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Saturday, 26 January 2013

Role of democratic governance in Australia

Background of democratic governance in Australia (Get custom made research papers here )
Australia’s system of governance closely mirrors the traditional liberal democracy and is roundly based on values such as freedom of speech and association, religious tolerance and the rule of law (Commonwealth of Australia, 2009). While remaining uniquely Australian, the democratic governance systems in the country are similar to those in Britain and North America. Australia is one of the oldest democracies in the world having formed itself as the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 after six of the former British colonies agreed to federate to form the six federal states of Australia (Commonwealth of Australia, 2009). The resultant federal government adopted in its governance systems values such as the one-man one-vote rule and the principle of women’s suffrage. One of the areas targeted for reform by Australia was the voting system which they needed to reform from the limited franchise and public and plural voting into a democratic practice acceptable to their citizens (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2011).  
Governance in Australia is predominantly a function of parliament which comprises of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. Members from these chambers are appointed to be ministers who then practice their executive powers for the benefit of their electorates through cabinet decisions which are the primary channel for policy formulation and implementation (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2011). Australia has a written constitution which defines the rights and responsibilities of the government and the citizens and can only be amended with the consent of the population through a referendum. The country remains under the authority of the Queen of England who exercises her authority through the appointment of Governor General after consultation with the elected officials (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2011). This governor oversees the country’s executive and has immense influence. However, the governors have in subsequent years been keen to follow the advice of the elected ministers and have only in exceptional cases invoked the powers bestowed on their office. 
The role of democratic governance in development
Democratic governance is considered to be one of the greatest pillars for ensuring development in any country. This is especially so where executive authority is exercised by elected officials as is the case in Australia where the cabinet is comprised of members of the two chambers of parliament. The rationale behind this presumption is based on the fact that democracy ensures that the leaders remain accountable to their electorate at all times and their continual survival in leadership is predominantly influenced by the effectiveness with which they are seen to advance the public interest (Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government, 2011). Australian elections are held regularly with statistics indicating that the governing parties have been changing after every five years since the birth of the federation in 1901 albeit with different lengths of hold in power (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2011). This duration is dependent on the consistency with which the elected leaders align their governance policies with the desires of the electorate. For instance, Liberal Party led coalition is known to be the party that has held power for the longest singular period between 1949 and 1972 due to its sound policies (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2011). Indeed most of the leading world economies tend to be governed democratically; illustrating the possible implication of democratic governance in development. The primary concern of the electorate in Australia revolves around issues such as the adequacy of infrastructure, the soundness of the business environment, unemployment levels, security, and transparency and accountability in governance among others. These are the typical elements of a developed society and democracy plays a central role in ensuring that such elements are in place at any particular time.  
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Steps being taken by Australia to improve democratic governance
One of the areas targeted for improvement in democratic governance in Australia relate to the electoral processes. The aim of elections is to ensure that members of a given population are able to express their will regarding the goings on in their country. However, a significant portion of the youthful segment tend to be left out in the electoral processes with only 80% of the segment being registered and taking part in the democratic processes (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2011). This is as compared to the 95% seen in the other sectors. The government has accordingly been in the process of launching massive awareness campaigns targeting such secluded groups to ensure that their opinions are captured and factored in governance (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2011). Gender parity has also been focussed upon especially among some of the indigenous groups that have perpetually been left out of societal development over decades. A proactive role has been played by government to improve literacy levels among such women with the aim of empowering them to have easier access to gainful employment (UNDP, 2011). Several employment opportunities have also been made available to them to allow for their financial independence.  There has also been a decisive move to ensure that more meaningful decentralisation takes place in Australia. Decentralisation refers to the delegation of government functions to the states across the country as opposed to having the functions controlled by the central government (Butler, 2005). In order to remain effective in service provision to their citizens, the most essential government functions are being decentralised for better accessibility. The same refers to policies relating to the conduct of trade and control of the fiscal budgets where a greater role is supposed to be allocated to such constituent states. The Australian government has also shown a keen willingness to step up pressure on corporate organisations to practice greater levels of transparency and accountability (Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government, 2011). Legal provisions allowing for some measure of opacity in their operations are being reviewed with the aim of eliminating them to encourage absolute conformity with what is viewed as the public good.  
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Challenges faced in improving governance
Realisation of some of the challenges of decentralisation has made government officials to have a rethink on the viability of such measures. Some of the considerations relate to the capacity available for the states to effectively handle fiscal and budgetary processes. It is argued that the state governments may not have the capacity to handle this role hence focus is turned towards capacity building in the relevant areas (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007). There has also been a stiff resistant from stakeholders who hold the view that decentralisation of budgetary and fiscal processes would be counter-production for the whole country whose resources would be dispersed around the country in quantities that may not be able to yield any meaningful benefits (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007). The efforts of the government to improve gender parity have also not been without challenges with the main challenge being the incompatibility of their empowerment agenda with the cultural values of the targeted groups. This is especially true among the Aborigines whose culture defines the role of the members of the society with the women often relegated to lower roles (Butler, 2005). Any attempts to embrace government backed empowerment initiatives are therefore not viewed as essential in many cases hence greatly reducing the effectiveness of such. Certain vested interests also seem to get jittery over the prospect of greater participation of the youth in governance due to their perceived unpopularity with them. They therefore exploit the democratic channels to divert the attention of the government away from such efforts. 
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Future prospects for democratic governance
Democracy in governance is becoming more popular across the world with many of the countries with different systems embracing democracy in part or in total. Democracy is therefore emerging as the best mode of governance for the enhancement of development and the public good. Democracy as is practiced has been in Australia and in many other countries has been criticised as partial and in desperate need for enrichment (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2011). Traditionally, democratic rights are evident only during the election of the government officials who then proceed to execute their mandate with little or no consultation with the electorate in most issues. The leaders are then evaluated on the basis of their satisfaction of the needs of the electorate and the verdict given in the subsequent election with re-election being the most probable eventuality where satisfaction is achieved (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2011). There are calls to involve the electorate in decision making on a continuous basis. Various structures to allow citizens to air their views on issues prior to the formulation of policies are being formulated to ensure such views are aired in good time. Technological developments experienced across the world make it possible to put such structures in place. Increased public awareness on the importance of contributing opinions to influence public policy is also bound to make such efforts more fruitful. It is also expected that democratic governance is bound to yield more fruits in the future. With increased public awareness on economic policy and the development agenda, it is increasingly likely more qualified officials will be getting a chance to serve hence making the economy more sophisticated and in the interest of the public.    

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Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government, 2011. Local Government and Community Governance: A Literature Review. (Online) Available at: (Accessed 17 September 2011)
Butler, G., 2005. Sustainable communities: the important role of local government in building social capital. (Online) Available at: (Accessed 17 September 2011)
Commonwealth of Australia, 2007. Tackling Wicked Problems: A Public Policy Review. (Online) Available at: (Accessed 17 September 2011)
Commonwealth of Australia, 2009. Democratic Governance. (Online) Available at: (Accessed 17 September 2011)
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2011. Australia’s System of Governance. (Online) Available at: (Accessed 17 September 2011)
UNDP, 2011. Empowered and Equal: Gender Equality Strategy. (Online) Available at: (Accessed 17 September 2011)

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