Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With a need for economic reinvention becoming ever clearer, Australia falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 25) with respect to economic policy. Its score in this area has fallen by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

GDP growth rates are low, and per capita income is stagnant. The coalition government’s most recent budget reflected a more balanced mix of expenditure cuts and tax increases than previously. However, the end of the mining boom and an auto-manufacturing decline have left an economic void.

Unemployment rates remain comparatively low, but wage growth is flat. A high minimum wage may be a drag on employment, but has helped to stabilize domestic demand. Skills shortages brought an influx of foreign workers early in the decade, but visa-approval conditions have since been tightened.

Public debt levels remain comparatively low, but fiscal sustainability remains a concern. The tax-to-GDP is very low in cross-OECD comparison, arguably creating infrastructure-development bottlenecks. Corporate-tax rates are falling. Private-sector debt levels are very high, and banks are highly exposed to the inflated real-estate sector.

Social Policies

With cost-of-living issues a rising concern, Australia falls into the upper-middle ranks with regard to social policy (rank 16). Its score in this area has declined by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

Integration policy has a long and successful, though selective, history. A program for high-skilled temporary migrants has been cut back, and the navy today prevents vessels containing asylum seekers from reaching Australian shores. The indigenous population remains badly marginalized. A new Home Affairs portfolio will combine immigration, border protection, law enforcement and domestic security agencies.

The government strongly subsidizes private schools, increasing inequity. Very high housing costs force many parents to choose between buying a home or investing in their children’s education. University fees have increased, but poor students still have access. Public pensions are comparatively small, but deprivation rates are low. 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 has been partially lifted. A long-delayed child-are subsidy was slated to take effect in July 2018, but other family payments have been reduced.

Environmental Policies

Policy rollbacks and emissions concerns have left Australia scoring relatively poorly (rank 32) with respect to environmental policy. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.6 points relative to 2014.

CO2 emissions are rising, while a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 2030 is not associated with a credible plan for doing so. A recently completed review of the power-generation market is expected to help boost renewable-energy production from currently low levels.

Public-transport gaps call for infrastructure investments as a key element in future environmental policies; however, actual investment in new infrastructure remains modest. Water security and water management policies have improved in recent years.

Accelerating biodiversity decline is a serious concern. 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 14) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.3 points since 2014.

While civil rights and political liberties are generally well protected, anti-terrorism laws have become progressively stronger, prompting civil and human rights concerns. Asylum seekers are processed offshore, denying them the rights accorded to citizens. Same-sex marriage has been legalized.

State and territory governments have independently improved campaign-funding disclosure requirements. Investigations indicate that both major political parties have accepted Chinese-origin donations, sparking international tensions. A court ruling barring parliamentarians from holding dual citizenships has affected numerous lawmakers, generating political instability.

Media organizations are largely independent, but the print media is highly concentrated. 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. While corruption is generally rare, some problems at the state and local levels remain.



Executive Capacity

With some improvement evident in the government’s legislative record, Australia falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 13) 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. Significant recent public-sector jobs cuts have threatened to undermine planning ability. Experts say a recent shift of border, security and immigration agencies into one portfolio is unlikely to improve strategic planning or policy implementation.

RIAs are generally required at the federal and state levels, though these often lack transparency and do not explicitly address long-term sustainability. Despite a tradition of communication coherency , the current government has not conveyed a clear direction, with some members expressing outspoken dissent.

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 helps Australia receive high rankings (rank 7) 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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