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Democratic Audit Update May 2007


by Democratic Audit of Australia

The latest update from the Democratic Audit program at ANU on how our democracy is working.


Gender and the NSW election
In a new Audit paper, Tony Smith analyses the representation of women in the New South Wales parliament following the election on 24 March 2007. He argues that the Coalition’s failure to make greater inroads into the Labor government’s majority can, in part, be attributed to their failure to promote women candidates in winnable seats and to their weakness on gender issues. 
Political equality in Australia
The pursuit of political equality is one of the four underpinning values of the Democratic Audit of Australia. In this new paper, Audit leader Marian Sawer reviews the state of Australian democracy in relation to this core principle. Restrictions on voting, a lack of transparency surrounding political finance, and the use of public money for party political ends are some of the areas in which Australia currently fails to measure up. 
Amnesty International's 2007 report critical of Australia
Amnesty International (AI) has published its report on the state of the world's human rights in 2007. The Australian government is one of the ones singled out for criticism for adopting ‘the politics of fear’ in relation to asylum seekers. In addition to its refugee policies, violence against women and the counter-terrorism measures were areas highlighted as concerns.
The report can be downloaded from the AI website.
Freedom of the Australian press
The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance has published its 2007 Report on Press Freedom. Disturbingly, the report finds that: ‘A creeping authoritarianism has been the hallmark of the past 12 months in the Australian press. Government and the courts continue to restrict what journalists can report and where they can go, criminalising the media’s professional obligations and wielding ever-greater unchecked power’. Download the report from the Alliance’s website,

New Matilda has an article on the way in which governments around the world are using their websites to rewrite history—or ‘webscrubbing’. Whilst the internet has allowed instant access to a vast amount of information, it also allows governments (and companies) retrospectively to edit embarrassing information from their websites and out of public view. (subscription needed)
Investigation public service and ministerial staff in Canada
The Canadian Public Service Commission has launched an inquiry into the movement of public servants between departments and ministerial offices, and in particular the possible impact on the impartiality—both real and perceived—of the public service. The inquiry follows the Commission’s investigations into two incidents where ministerial offices tried to influence the public service appointments process. Writing in the Public Sector Informant (May 2007), Jack Waterford highlights the relevance of the inquiry to Australia, where the restrictions on the post-separation employment of public officeholders are less stringent, with the onus placed squarely on the individual to avoid conflicts of interest, and taking ‘improper advantage’ of their previous position. 
Prisoner challenges disenfranchisement
Vickie Lee Roach, an inmate of the Dame Phyllis Frost Women’s Prison in Victoria has mounted a legal challenge to the government’s 2006 decision to remove prisoners’ right to vote. The challenge is on the basis that, under the Constitution, a citizen can only be disenfranchised on the grounds of mental capacity. The Age has the full story. 
Government advertising
Following the controversy over the publicly-funded advertising campaign in support of its WorkChoices proposals, the federal government has launched another campaign—this time for its ‘fairness test—that can be criticised for the same sort of abuse of public funds for party-political ends. With a Bill still some time off, full-page advertisements have already begun to appear in the press in the context of the forthcoming federal election. Audit contributors Graeme Orr and Joo-Cheong Tham have a piece in the Age on it.
US electoral administration
Eight US States are allowing electoral registration up to, and including, election day itself. The move has seen turn out rise, and no apparent problems with fraudulent registration. The latter was the justification for the 2006 changes to electoral registration in Australia, which will, it has been predicted, disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters.
Read the full story in the New York Times (free registration required):
Less encouragingly, the six-member Federal Election Commission, the body responsible for overseeing US campaign finance laws, is entering the presidential election season with three temporary members whose appointments have not been ratified, two members whose terms have expired but who have not been replaced, and one vacancy. The appointments process is likely to bog down in controversy, both partisan and across party lines, on issues like restrictions on campaign expenditure. Read more in the Boston Globe.
Charter of right for Australia
George Williams, Professor of Law at UNSW and a member of the Audit’s Academic Advisory Committee, has published an updated version of his book, A Charter of Rights for Australia. Australia is alone amongst democracies in having no national bill of rights: Williams argues that the matter has become more urgent in recent years. More information can be found on the publisher’s website.
Law and liberty in the war on terror
The Gilbert and Tobin Centre of Public Law at UNSW is hosting a symposium on Law & Liberty in the War on Terror. The event is on the 4, 5, and 6 July 2007 at UNSW. Speakers include the Attorney-General Philip Ruddock MP. Full details are available from the website.
Human rights conference
The Law School at the University of Melbourne is hosting a conference ‘Protecting Human Rights’ on 25 September 2007. Full details from the website.

Dr Phil Larkin
Democratic Audit of Australia
Political Science
Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200
Tel: +61 2 6125 0696 or 1600
Fax: +61 2 6125 3051


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Look who's kidding now....

Actually, John, the recent Congressional elections in the USA, and the strong independent stance of American politicians, like California's Republican Governor, on a range of social and environmental issues in defiance of the American president show that democracy is alive and well in the USA.

China has never been a democracy, except perhaps Taiwan and Hong Kong and they're subject to threat, and democracy in Russia is subject to very dire constraints because of the increasingly authoritarian and centralised power being usurped by President Putin.

Of course, none of them are quite as bad as the family-run military dictatorships of Cuba and North Korea.

But they're failed Marxist states, so not real governments in any meaningful sense of the word.

Bush lectures Russia and China on Democracy. He must be joking!

Bush said: "In Russia, reforms that once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development."

Mr Bush also said the US disagreed with China's leaders who "believe that they can continue to open the nation's economy without also opening its political system".

Mr Bush said that although societies developed "at different speeds", certain democratic values were universal.


This really is the pot calling the kettle black.

Bush has been the greatest threat to US democracy.

Mr. Speaker, my service in this House has often shown me the profound tension between government secrecy and democratic decision-making. Rarely however, has that tension been as starkly posed as in the current revelations of divergence between President Bush's assertions based on "secret information" about the alleged threat to America posed by Iraq and the actual assessment of that threat by America's intelligence professionals.


What would Benjamin Franklin think of President Bush's assertion that he has the inherent power – even without a declaration of war by the Congress – to launch an invasion of any nation on Earth, at any time he chooses, for any reason he wishes, even if that nation poses no imminent threat to the United States.


Fascist America, in 10 easy steps

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all.


No more US appointees to the World Bank

US President George W. Bush nominated former diplomat and trade chief Robert Zoellick overnight to head the World Bank after a favouritism scandal forced out Paul Wolfowitz.

[The Australian]

In a world where American economic strength is on the decline, it is about time the head of the World Bank was decided by a democratic vote not a US appointee.

Why deter whistle blowers?

Allan Kessing: Yes, well exactly. The Crown Prosecutor, Lincoln Crowley, made exactly that point, that it was necessary for a custodial sentence to deter other potential whistleblowers amongst the public service. My barrister made the point that he said he could see nothing wrong with exposing our government agency to criticism if the criticism was justified through maladministration and/or incompetence.

[ABC Radio National: The Law Report]

Allan Kessing a former public servant with the Customs department faces a jail sentence for exposing security breaches at Sydney airport. We should be encouraging whistle blowers not jailing them. The government forgets that this man is a Public Servant not a Government servant. Why would we want to deter other whistleblowers?

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