Democracy always attracts passionate supporters and vocal critics. In classical times, a good system of government led by rulers elected by the people was seen by many as a contradiction in terms. Plato disparaged democracy in The Republic as a natural home to lawlessness, immorality and disorder.
Despite such a poor recommendation, democracy as a system of government has won enormous adherence around the world. Accepted by only a small minority of governments a century ago, it has become a new global norm in recent decades, with 122 nations classed as ‘electoral democracies’ in 2014.
Yet despite this recent increase in absolute numbers, older democracies such as Australia face substantial and pressing challenges. Disengagement and sometimes disillusionment with democracy among younger citizens is of concern to many. Once large and well-connected political parties now experience much-reduced and dwindling memberships. Meanwhile national and state parliaments suffer regularly from policy gridlock, with frequent claims that vested and minority interests are strangling the public spirit of democracy.
Confronting these issues in a frank and constructive way is the focus of Democracy Renewal. The website brings together a wealth of articles, opinions, research findings relevant to contemporary government. For interested readers and policy experts alike, it helps clarify many complex issues and debates. The site also points the way to new ways to re-engage citizens, improve policy processes, increase transparency in government decision-making, and adapt democratic systems in creative and innovative ways.
Democracy Renewal is a valuable addition to a great centre for public policy discussion and knowledge. With staff and students from the Melbourne School of Government, the editorial team has done an outstanding job preparing it for launch. The information and ideas presented here reflect a broad vision and ambition to address the stress and strains at work in nations around the world.
Through the participation of many voices, I hope Democracy Renewal will help inform a richer and deeper conversation about government and democracy.