More people today live in democracies than any other time in history. But throughout the world, there are widespread concerns about how democracies are functioning to protect the things that matter most—wellbeing of people, planet and future generations. In Australia, our democratic system has failed to safeguard our landscape from crises like climate damage and habitat destruction, even though most Australians are concerned about these issues and want action. Political discontent and disempowerment are steadily rising with record low levels of trust in politics and political representatives across the country. This report explores the reasons behind these trends and articulates a vision and key principles for a healthier democracy, which can deliver on what really matters.
Australian Conservation Foundation spoke to prominent stakeholders from organisations across Australia to deepen our understanding of the obstacles to a healthy democracy and learn how we might move closer to our vision: One where power resides with the people, where people can participate in a fair and clean process in an active and meaningful way, and where decisions and decision-making are made in the interests of the people and the planet.
Participants came from universities, church groups, local government bodies and nongovernment organisations. They included farmers, journalists, bankers and law-makers. The researchers asked them to articulate the principles for a healthy democracy, and to identify obstacles that prevent our current system from embodying those principles. The researchers then asked them to name mechanisms and indicators they felt could transform us from the current system to the one envisioned.
The outcome was a list of ten principles for a healthy democracy highlighted by participants; a wide range of problems and obstacles that people identified as preventing our democracy from working better; and a list of mechanisms or interventions which our interviewees thought would help move Australian democracy in the right direction.