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Democratic Audit Update July 2007

by Democratic Audit of Australia

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


New Focused Audit on sexual and gender minorities released

The latest in the Audit's Focused Audit series, How Well Does Australian Democracy Serve Sexual and Gender Minorities by Sarah Maddison and Emma Partridge is now available. Whilst there has been considerable progress in the human rights of sexual and gender minorities in recent decades, it highlights the extent to which significant inequalities persist, particularly in respect of relationship recognition.
Download Audit Report No. 9  
A limited number of hard copies are available from the Audit (first free, $10 for each subsequent copy).

The Haneef case

Following attempted terrorist attacks in the UK, a Gold Coast doctor has been charged with giving material assistance to a terrorist organisation—namely his mobile phone SIM card. Dr Haneef passed the card on to a second cousin 12 months ago when he was leaving the UK. Despite being granted bail by a magistrate, Dr Haneef has had his visa withdrawn and has been placed in immigration detention.
James Jupp (ANU) reviews the case
The Governance of Britain

As one of his first moves, the new British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has released a Green Paper, The Governance of Britain, to launch discussion of a wide range of constitutional reform.
The Green Paper is available here
Phil Larkin provides an overview of the Green Paper
The Audit's Norman Abjorensen discusses the proposals relating to ministerial advisors
Government responses to committees

The latest six-monthly report on government responses to committee reports was presented to parliament on 21 June 2007. Astonishingly, it would appear that the government has failed to respond to a single report within the required three-month period. Indeed, some are still awaiting a response after several years. Whilst in a few cases the government claims a response is pending, subject to developments, in the case of the report on A Certain Maritime Incident (tabled in October 2002), the government  is still deciding whether it is going to respond at all. Perhaps the most worrying thing is not that the government is reluctant to respond to reports, but that parliament allows this.

The full reports can be found in Hansard:
The Senate (from page 102) 
The House (from page 94)

British votes to decide key Australian seats?

A government response to a question on notice from Sen Andrew Murray has revealed that there are still some 163,887 voters on the electoral roll who are not Australian citizens. British subjects who were on the roll in January 1984 were allowed to stay on it indefinitely, unlike the situation in Canada where Canadian citizenship was required from 1975. The Australian High Court determined in 1999 that the UK was a 'foreign power', making British citizens ineligible to sit in the Australian parliament because of their foreign allegiance. British citizens can still, however, decide elections in federal seats such as Brand and Canning in WA and Kingston and Wakefield in SA.

Same-Sex: Same Entitlements

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission released its report Same-Sex: Same Entitlements on 22 June 2007. This reports on the inquiry into discrimination against same-sex couples in accessing financial and work-related entitlements. HREOC found that 58 federal laws discriminated against same-sex couples, including areas such as superannuation, Medicare and child support. While same-sex couples were 'first-class tax-payers' they were second-class citizens in terms of entitlements and this also meant a discriminatory impact on their children.' This was the inquiry that Howard government ministers instructed their departments and agencies not to make submissions to.
Read the report

NSW Election Funding Inquiry

The NSW Legislative Council has set up (27 June) a select committee to inquire into the funding and disclosure of donations to political parties and candidates in State and local government elections. The inquiry was moved by Liberal MP Don Harwin, with the support of the Greens, the Shooters Party and the Christian Democratic Party.  The inquiry will look at the impact of donations on the democratic process and the advantages and disadvantages of a ban on corporate and union donations and of introducing expenditure limits. It will report by the first sitting day in March 2008. There has been continuing controversy in NSW over developer donations and their potential impact on planning laws and planning decisions.
go to inquiry home page
Parliamentary administration compared

June Verrier, currently a visiting fellow at the Audit has an interesting paper on parliamentary administration in the Australasian Parliamentary Review. Comparing experience in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK, she argues that, contrary to much opinion, improved corporate governance will not, of itself, increase parliament's independence or effectiveness. An underpinning commitment is necessary to the kind of administrative and budgetary arrangements needed for independence, the best-practice model being a cross-party parliamentary commission. The Australasian Parliamentary Review is not yet available online, but the article is reproduced with permission.
Read the paper

Strengthening government and parliament in Victoria

The Victorian parliament's Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) is conducting an inquiry into strengthening parliamentary accountability. Some interesting submissions to the inquiry have been made, which are now available from the PAEC website. 

WA boundary changes

The Western Australian Electoral Distribution Commissioners have released their proposed new electoral boundaries on 29 June, following a period of public comment—these proposed boundaries are the first under WA's one vote, one value legislation. The Commissioners' web site contains the various maps, submissions, and process timeline. Objections to the proposed boundaries need to be submitted to the Commissioners by 30 July, with the final boundaries being published on 29 October 2007.

Kenyan ministers 'bored'

The perils of coalition building have been revealed in Kenya, with 30 assistant ministers complaining they are bored and have no work to do. The number of assistant ministries has grown as the president has used the positions to reward coalition partners, but evidently has not found sufficient work to keep them busy, or has not trusted them with t responsibility. The assistant ministers are now calling for a clear statement of their duties. Cynics have, however, questioned why it has taken them until months before an election to complain.
Read more
Government communication in Australia

Audit contributor, Sally Young (University of Melbourne) has published a timely edited collection on Government Communication in Australia (Cambridge Univ. Press). The book covers issues including how governments use spin, new media and expensive government advertising to influence reporting and public opinion. It includes chapters by other Audit contributors including Graeme Orr, Brian Head, Peter Chen, Rachel Gibson, Sarah Maddison and Katherine Gelber.
Find out more

The pillars of power

Audit contributor David Solomon AM (University of Queensland), has published The Pillars of Power (Federation Press). The book examines changes in Australian political, legal and regulatory institutions, including the growth in prime ministerial power, the downgrading of parliament and the remaking of the federal system. It draws on 50 interviews with politicians, administrators and other observers.
Find out more

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