Definitions – accountability and governance


  • A system of government where the people are able to vote for (and participate in) the government. Features of a democracy include free and fair regular elections, and the rule of law.
  • Australia is a representative democracy, which means Australia citizens vote for representatives who then form government, representing the people who voted for them.


  • How the public is able to influence or give their opinions in the governance of the country.
  • For example, voting, petitions, pressure groups, letters to MPs, joining political parties.
  • Popular participation – all citizens are able to get involved in the running of government.

The rule of law

  • As proposed by Joseph Raz, this is a constraint on the power of the government, favouring the rights of the individual. It describes the influence of the law in Australia – no one is above the law.
  • The Constitution still constrains the power of the Parliament, and the High Court is able to hold Parliament to account. The principle that the law applies to everyone.


  • The basic freedoms to which all humans are entitled. These include freedom of expression, freedom of association, right to food and water. In Australia, there are few express rights protected in the Constitution, which could lead to the encroachment by the Parliament on the rights.
  • There are 5: s 116 – C’th may not impose a state religion; s 117 – no discrimination against individuals based on the state they came from; s 51 xxxi – right to acquisition of property on just terms; s 41- Right to vote, if you vote in State elections; s 80 – right to trial by jury for federal indictable offences.

Open government

  • Where the government is transparent: open to public scrutiny and public opinion. The public is able to access the documents and proceedings of government.
  • Freedom of information in Australia: Freedom of Information Act 1982 allows individuals to access these documents to ‘enhance the transparency of public policy and decision making’ and ‘participate more effectively in the nation’s democratic processes’.


  • Where decisions are made through agreement. For laws to be passed, a majority of MPs and Senators need to vote for it.
  • Governing through consensus ensures that the legislation is agreed to by a majority of the population.


  • The ability of an entity to carry out its functions.
  • For example, Parliament’s ability to carry out its legislative, representative, accountability, scrutiny and forum for debate functions is called its effectiveness.


  • The idea that all public officials, whether elected by the people or appointed, are all directly or indirectly responsible for their actions to the people of Australia.
  • This ensures that the officials carry out their duties effectively, ethically and in the best interest of the public, and ensures there are sanctions in place if they fail to do so.

Natural justice

  • The principle that people should be all be treated fairly in court processes. The right against bias and the right to a fair hearing are essential to this concept.
  • Set of procedures that are designed to ensure that decisions are made fairly.
  • Lit: procedural fairness


  • The principle of treating everyone equally and fairly. Concepts such as the rule of law and natural justice are essential to maintain equality. Everyone is treated equally before the law.
  • The degree to which all citizens are treated with equal fairness by the legal procedures


  • The extent to which all citizens are able to exercise their legal rights using the justice system.
  • In a liberal democracy, all citizens should be able to exercise their rights freely
  • (e.g. right to defend oneself against allegations made to them and initiate civil litigation)


  • The process of decision making and implementation.


  • The idea that governments should have limited powers, in favour of protecting the rights and interests of the individual.


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