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Democratic Audit Update August 2007

by Democratic Audit of Australia

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



Peter Andren

Peter Andren, the Independent MP for Calare, has announced that cancer has forced him to withdraw from his campaign for a Senate seat. He has been a strong campaigner for democratic integrity as well as a supporter of the Audit. We send him our very best wishes for his recovery.

Victorian premier resigns

After eight years in office, Victorian premier Steve Bracks stepped down on 30 July 2007. His contribution to restoring democratic practice in the State, including entrenching the independence of the Auditor-general and of the Director of Public Prosecutions, is discussed in this article by Joseph O'Reilly in New Matilda.

Open government in Victoria

The new premier of Victoria, John Brumby, has announced measures to increase government transparency. They include:

  • Prioritising new legislation to reform the FOI Act;
  • Releasing an annual Statement of Legislative Intent from 2008;
  • Funding live web-casting of all sessions of the Legislative Assembly and Council—including question time;
  • Releasing quarterly reports that detail the costs and benefits of all Ministerial overseas travel;
  • Publicising the remuneration band and identity of members of Government boards and advisory committees; and
  • Posting transcripts of the Premier’s media conferences on his website as soon as they become available.

The media release is here.

Read more in The Age.

Lack of good process over NT legislation

The federal government introduced the legislation covering its intervention in NT Aboriginal communities (Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 & Related Bills) on 7 August 2007. The Bills amounted to over 500 pages but were only made available the day before debate began in the House of Representatives. They were swiftly passed, despite numerous concerns being identified, and were sent on to the Senate. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee was able to hold one day of public hearings on Friday before being required to report on Monday 13 August. This hardly amounts to proper legislative scrutiny and review!

Launch of Right to Know Campaign

A coalition of media organisations has launched Australia's Right To Know campaign in response to a tightening of the operating environment for media organisations and journalists. The coalition includes News Limited, the ABC, Fairfax, the SBS, and AAP.

The campaign's aim is to draw public attention to the growing restrictions on journalists and free speech in Australia. First priority of the campaign is to commission an independent study of threats to free speech and expression in this country.

The campaign’s joint statement is here.

New Sex Discrimination Commissioner named

The Federal Government has announced a senior lawyer will take on the role of Sex Discrimination Commissioner, which has been vacant since Pru Goward was elected to the NSW parliament. Elizabeth Broderick is a businesswoman and partner at the law firm Blake Dawson Waldron and will take up the five-year appointment next month. The Attorney-General says Ms Broderick has been an advocate for women and championed flexible work arrangements:

Save the Senate

Two hundred and fifty people turned up for the 'Save the Senate' forum hosted by GetUp! in Canberra on 9 August 2007. Clerk of the Senate Harry Evans said that proper legislative scrutiny was in the interests of government as well as the people and helped save governments from policy failures:

ALP to cut incumbency perks

In his National Press Club Address on 8 August 2007, Shadow Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner said that a Labor government will reduce the amount of public money being diverted to electioneering. Labor will cut MPs’ printing allowances by one third and ministerial staff numbers by 30 per cent, as well as abolishing the Government Communications Unit.

Read the full speech here.

Senate Watch

The Australian Democrats have been maintaining a watch over the government’s use of the Senate since it gained its narrow majority. They have published data covering the period before and since the government gained control, showing: the reduction in sitting days; the fall in amendments accepted (from 42 per cent to 1 per cent); the failure to agree to any orders for the production of documents; the increased rejection of references to committees; and the increased use of the guillotine to curtail debate.

Senate tightens lobbying rules

The US Senate has voted to tighten the rules governing lobbying. The bill, which still has to be signed by the President (who, reportedly, has serious concerns about it), requires disclosure of ‘earmarks’ (special funds for specific projects slipped into spending bills), outlaws pensions to politicians convicted of bribery, requires disclosure of campaign donations that have been raised by lobbyists, and bars former Senators from lobbying Congress for two years after leaving office.

Read more in The New York Times.

e-voting concerns in the UK

The UK Electoral Commission has called for an end to trials of e-voting and phone voting until security measures have been improved. Thirteen pilots were held during the May 2007 local government elections, which revealed a number of technical problems.

Read more.

Kiefel appointed to the High Court

The number of women serving as High Court judges has risen to two with the appointment of Susan Kiefel. She becomes only the third woman Justice on the High Court since it was established in 1903. Women constitute four of the nine justices on the Canadian Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

Multiculturalism, human rights and democracy

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities (HREOC) and the Sydney Democracy Forum are hosting a forum to examine the state of multiculturalism in Australia.

The event will be between 2.30 and 5.00 on Friday 17 August 2007, in the Metcalfe Auditorium, State Library of NSW, Macquarie Street, Sydney.

RSVP to lizhou@humanrights.gov.au

Public Policy Network annual conference

The annual National Public Policy Network Conference will be held on the Sunshine Coast on 31 January – 1 February 2008. The conference is being jointly organised by the University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of Southern Queensland, and will involve academics from around Australia and internationally.

More details are available here.

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"What's the point in voting?"

Historically, Australia has been a democratic innovator, leading the way with the secret ballot, votes for women and compulsory enrolment. These measures, along with an independent body to oversee elections, have ensured that the Australian public is relatively engaged in the political process. Now, the Government is picking away at the edges of the electorate, narrowing the franchise, making the act of voting more difficult for those already lacking economic, social and political power.

Encouraging a large and diverse voter turnout should be a priority for any would-be democratic government. First, because it indicates that the community is comprised of people who have - to varying degrees, admittedly - a sense of civic responsibility. Second, because a positive result from a broad section of society will vindicate the winner's policies across the board. And third, because a large and diverse voter turnout means that the newly elected government has a mandate to govern on behalf of a genuine majority of citizens................."What's the point in voting?" is a common refrain around election time. It's hard enough to come up with a convincing answer when our leaders don't understand that a democracy in which poverty, disability, youth, racial background or geographical location are disqualifications for voting is no democracy at all. It's harder still when even the body set up to ensure the integrity of the electoral process seems to have internalised the idea that voting is reserved for savvy consumers rather than open to, and required of, every capable Australian adult.

Emily Maguire is right, Howard is trying to reduce the number of Australians eligible to vote. A democracy should be inclusive and the aim of governments should be to encourage everyone to have a say.

Howard's Billions, What wrong with federalism?

The Future Fund would get a deposit of $7 billion, the medical fund $2.5 billion and the Higher Education Endowment Fund would get $1 billion more than previously promised $5 billion. Labor is critical of the promise and says a PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that the local council funding gap for infrastructure renewals of $2.16 billion.

Opposition local government spokeswoman Kate Lundy said Mr Howard could not guarantee that communities would have a say and the risk was the money would follow Coalition votes rather than need.

“The questions that need to be asked of John Howard are: What will the criteria be for funding? Will the funding go to areas of genuine need with independent assessment, or will it go to areas of Howard's need in marginal seats?

”With the drought and ageing infrastructure, the pressure on local governments and community organisations to provide enough safe facilities is greater than ever before.

“This is not a new problem, yet John Howard has sat on his hands, watched the state of social infrastructure in our communities worsen and waited until 4 weeks out from an election to make a statement about it."

All the funds will be provided with money from budget surpluses, now promised to be 1 per cent of gross domestic product, or about $10 billion at present.

Howard and Costello boast of having billions of dollars to spend, at the same time they criticise the states for being in debt and not having the money to spend on, health, education and infrastructure. The GST was meant to give the states the money they needed to provide all the services they are responsible for. The system is not working the federal government has truck loads of money while the states and local government struggle to fund essential services. Federalism is failing us  and we need to have a good look at how public services are funded and make sure those that have the money have the responsibility. 

Aspirational nationalist or National socialsit?

In his weekly radio message Mr Howard has again defended the need for the Federal Government to sometimes bypass the states.

"We should be focused on outcomes, not systems, we should be neither centralists, nor believers in state rights," he said.

"We should be aspirational nationalists, we should want and aspire to achieve the best possible outcomes for Australians, wherever they might live and through whatever method of governance which will best deliver those outcomes."

Howard says we should be "aspirational nationalists" I think he means National Socialists

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