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Democratic Struggles

Student introduction

Australia is a democracy. At least every three years we elect a Commonwealth parliament to look after the interests of all Australians regardless of their wealth, sex, colour or religion. Every citizen over 18 years of age is entitled to choose the government, and if, as a nation, we do not like the performance of our government we can vote them out of office at the next election. Democracy in Australia did not just happen. People had to fight to gain acceptance for basic democratic ideas.

What do we mean when we use the word ‘democracy’? In ancient Athens democracy was practised when all the citizens of the city-state met together and made decisions in a public meeting. When a decision needed to be reached, each person present put up his hand to show which way he wished to vote. This was possible because the number of people voting was small and the number of hands could be counted. Direct voting on every issue cannot work today because there are millions of voters and it would be impossible to count the votes by a show of hands. We have what is called representative democracy. We elect people to represent us in decision-making assemblies: local government councils and Commonwealth, State and Territory parliaments.

Representative democracy emerged in Britain in the nineteenth century. The people eligible to vote elected representatives to look after their interests in parliament.

The ideas of representative democracy were brought to the Australian colonies during the 1800s. Many of the ideas about how a country should be governed came from Britain. Later the thousands of immigrants who came to the Australian colonies during the gold rushes of the 1850s helped to reshape and improve the ideas of representative democracy.

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