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Democratic Audit Update June 2007

 by Democratic Audit of Australia

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

 

Shrinking electoral roll

In a new paper for the Audit, Peter Brent (ANU) and Simon Jackman (Stanford University) review the slowing rate of increase of the Australian electoral roll. They find that the Australian Electoral Commission has become more proficient at expunging than at enrolling or re-enrolling voters.

Scottish and Welsh elections

Elections for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, and for local government in most of England and in Scotland, were held on 3 May 2007. In a new Audit paper, James Jupp (ANU) reviews the background and results. 

How well does Australian democracy serve sexual and gender minorities?

The latest publication in the Focussed Audit series, How well does Australian democracy serve sexual and gender minorities? by Sarah Maddison (University of Sydney) and Emma Partridge (UTS), will be published at the end of the month. The report will be available as a free download from the Audit website. A limited number of hard copies will also be available directly from us. Details here.   

Human rights for WA

The Western Australian Government has released a draft Human Rights Bill that draws on both the Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT) and the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities 2006. A consultative committee chaired by former Fraser Government Minister Fred Chaney has called for submissions by 31 August 2007. Australia remains the only western  democracy without a national Bill of Rights but action is at least proceeding at the sub-national level. For more information, including a discussion paper and the draft bill, go here

Prisoner disenfranchisement

The Roach Constitutional challenge to prisoner disenfranchisement (Roach v Electoral Commissioner & Anor) is being heard in the High Court in Canberra. Brian Costar, Professor at Swinburne University, had an episode of Perspective on Radio National on 4 June 2007 on it: transcript,
audio.   

Fundraising at Kirribilli

Revelations that Prime Minister John Howard has been using official residences, Kirribilli House and The Lodge, to host Liberal Party events has sparked controversy. The Australian Electoral Commission has ruled that the rent-free use of Kirribilli House by the Liberal Party did not constitute a 'gift' that should have been disclosed under electoral rules. The AEC’s release on the subject is here:

Read more in the Sydney Morning Herald. 

Tightening the rules for voters

The Audit’s Norm Kelly and Audit adviser Colin Hughes (Emeritus Professor of Politics, University of Queensland and former federal Electoral Commissioner) were both interviewed for Radio National’s Law Report on 12 June 2007 on the changes to federal enrolment requirements. The Government has claimed that the changes are necessary to ensure the integrity of the electoral roll. But that integrity was not seriously in question before the changes and the new provisions are likely to deny the vote to tens of thousands of otherwise eligible Australians. 

Read or listen here.

Offices of profit?

Audit contributor Peter van Onselen has published an opinion piece on the lack of rules in Australia governing the employment of ministers once they leave office. The latest example is Ian Campbell who has been appointed to the board of a company expected to tender for the smart card contract he had carriage of as minister. Canada, the UK and the US all have rules governing post-separation employment to prevent such conflicts of interest. See here.

Independent Electoral Commission for Ireland

Following the Irish election Fianna Fail has negotiated an agreement with the Greens to enter a coalition government led by Fianna Fail and also including the Progressive Democrats. Apart from provisions for new climate change initiatives, the agreement includes the creation of a new independent electoral commission with responsibility for electoral administration and the creation of a new electoral register. The electoral commission will also take over responsibilities in relation to electoral expenditure from the Commission on Standards in Public Life. 

Sydney Democratic Deficit event


The Sydney Democracy Forum is holding an event on the Democratic Deficit and Australia. The event will explore Australia's democratic deficit and some novel ways for strengthening our democracy. Its three presenters are Dr Lyn Carson (University of Sydney), Dr Phil Larkin (Democratic Audit of Australia, Australian National University) and Professor Murray Print (University of Sydney). 

This is a free event, which is open to SDF members and all other interested persons. For catering purposes RSVPs are required and should be sent to the SDF Program Coordinator (r.mueller@econ.usyd.edu.au or (02) 9036 5248) by Friday 22 June.

More information on the Forum and on this even can be found here.

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The Howard government ought to be thrown into the street!

Victorian County Court chief judge Michael Rozenes yesterday recorded convictions against the two journalists for refusing to reveal their source and fined them $7000 each, but he did not send them to prison. The fact that journalists have avoided jail for doing their job would normally be reason to celebrate, except that they should never have been before court in the first place.

They were caught in the middle of a campaign by the federal Government to intimidate whistleblowers, to politicise and muzzle public servants, to stifle public debate and to plug leaks.

These behaviours one comes to expect in dictatorships such as Zimbabwe, but any government that tries it in a democracy ought to be thrown into the street.

The Australian compares the Howard government with dictatorships like Zimbabwe. It calls for the Howard government to be thrown into the street. Who would have thought it would come to this? Even conservative newspapers are worried about the behaviour of the Howard government.

In a true democracy we would protect whistle blowers

KERRY O'BRIEN: Two journalists from Melbourne's Herald Sun criminal convictions for contempt of court, and were fined $7,000 each for refusing to reveal the source of a story.

They had refused to give evidence against a senior public servant who was accused of leaking Cabinet documents two years ago. On Friday, in a separate case, a former Customs officer who blew the whistle on serious airport security flaws received a 9 month suspended sentence.

Unlike countries like Britain, Australia has no national laws to protect so called 'whistle blowers'. In the eyes of some observers, such prosecutions are symptomatic of a new climate of secrecy that has seen Governments clamp down on the release of sensitive information in the public interest.

 

Howard and his storm troopers are attacking freedom of the press. Public Servants and journalist are under threat. Australia desperately needs laws to protect whistle blowers. These people are national heroes.

Ms Toni Hoffman AM
(BNurs(PostReg) 1998, MBioeth 2003)
For service to nursing and to the community through concern for the well-being of patients in the public health care system, and advocacy roles to improve standards of medical care.

Toni Hoffman the nurse who exposed the Dr Death scandal in Bunderberg was made a  member of the Order of Australia. This is recognition of her courage to take on the government, it is sharp contrast to the treatment of the journalists and customs officer.

Gifts, fringe benefits, and calling for confetti

Kirribilli House belongs to the people. What right did Big Boy have to give the Liberal Party a freebie like this? If the Liberal Party raised money as a consequence of this event, and I understand it did, then we the taxpayers and owners of the joint have a right to a hire fee for our house. It is quite simple. We don't need any expert to explain all this to us. Had it been a charity fundraiser I would not have a problem with it. But since when has the Liberal Party been charitable?

Any business getting a freebie like that would have to declare it as a fringe benefit in its tax return and would be taxed according to the value of the benefit. Now if I wanted to hire Kirribilli House for a fundraising do, what would little Johnnie charge me? At least 5 grand no doubt, if not a lot more. The Australian public has been cheated out of revenue here. Mind you, the others have done the same in the past so hypocrisy reigns supreme there.

Next time I am in the big smoke I am going to call at our house down on the water there, and ask the tenant nicely if I can have a cuppa and a chat about this and that. No problem about the man on the gate. I can see our boy quite clearly wandering in his grounds from a window overlooking from a friend's flat so I will just cooee to him and tell him I'm on my way over.

And not being one to miss an opportunity, at the sight of the first passing ship I will raise the little matter of those other ships. You know, the ones with the dying sheep on board.

Time to assert our democratic rights a bit more often methinks.

And time to do something different for a change. Have been thinking of filling my bra with confetti, 300 000 bits in the shape of sheep and letting the lot go from the public gallery of the big House. Just to remind them all of how many they have sent to their deaths on those ships in the past six years. Still on the agenda, that one. Does anyone have a machine that can cut confetti into the shape of sheep by any chance? Has to be small, about the size of normal confetti, but there is a bit of room to manoeuvre as I am no Marilyn Monroe.

Just say no

Bill Smithies of the ACT was fined $461 for not voting in the republic referendum, and was later sent to jail.

In other words, politicians are legally entitled to receive our votes, and parties are legally entitled to receive taxpayer funds for almost all of these compelled votes. And they are willing to send people to jail to enforce these laws.

With the culture of entitlement so pervasive in our political system, why are we so surprised when politicians decide to grant themselves a 6.7 per cent pay rise?

We call this democracy, if you don't vote, the government will lock you up. What ever happened to non violent protest? What would happen if we all said no. No you can't have a 6.7 percent pay rise. No, I will not vote for politicians who do not listen. No more troops killing people in the name of democracy. No pay rise for politicians unless it is linked to a reduction in carbon emission.

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