Student handout 10: Democratic Values Survey

In this activity you will define some important democratic values and then survey some Australians for their views about the values that your community shares.

In your group, write a definition of the following democratic values and principles. If you are unsure about what any of these mean, read the text box below:

Fair and equal laws


Representative democracy


Democratic freedoms: voting, speech, opinion, assembly




Tolerance and fairness




Social justice


Respect for the land


Respect for Indigenous


Australian historian Donald Horne put forward the following principles and values that Australians might share. This is taken from An Australian Compact – What Are the Core Values That All Australians Might Respect? (2002), available at

  • To maintain the rule of law
    The rule of law means that each citizen is equal before the law, that laws must be predictable and known to all, that laws must be fair and apply equally to the government as well as all citizens. This includes openness of courts, independence from government and presumption of innocence. Finally laws must be democratic in that ultimately citizens make the law.
  • To strengthen Australia as a representative liberal democracy based on universal adult suffrage and on freedom of opinion
    The notion of representation means that Australians delegate power to government through elections. Regular elections ensure that all legal power comes from the people.

    While Australia does not have a formal statement about rights and freedoms most people believe that freedom of expression, freedom of information, freedom of assembly, freedom to demonstrate and freedom of association are essential for freedom of opinion in a democracy.

    Universal adult suffrage is the right of all citizens to vote. In addition the voting system must be fair.

    A liberal democracy encompasses a high level of individual freedom and checks on the power of the government through the independence of the judiciary, a multi-party system, separate Houses of Parliament and a federal system of government.
  • To maintain the ideal of equality under the law of all Australians
    As well as equal civic rights and equal rights of legal access and treatment by the courts this encompasses the notion of no discrimination based on race, skin colour, ethnic and national origin, sex, age, place of residence, sexual preference and marital status as well as equality of opportunity.
  • To uphold the ideal of Australia as a tolerant and fair society
    Fairness might cover such things as a fair go for minorities, a fair go in expressing opinions and a fair share for the less fortunate, while tolerance encompasses the acceptance of diversity.
  • To recognise and celebrate Australia as an inclusive society of multi-national, multi-ethnic and multi-racial origin
    Australia has become a society that has successfully brought together immigrants from many nations, races, religions and ethnic groups. To sustain this society we need to recognise its richness and at the same time encourage the notion of core civic values that all Australian citizens might hold in common.
  • To continue to develop Australia as a commonwealth devoted to the wellbeing of its people
    Wellbeing covers issues such as social justice for all Australians which includes areas such as welfare for the disadvantaged and the right to jobs.
  • To respect and care for the land we share
    The land we share is a civic idea in that it is a symbol for all Australians and it is in our national interest to sustain it.
  • To value the unique status of the Indigenous peoples
    This principle calls for recognition that Australia is the homeland of Indigenous peoples and it was a homeland where they had their own rights and customs. Further, this recognises that Europeans displaced the original inhabitants and these actions disturbed the cultures of Indigenous peoples and their societies.

Democratic Values Survey

Conduct a survey among the members of your family and the people who live in your neighbourhood to find out what values your community shares and which ones are regarded as most important.

  • Ask your respondents what they understand by the term ‘democratic values’ and what they see as the most important democratic values. If you wish, ask them to define the meanings of those values.
  • When you have gathered your information produce a graph, pie chart or Venn diagram to represent your findings. Using this as visual support, explain orally to the rest of your class what you have discovered through your survey.
  • Compare your findings with the rest of the class.
  • Produce a poster that explains the values that are most important in your community.

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