Australia’s democracy has been downgraded from ‘open’ to ‘narrowed’

The WA Government announced $91m in additional funding to frontline police to combat COVID-19. Source: AAP

Australia is now in line with the United States, Ghana and Botswana in terms of civil freedoms.

An annual report on the civil rights of countries worldwide has downgraded Australia’s democracy from “open” to “narrowed”.

The CIVICUS Monitor is a collaboration between human rights organisations around the world, to assess the democratic freedoms of 196 countries.

In the 2019 report, Australia’s democratic ‘status’  dropped. This was due to recent police raids on media outlets, the growing trend of prosecuting whistleblowers like Witness K - and the increasing crackdown on peaceful protest.

The CIVICUS Monitor combines several different sources of data looking at things like the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and ‘expression’. 

Countries are then given a ranking ranging from closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open.

The Human Rights Law Centre is concerned about the findings.

 “All of these restrictive policies add up. We need to draw a line in the sand and say ‘enough’,” said the Centre’s Campaigns Director Tom Clarke.

 “Powerful politicians and their corporate backers don’t always respect the rights of individual people or communities,” he warned. 

We need to create an Australian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to help level the playing field.

The 2019 report took particular aim at legislation passed by Australian parliament this year that allows law enforcement authorities to force tech companies to hand over user information - even if it is protected by end-to-end encryption.

The report’s assessment of the Australian civic space is echoed in public opinion, with just 59 percent of Australian’s saying they are satisfied with how democracy is working.

Australia is one of three countries that were downgraded in the Asia Pacific region in 2019, with India and Brunei going from obstructed to repressed.

In wider regions, Malta joined Australia in declining from an ‘open’ civic space to a ‘narrowed’ civic space.

The report also found that the percentage of the world’s population living in a ‘repressed’ democracy doubled in the last 12 months, to 40 per cent.

Countries categorised as ‘open’ decreased in the past year from 4 per cent in 2018 to 3 per cent in 2019.

As part of the research CIVICUS published a ‘watch list’ - countries where citizen’s rights are being actively infringed upon. Making the selection for 2019 were Colombia, Egypt, Guinea and Kazakhstan. 

China was highlighted for the ongoing conflict in Hong Kong over the proposed extradition bill, and the continued mistreatment of protestors and journalists.

There were several brighter spots in this year’s report. Dominican Republic and Moldova were both updated in terms of civic freedom from ‘obstructed’ to ‘narrowed’. 

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