Characteristics of a democratic society

An open, democratic society offers many benefits to its citizens. It gives them freedom to make choices about their lives, to develop their potential as human beings and to live free from fear, harassment and discrimination. It gives them protection under the law and the right to elect legislators of their choice and to remove them if they do not perform to their satisfaction. It guarantees freedom of speech, religion and assembly. It ensures an independent judiciary. Through the principle of the rule of law it guarantees universality of the scope of the law and equality before the law for all citizens.

Freedom of the press makes possible the exposure of corruption, malpractice and incompetence; diversity of media opinion offers alternative interpretations of news and events. Parliamentary committees and inquiries oversee the accountability of executive decisions. Public officers such as Auditors General and Ombudsmen, answerable to the parliament not the executive, have statutory powers to review large and small decisions of the government.

A strong democracy encourages an active and outspoken civil society and robust public debate including dissent and disagreement with government. Such a democracy gives its members many opportunities to participate in public life. A properly functioning democracy also has moral responsibilities to non-citizens, refugees, visitors and other nations. Many of these responsibilities are enshrined in international covenants and agreements.

These are the benchmarks against which the practice of democracy in Australia must constantly be measured.