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Democratic Audit Update 2 February 2008

Removing partisan bias from Australian electoral legislation – An Audit discussion paper
The ANU's Brendan McCaffrie discusses a way of removing partisan bias from the formulation of Australia’s electoral laws.  His proposal for an Independent Electoral Law Committee seeks to remove the partisan influence of the major parties from electoral law-making.  Although the major parties may be loath to give up this control, there are international precedents, as McCaffrie discusses. 

Read Brendan’s paper here.  

Not so special anymore: The demise of SBS television – An Audit discussion paper
Monash University’s Emma Dawson assesses the state of SBS as a public broadcaster reflecting the concerns of ethnic Australia.  Dawson discusses how SBS management has responded to being caught up in the culture wars, attempting to adequately respond to the interests of its viewers, and its political masters.

Read Emma’s paper here.


Informal voting at the 2007 election – Preliminary notes
In this commentary piece, the Audit’s Peter Brent notes the decrease in informal voting (from 5.18 to 3.95 per cent) at the 2007 federal election.  However, the level of accidental informal voting still appears to be significant, and Brent identifies the relationships with different voting systems at the state level, as well as the level of non-English speaking voters.

Read Peter’s comments here..

Rudd government support for NGOs’ advocacy role
The Rudd Labor government has announced that it will amend contracts with the non-government sector to allow NGOs to resume their advocacy role without the need for prior government vetting.  The previous government had restricted the advocacy function of NGOs by requiring public statements to be scrutinised by government officials prior to release.  In an influential discussion paper for the Audit in June 2006, drawn on by ACOSS in their recent discussions with government, Joan Staples (UNSW) discussed the impact that think-tanks such as the Institute of Public Affairs were having on the Howard government's policies towards NGOs. 

Read her article here. See Matthew Franklin’s story in the Australian here 

WA human rights report
The government-appointed Consultation Committee has reported on the proposed Human Rights Act for Western Australia.  The Committee received 377 submissions (including one from the Audit), and has recommended that additions be made to the original draft Bill. Recommended additions include the right to an education and adequate housing.  The WA government is reluctant to include additional rights, and has deferred further action on human rights legislation pending Rudd government consultation on possible federal legislation. 

Report of the Consultation Committee (3.7MB)  Consultation Committee’s website (includes links to the report and submissions Attorney General Jim McGinty’s media statement )

Article on voter ID laws
American electoral law specialist Professor Rick Hasen draws parallels between US and Australian voter ID laws in this Canberra Times article.  Hasen highlights problems in requiring voters to produce ID at the time of voting.

New House of Representatives’ petitions committee
The Rudd government has announced that a 10-member parliamentary committee will be established to review and report on petitions presented to parliament.  Up to now there has been no formal action on petitions after they have been tabled.  Given the number of petitions presented to parliament (over 900 in the previous parliament, according to The Australian here), it will be interesting to see how the committee establishes its priorities.  For example, one of the largest generators of petitions (both in number of petitions, and number of signatories) is the Falun Gong issue in China.

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I read Emma Dawson's report on SBS with great interest and with great hope that such thinking will inform future policy regarding the broadcaster.

She makes much about the social policy agenda of SBS in its founding charter, but I would also like to add that SBS also used to have an invaluable role in public "aesthetic education" as well. 

Before its present commercialized incarnation, kids from not-so-advantaged backgrounds like myself had our aesthetic horizons broadened by such luminaries as David Stratton and his weekly "Cinema Classics" which showcased a rich selection of "art films". Now, as sadly always seems to be the case, the commercial programming of films on SBS is gutless, to say the least. They now never show a film made before the year 2000 and these are almost always vulgar little blockbusters (though perhaps I'm just getting old). (I can well understand Stratton and Pomeranz walking out in disgust, but I wish they had hung in there).

On an ancient VHS tape I have a treasured recording of, for example, Tarkovsky's remarkable film Nostalgia. Years later, a visitor from Germany remarked that she simply couldn't believe that such "difficult" films were shown on free-to-air and she expressed admiration  for Australia's cultural standards.

For reasons I don't think I will ever comprehend, it would seem that it was precisely such a debasing of Australian public education (in all spheres and at all levels) that was the object of all of the Howard government's cultural and educational policies.

I hope that such decay may finally be brought to a halt, and recollections such as mine are not merely of past, dead things.

Good News on the NGO front

We'll see how long it lasts.

I vividly remember a Hawke government bureaucrat in my youthwork days (yes, I'm that old) saying to a youth advocacy group, "Why should we fund you to dump on us?"

I think this control agenda is shared by all governments - remember Robert Ray threatening to defund the ABC for not toe-ing the proper war propaganda line?

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