In 2002 a team at the Australian National University began a series of democracy assessments to measure Australia’s strengths and weaknesses as a democratic society. At the end of the project, called the Democratic Audit of Australia, they published a full assessment report in 2009 called Public Confidence in Australian Democracy and have since published a series of thematic reports. The methodology used by the Australian audit team was based on the two core values suggested in the methodology—political equality and popular control of government—and was further adapted by adding the principles of civil liberties and human rights, and an assessment of the quality of public debate and discussion. These additions were inspired by: (1) the major impact on democracy, produced in the name of the will of the majority, of the internal security measures following 11 September 2001 and (2) the growing emphasis on deliberative aspects in contemporary democratic theory. Additionally, the assessors used two forms of comparison to highlight the specificities of the Australian case. First, they compared Australia with countries that have a similar history, socio-economic composition and political institutions (Canada, New Zealand, UK and USA). Second, they followed a within-case strategy, comparing the states and territories with each other and with the federation.
The Democratic Audit of Australia project successfully raised awareness of the issues covered in the reports, which became an important resource for government, NGOs and students. The project received a fair amount of media coverage and serves as an authoritative source for comment. The audit was cited extensively in the parliamentary debate on amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 2006.
The project’s website serves as a space for informed debate on key topics such as political financing, the use of government advertising for partisan purposes and the early closure of the electoral roll before an election.