In September 1999, over 3000 Australian students in 115 schools representing all schooling sectors participated in the Australian component of the IEA Civic Education study. In this paper, the focus in particular is on Australian students’ democratic values and on their attitudes towards participation and social action. The results suggest that while Australian students have a well-developed set of democratic values, they adopt a passive rather than an active style of engaging in conventional citizenship activities. They will participate formally through voting and they will pursue issues where they see some community benefit but they do not see themselves exercising an effective presence in the formal political system. The implications of these results are discussed in relation to the characteristics of citizens needed in a democratic society and the role that schools can play in adopting curriculum and pedagogy that will engage young people in the development of their civic knowledge. Copyright © 2003 Elsevier.