Are we a democracy? Of course we are. In fact we are one of the oldest and most successful democracies in the world.
But according to a federal government survey of the young, which has been just released, only 53.4 per cent agree or strongly agree with the proposition that we are a democracy. The results for the oldest group, 22-25 years old, are especially disappointing: only 43.4 per cent agree or strongly agree. Some say that while they would have agreed when they were younger, they had become more ambivalent. The younger the respondent, the more the results are reassuring. Among the very young, those aged 12-14, 68.6 per cent agree or strongly agree that Australia is a democracy.
The focus groups were revealing. Some said they did not know what democracy means. Others in the 15-17 group thought it referred to institutions but also fairness. While they accepted that Australia had democratic institutions, they did not think Australian society was fair, so they neither agreed nor disagreed with the proposition.
In one focus group, the following discussion arose when the respondents were asked whether Australia is a democratic country:
Chris: But democratic means fairness, and is it fair that people who can’t afford housing live in bad places?
Matt: They’ve got Housing Commission.
Chris: Yeagh, and they’re infected with cockroaches.
Samantha: Poverty is a cycle you can never break from. They don’t get the education we get.
The answer to this obvious gap in young people’s knowledge about our system of government must be in education, including comparing Australia with other countries.
To address this need, the Constitutional Education Fund of Australia (CEFA), has been established. The fund’s aim is to educate Australians of all ages on this point.
The fund has just gone through all the hurdles to gain tax deductibility status. (I am a trustee). This status ensures that every cent given will be subject to an independent audit to the satisfaction of the trustees and the authorities. The fund is not partisan: three eminent republican professors of law sit on its Foundation Council. The Governor General has agreed to be the Patron-in-Chief and a tertiary prize has already been established. In fact the Chief Justice of Australia, the Hon. Murray Gleeson, launched this recently.
If young Australians and immigrants do not understand and appreciate what our predecessors achieved, the future of our country will not be in safe hands.
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