How democratic is Australia?

The term ‘democracy’ can be referred to as a system of government in which power comes from the people. David Held raises the question of who holds the power to rule. Is it the citizens or is it the government? (Held, 1996).

Focusing on two types of democracy mentioned in Held’s reading is that of ‘representative democracy’ and ‘participatory democracy’. Which type of democracy does Australia demonstrate, and it is possible for Australia to exercise both? Australia is considered to be a representative democracy whereby the citizens of the nation are involved in electing a member of parliament to govern the country and act on behalf of the people. Citizens elect a favoured Member of Parliament in hope that their interests, values, needs, and rights are taken into consideration and the best outcomes for the people of the nation are supported.

Held (1996) states that democracy strives for political equality, liberty, moral self-development, the common interest, a fair moral compromise, binding decisions that take everyone’s interest into account, social utility, the satisfaction of wants, efficient decisions. I believe that Australian democracy today does not demonstrate the above to what it is fully capable of. This can be seen within the most recent and controversial 2014 Federal Budget, as well as the fight to stop the construction of a McDonald’s restaurant in the small town of Tecoma, Victoria. Two examples that are on two ends of the scale, however, they both question democracy.

Tony Abbott previously promised the citizens of Australia that there will be no new taxes, no increased taxes, no cuts to education, and no cuts to health (Hartcher, 2014). All of which Abbott has done the complete opposite. This is a prime example of representative democracy, where the people have voted for this man to represent Australia. However, to obtain popularity and to obtain the votes of the people he made promises that were in favour of the people’s interests, opinions and values. He had the power and ability to make individuals believe that their rights and freedom of speech would be taken into account and for all to be listened to. Instead Tony Abbott is now perceived as manipulative liar who abuses the use of power and shows no remorse for struggling, vulnerable families of today. It is exhausting and unfair for citizens to continue to be democrats, to only make the slightest bit of progress.

If democracy means having a voice, having choice and the ability to stand up for what you believe in, the residents of Tecoma are experiencing the complete opposite. Power by the government comes into play and overrides the views and beliefs of the residents. Majority of the people in Tecoma have fought not to have the McDonald’s built, purely because it would be ruining the image of the small country town and creating rubbish. Through this example, it is evident that capitalism has dominated. More job opportunities have been created, the fact of making more money and adding to the significantly high number of McDonald’s that are swarming Australia. Democracy does not always exercise a fair, moral compromise. Nor does it take everyone’s interests into account, the satisfaction of wants and decisions of the citizens (Held, 1996). While democracy aims to focus on the people, the common good and what is best for the people, we can argue is it truly doing just that? It seems that the notion of democracy will continue to be contested as it reveals characteristics of inequality and precariousness.


Democracy? 9 Out of 10 say no to McDonald’s in Tecoma [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved from

Hartcher, P. (2014, May 14). The populist PM is gone, meet Abbott the ideologue. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from


Held, D. (1996). ‘Introduction’, in Models of Democracy, 2nd edition, Polity Press, Cambridge.
Resistance is fertile. No McDonald’s in Tecoma [Image] (2013, March 03). Retrieved May 6, 2014, from

Too late to fire off the starting gun?.. Not if it uses real bullets…[Image] (2013, August 05). Retrieved May 10, 2014, from


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