This fact sheet introduces the idea of democracy and explores the key principles of Australia’s democratic system of government. These include individual freedoms, justice, tolerance of opposing ideas and representative government.
What is democracy?
Democracy means rule by the people. The word comes from the ancient Greek words ‘demos’ (the people) and ‘kratos’ (to rule). A democratic country has a system of government in which the people have the power to participate in decision-making.
Each democracy is unique and works in different ways. In some democracies citizens help make decisions directly by voting on laws and policy proposals (direct democracy). In others, like Australia, citizens choose representatives to make decisions on their behalf (representative democracy).
A democracy relies on the participation of citizens. They participate not just by voting, but by getting involved in their community. This might be by joining a charity, a political party or an environmental or community group.
A democratic society is one that works towards the ideals of democracy:
- Respect for individuals, and their right to make their own choices.
- Tolerance of differences and opposing ideas.
- Equity—valuing all people, and supporting them to reach their full potential.
- Each person has freedom of speech, association, movement and freedom of belief.
- Justice—treating everyone fairly, in society and in court.
Australia’s democracy is supported by 4 key ideas:
Democracy key ideas
Parliamentary Education Office (peo.gov.au)
This diagram illustrates the 4 key ideas of Australian democracy:
- Active and engaged citizens—Citizens have a voice and can make changes in society.
- An inclusive and equitable society—We work towards a society where everyone is respected and free.
- Free and franchised elections—We get to stand for election and choose who makes decision on our behalf.
- The rule of law for both citizens and the government—Everyone is equal before the law and must follow the law.
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- Constitutional order—the structure and powers of the Australian Parliament are written in the Australian Constitution, which also describes the power of the High Court of Australia to decide if laws abide by the Constitution.
- Liberal democracy—as a nation, we support the development and well-being of individuals.
- Pluralistic society—Australian society is diverse with many different ethnic, racial, religious and social groups all existing together.
- Representative democracy—eligible citizens elect members of parliament to make decisions and laws on their behalf. If citizens do not think their representatives are doing a good job, they can vote for new ones at the next election.
- Respect for and tolerance of opposing ideas—in the Parliament, issues and new laws are debated and the Australian Government is questioned about its work to make sure it is accountable to the Australian people. In society, listening to different points of view and the voices of minorities strengthens our democracy.
- Responsible government—to be in government, a party or coalition of parties must have the support of the majority of members in the House of Representatives. This makes sure the Australian Government is accountable to the Australian Parliament.
What are the benefits of democracy?
- There are ways to resolve different views and conflicts peacefully.
- Respect for human dignity.
- The freedom to act, speak and think freely (as long as it does not stop others doing the same).
- Equality before the law.
- Safe and secure community.
- Good government that is efficient, transparent, responsive and accountable to citizens.
- Ability to hold elected representatives accountable.