With the granting of the franchise to white men and women in 1902, Australia became one of the first mass electoral democracies. When the early federal governments passed innovative social and economic legislation, Australia also laid claim to being, or at least becoming, a social democracy. Nonetheless, these achievements built upon an earlier record of political, social, and economic reform in the Australian colonies. This paper offers a brief history of the evolution of Australian democracy that takes account of the interactions between institutional change and political struggles for citizenship rights. The process of democratisation has not been uniform, either in its evolution or scope, and the outcomes for citizens have been uneven. Where liberal and social democratic principles generally predominate, these remain in constant tension with more authoritarian tendencies, which then become a focus for resistance from individual citizens, organised labour, and social movements. Democratisation in Australia, as in many countries, is a process that inevitably involves conflict, not only over the character of its political and legal institutions, but also over who is to be included or excluded as citizens, and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
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