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Democratic Audit Update 20 September 2007

by Democratic Audit of Australia

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

The lobbying industry—Time to regulate

Julian Fitzgerald considers the regulation of political lobbyists in this new Audit paper. He argues that a registration scheme would alleviate some of the problems that this burgeoning industry has brought.


Also on the subject of lobbying, John Warhurst (ANU) has a new book, Behind Closed Doors: Politics, Scandals and the Lobbying Industry (UNSW Press, 2007). In it, he considers the ways in which the industry has attempted to gain influence and the wider effects, both positive and negative, on the way in which politics is conducted.


Not good news

The Audit’s Norman Abjorensen assesses the state of press freedom in Australia. The paper is based on a chapter for the Audit’s forthcoming book, Australia: The State of Democracy which will be out next year.


Queensland local government

Scott Prasser (University of the Sunshine Coast) reviews the recent furore over forced amalgamation of local government in Queensland. Whilst there is agreement that some rationalisation of local government is needed, the process by which it has been conducted has been characterised by democratic deficit.


Queensland and Victoria move on FoI reform

The practice of Queensland governments taking documents to cabinet meetings to keep them secret will be restricted following a review of the state's Freedom of Information laws. David Solomon, who heads the committee established by new Queensland Premier Anna Bligh to overhaul the laws, has identified the cabinet secrecy provisions as a target for reform.

"It isn't good enough for documents to be able to be wheeled into cabinet without any rules to keep them from the public eye," he said.

The move follows an initiative by another new premier, Victoria’s John Brumby, to overhaul the State’s Freedom of Information regime.


Queensland premier resigns

Peter Beattie became the third Labor premier to voluntarily step down in the last two years, when he announced his resignation on August 10 2007. He stated exhaustion as the reason for giving up the job after almost 10 years. His deputy, Anna Bligh was elected unopposed as his successor.


The Attorney General on a bill of rights

The General, Philip Ruddock had a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald arguing against an Australian bill of rights. Australia is the only Western democracy without a bill of rights or its equivalent, though the ACT and Victoria have now taken this step and Western Australia is consulting on a draft bill. The Auditor-General argues that a bill of rights will not ensure rights are respected and moves power from elected government to an unelected judiciary.

Read the article: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2007/08/30/1188067275092.html

High Court overturns prisoner vote ban

A High Court ruling has overturned the measure contained in the 2006 Electoral Amendment Act to remove prisoners’ right to vote. Following an appeal by a women prisoner serving a sentence in Victoria, the High Court overturned the ban. The Court did maintain earlier legislation imposing a ban on prisoners serving sentences of over three years.


Access card legislation could be delayed

Legislation to introduce a national access card could be delayed until after the upcoming federal election. The bill was put on hold after a Senate committee warned that the smart card was likely to become a de facto identity card, and critics have rung alarm bells about the privacy implications.


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High Court overturns prisoner vote ban

For much of the history of the Commonwealth a person had to be serving a sentence of more than a year to be so disqualified. This was later changed to five years, then in 2004 it was cut back to three years. But then, in 2006, the total prohibition on sentenced prisoners was introduced. Roach challenged the validity of the new law. In effect, she said that when sentenced to prison, she was there as punishment, not for further punishment. She was still a citizen and a human being.

The High Court was told that a similar total exclusion in Canada was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2002. In Britain last year, a similar law was held to infringe the fundamental rights in the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Britain is required to conform.

However, in the United States, 4 million citizens, no less, are banned from voting for life.

Howard and Ruddock tried to move us in the direction of the US (home of the not so free). Its hard to believe that 4 million US citizens are banned from voting for life. This threat to our democracy was turned down by the High Court. We must make sure that we get rid of the real threat to our democracy and remove the Howard Government.

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