of tobacco ban in public places in Australia
Effective citizens groups and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are vital components of a liberal democracy. Chapman and Wakefield in a very interesting paper describe how multiple NGOs worked for more than twenty-five years to get the government to ban both smoking in public places and restaurants, as well as advertisements for tobacco products. The NGOs used many creative ways to put pressure on the government to bring in these legislations: effective campaigns with pithy subtexts against tobacco on TV, radio and print media, debates where Members of Parliament had to state their positions clearly, and civil disobedience movements.
The paper is of great relevance since it emphasises the role that NGOs can play in a liberal democracy by making the government accountable.
The bibliographic list above shows how Australia has worked on upholding its intent to support and strengthen liberal democracy. Further studies of its stand on issues like human rights protection, gender and racial equality, and openness to diversity will help confirm this thesis and broaden the research.
Ananian-Welsh, Rebecca. and Williams, George. “Judicial independence from the Executive.”, Judicial Conference of Australia (July 2014). Accessed April 02, 2018.?http://www.jca.asn.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/P62_02_12-Judicial-Independence-paper-version-for-booklet.pdf.
Chapman, Simon. and Wakefield, Melanie. “Tobacco Control Advocacy in Australia: Reflections on 30 Years of Progress.”, Health Education & Behavior 28, no. 3 (June 2001): 274-289. https://doi.org/10.1177/109019810102800303.
Flew, Terry. and Swift, Adam. “Engaging, Persuading, and Entertaining Citizens: Mediatization and the Australian Political Public Sphere.”, The International Journal of Press/Politics 20, no 1 (2014): 108-128. DOI: 10.1177/1940161214552500.
Miragliotta N., Errington W. & Barry N. The Australian Political System in Action. South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press, 2013. Accessed April 03, 2018. http://lib.oup.com.au/he/politics/samples/miragliotta_politicalsystem_sample.pdf. ?
Painter, Martin. “Economic policy, market liberalism and the `end of Australian Politics’.”, Australian Journal of Political Science 31, no. 3 (Nov 1996): 287-300. https://doi.org/10.1080/10361149651067.?
Weller, Patrick. “Parliamentary Democracy in Australia.”, Parliamentary Affairs 57, no. 3 (2004): 630-645. DOI: 10.1093/pa/gsh049.