Standing up for Canberra

The Chronicle: Being Active Citizens

“Democracy is perpetual. It’s not just going to an election.”

How do you empower people to be active citizens?

To regard democracy as more than just casting a vote?

To demand strong government that embraces democratic freedoms?

To expect sound public institutions that serve the community?

And to call for robust oppositions that shine a light into the dark corners?

As the nations of Africa grapple with the challenges of often new found and hard fought for democracies, these were the questions being asked by its leaders at the recent Australia Africa Dialogue in Zambia.

The dialogue, co-hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and South Africa’s Brenthurst Foundation, brought together some of Africa’s best and brightest, including a group of exceptional women, to discuss peace, security and areas for future cooperation.

What concerns these leaders is the cult of personalities - and the ensuing leadership vacuums - that are the regular hallmark of African politics. And the limited expectation of citizens, resulting in little engagement in the day to day process of democracy.

I share their concern.

While Australia enjoys the benefit of a strong democracy, supported by a healthy system of government and opposition and a solid public institutional framework, our citizens, particularly the young, are becoming increasingly disengaged from the political process.

Only 49 percent of young Australians believe democracy is the best form of governance, according to the latest Lowy Institute poll.


That’s the question I’m asking young Canberrans through my youth forums – the first of which was held last year, the second last month at Canberra Grammar.

While the challenges facing Australia and African nations may be different, the hope is the same.

For an active citizenry.

A citizenry that shapes, and engages in, its future each and every day. Not just every three years by numbering boxes at a polling booth.