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Democratic Audit Update 20 December 2007




Democratic Audit of Australia

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

Audit to move to Swinburne

We are pleased to announce that the Democratic Audit of Australia has found a new administrative home, at the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University.

A new team, including Professor Brian Costar, Professor Denise Meredyth and Peter Browne, will take responsibility for continuing the initiative throughout 2008 and for developing the next phase of the research, in partnership with ANU, with other Australian universities and with international collaborators.

The ISR already hosts the Chair in Victorian State Parliamentary Democracy, held by Brian Costar. Research at the ISR ranges across public policy areas: from electoral reform and civic participation to immigration and refugee policy, media and communications, information poverty, social housing and sustainability. ISR has established research partnerships with the Parliament of Victoria, with local and state government agencies and with a variety of not for profit agencies. Its publication initiatives include hosting Australian Policy Online and Creative Economy, as well as editorship of the Briefings book series published by UNSW Press.

The Democratic Audit will continue in 2008 as a partnership between the ANU and Swinburne. Federation Press will be publishing Australia: The State of Democracy, the capstone book prepared by Norman Abjorensen, Phil Larkin and Marian Sawer. Marketing Government by Kathy MacDermott (Audit Report No. 10) will also be published from the ANU. Swinburne will be taking over the publication of regular Updates on democratic developments and the organisation of a national workshop on electoral reform.

· Photo – the Swinburne and ANU Audit teams

Rolling out the regional pork barrel: A threat to democracy? (Discussion Paper)

Scott Prasser from the University of the Sunshine Coast, and Geoff Cockfield of the University of Southern Queensland analyse the Howard government’s Regional Partnerships Program, the subject of a recent Australian National Audit Office report. They discuss the democratic implications and question the political value of pork-barrelling.

·  Read the paper

2007 federal election – public funding payments

The AEC has released details of public funding payments for the 2007 election, made to all parties and candidates who received at least 4 per cent of the vote. Funding is currently paid at $2.10 per vote. Of the total $46.5m payments, Labor received $20.9m, the Coalition parties $20.5m, and the Greens $4.1m.

AEC’s Statement

2007 federal election – provisional voting rejection rates

The rejection rate for voters who applied for a provisional vote in the federal election was far higher than normal, rising from about 50 per cent to about 86 per cent. The Audit’s Peter Brent makes comment.

· Peter Brent’s comments

NSW political funding – submissions called

The NSW Select Committee on Electoral and Political Party Funding is calling for submissions to its inquiry. Issues include public funding, donation limits and disclosure, and the Election Funding Authority. Submissions close Friday, 15th February 2008.

Information on making a submission

Discussion Paper

Articles by Lee Rhiannon and Norman Thompson on political donations – On Line Opinion - CPD

Ministerial Code of Conduct

The Audit’s Norman Abjorensen comments on the recently released Ministerial Code of Conduct—called Standards of Ministerial Ethics—by the Rudd Labor government:

Ministers’ shareholdings and post-separation employment are to be restricted under new transparency measures announced by the new Labor government. A new ministerial code of conduct imposes a 12-month ban on departing ministers having business dealings with MPs, public servants or defence personnel on any matter they dealt with in their official capacity during their last 18 months in office. In addition, departing ministers will have to undertake not to take advantage of their previous position as a minister.

However, the measures fall well short of independent scrutiny and enforcement, as has long been advocated by the Audit and other bodies such as the Australasian Study of Parliament Group.

The trend overseas, driven by a perceived need to address growing public disenchantment with government is to move towards some form of independent oversight, such as provided by a statutory ethics commissioner, as in Canada.

Ministerial Code of Conduct

Media Article – The Age

Senate practices – Calls for change

In the lead-up to the federal election, Civil Liberties Australia called for reforms to Senate practices, on matters such as timeframes for committee inquiry processes, the balance of committee membership, the use of the gag for debates, and question time.

CLA Media Release

The Australian Democrats have also put forward an agenda of procedural and institutional reforms of Senate practice. Procedural reforms include – committees being able to initiate legislation; a minimum 21 days for committees to consider Bills; and for there to be at least 28 questions during question time. Institutional reforms proposed include – judicial appointments to be based on publicly-disclosed consultation and merit selection processes; international treaties only to be ratified after parliamentary scrutiny; and development grants schemes (such as the Regional Partnerships Program) to be administered by impartial authorities.

·  Senator Lyn Allison’s media statement

Parliamentary sitting dates – 2008

The Rudd government has announced the federal parliamentary sitting dates for 2008. There is an increased number of sitting days for the House of Representatives, however the move to Friday sittings has not been extended to the Senate.

Sitting days: House: 39 first half, 43 second half = 82 sitting days (18 sitting weeks)

Senate: 21 first half, 31 second half = 52 sitting days (14 sitting weeks)
Senate Estimates: 12 days first half, 4 days second half = 16 days (4 weeks)

Democrats’ accountability spokesperson Senator Andrew Murray provides his comments on the sitting program.

Senator Murray’s comments

All parliaments have now released their sitting dates for next year. Links to parliamentary sitting dates for 2008:





WA – Assembly

WA – Council


Tasmania – Assembly

Tasmania - Council



Accountability Watch

The Centre for Policy Development is maintaining an accountability watch on labor’s federal election commitments on issues related to democracy. Also contains useful links to various reports.

Australian Democracy – A User’s Guide

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