A team within the Research School of Social Sciences, including Academy members John Dryzek, Barry Hindess, Ian McAllister and Marian Sawer, is initiating the first democratic audit of Australia.
A team within the Research School of Social Sciences, including Academy members John Dryzek, Barry Hindess, Ian McAllister and Marian Sawer, is initiating the first democratic audit of Australia. This workshop is designed to address some key conceptual issues in the early stages of the audit, and to seek input and advice from a broad set of scholars concerned with democracy in Australia (and elsewhere). It is the starting point for a major interdisciplinary social science enterprise.
Democratic audits have now been conducted in 10 countries, including the United Kingdom and New Zealand. An audit framework is available that has been developed under the auspices of the International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) in Stockholm. The audit indicators are derived from:
- core democratic values
- popular control of government
- political equality
- and mediating values
- transparency and
It is particularly timely for an audit to be conducted in Australia in the context of the widespread loss of trust in key democratic institutions. Mounting concern over whether publicly funded political parties meet democratic criteria in their internal processes has been exemplified in the recent Shepherdson Inquiry into Allegations of Electoral Fraud. There are also continuing concerns over the adequacy of safeguards against corruption, for example, the disclosure regime for party funding. All aspects of electoral administration raise issues of democratic principle – for example, how high the bar should be raised for party registration and candidate nomination to avoid voters being baffled by table-cloth ballot papers. Another longstanding area of concern is the democratic accountability of intergovernmental decision-making, to which has now been added issues of accountability within corporatised or privatised functions of government.
The project is an ambitious one and will involve both building on and developing existing international audit methodology. It will be the first democratic audit of a federal system, a factor that complicates the audit process in a number of ways:
- Australian findings will involve comparative data from nine jurisdictions. For example, non-citizens have different political rights in different Australian jurisdictions as do categories of citizens such as prisoners;
- The additional set of political institutions created for intergovernmental decision-making raises additional issues of accountability and oversight.
While these factors make the audit more complex, they also provide the opportunity for the Australian audit to contribute conceptually to international democracy assessment and to draw out the democratic implications of federal political architecture.
The workshop also propose to address one of the major conceptual issues within the existing audit literature – namely that difference of opinion over the practical application of democratic principles and values is itself an integral part of modern democratic politics. There are very different attitudes, for example, to the role of direct democracy and institutions such as Citizen Initiated Referenda or, to take another example, compulsory voting. The second major innovation of the Australian project then, will be to adapt the audit process to take account of the most important disagreements and reflect the differing perspectives of political players.
In the course of preparing the main audit report, which is scheduled for 2006 we aim to produce four focussed audits on (1) Australian political parties (2) Australian electoral systems (3) the impact of new information technologies (4) NGOs.