Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With the mining boom’s end continuing to stress national budgets, Australia falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 25) with respect to economic policy. Its score in this area has fallen by 0.5 points relative to 2014.

GDP growth rates are low, and per capita income is stagnant. Despite an election win, the government has remained unable to pass budgetary measures reliably. Tax-system reforms are overdue, and economic-development plans remain centered on stimulating primary-product exports. A proposal to allow fiscally stretched states and territories to collect income tax was rejected.

Unemployment rates have declined slightly, but underemployment is rising, and wage growth is flat. A high minimum wage may be a drag on employment. Government efforts to tighten welfare eligibility have been unsuccessful.

Public debt remains comparatively low, but concerns over meeting future spending needs are rising. Despite a new offshored-profits tax, corporate-tax shortfalls have resulted in years of budget deficits. Private-sector debt levels are very high.

Social Policies

With political tensions blocking broader policy reforms, Australia falls into the upper-middle ranks with regard to social policy (rank 17). Its score in this area has declined by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

Integration policy has a long and successful, though selective, history. A program for high-skilled migrants has been cut back, while a harsh policy blocking asylum seekers from reaching the country has reduced migrant drownings. The indigenous population remains badly marginalized.

Concerns about deteriorating educational quality are linked to geographic and income inequities. Government funding for private schools has increased faster than for public schools, increasing inequity. The government has advocated but not implemented sweeping welfare-system reform. Public pensions are comparatively small, but a shift toward private pensions is underway

The health care system is generally of high quality, though waiting periods can be long. A freeze on non-hospital medical-services subsides was extended, and is likely to increase patient costs. A child-care subsidy increase was delayed until 2018, while women with children still gravitating toward part-time work.

Environmental Policies

Policy rollbacks and emissions concerns have left Australia scoring relatively poorly (rank 31) with respect to environmental policy. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.6 points relative to 2014.

Despite reduction goals, CO2 emissions are rising. Recently abolished, the carbon tax has been replaced by a system paying businesses to reduce emissions, regarded as ineffective by most experts. Public-transport gaps mean infrastructure investments must form a key part of future environmental policies; however, actual investment in new infrastructure remains modest.

Energy consumption levels remain high, and renewable-energy use has actually declined since the 1970s. Agricultural water use is a source of considerable political tension.

Recent declines in biodiversity have prompted new concerns. The issues of carbon-emission reductions and participation in international environmental regimes have divided the political left and right.



Quality of Democracy

With an open, transparent electoral regime, Australia’s democracy falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 16) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.3 points since 2014.

The country lacks a bill of rights, but civil rights and political liberties are generally well protected by legislation and the courts. Controversial anti-terrorism laws enable broad and warrantless electronic surveillance, and a new law allows citizenship to be stripped from dual citizens convicted of terrorist activities. A rise in anti-Islamic political parties has been evident.

Media organizations are largely independent, but the print media is highly concentrated. Broadcast media are more diverse, but a proposed new law is likely to increase ownership concentration in the future. Anti-terrorism laws allow some restrictions on media reporting.

Anti-discrimination laws are generally strong, but surveys indicate that discrimination against women remains a problem. Courts are independent and strong, though judicial appointments lack transparency. While corruption is generally rare, some problems at the state and local levels remain.



Executive Capacity

Despite the prevalence of political stalemates, Australia falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 12) in the sphere of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

The government office coordinates policy development, working closely with line ministries. Ministries often collaborate at lower levels as well, while cabinet committees handle routine or detailed issues. A recent government-called election backfired, reducing the upper-house majority and increasing policy gridlock.

RIAs are generally required at the federal and state levels, though these often lack transparency and do not explicitly address long-term sustainability. The government lacks a strategic economic vision to compensate for resource-income declines and China’s rising regional dominance, and is unable to publicly communicate a clear direction or policy agenda.

While many tasks are constitutionally delegated to states and territories, funding is often inadequate, and likely to fall further. However, federal/state relationships have improved markedly in recent years. Australian society shows an willingness to resist international pressures, as on the issues of migrants or emissions policy.

Executive Accountability

Despite declining citizen engagement with the political system, a well-developed legislative-oversight capability places Australia in the top ranks (rank 6) for executive accountability. Its score in this area is unchanged relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have substantial resources and powers at their disposal to monitor the executive. Long-established audit and ombuds offices act capably and independently. State-level and issue-specific ombuds offices also exist.

Citizens have shown a falling interest in political issues, and the rate of citizens casting invalid votes is rising despite compulsory voting. The lack of media diversity hinders the development of policy knowledge, though online news providers are reinvigorating the sector to some extent.

Internal political-party decisions are primarily made by elected officials, although ordinary members have gained a stronger voice in recent years. Major economic organizations are sophisticated and work closely with the government. Many other interest groups also offer high-quality proposals.
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