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Democratic Audit Update April 2009

by Democratic Audit Australia

The latest update from the Democratic Audit program at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, on how our democracy is working.


Pluses and minuses of federalism

In a preview of the Audit’s forthcoming book, Australia: The State of Democracy, Marian Sawer writes about the strengths and weaknesses of Australia federalism in the Public Sector Informant section of the Canberra Times, republished on Australian Policy Online.

ACT parliamentary agreement still to deliver

In an article for the Canberra Times Jenny Stewart looks at how the decision of the ACT Greens to support the minority Labor government through an open parliamentary contract has played out in practice. Under the agreement, the Greens secured a number of changes in the way the Assembly works, plus support for a number of policy commitments, including increased investment in housing and mental health services. But little appears to have changed.

Poverty by electorate

Poverty Rates by Electoral Divisions, 2006 (PDF), by Tony Kryger at the Parliamentary Library, provides 2006 estimates, for each Commonwealth electoral division, of the number of persons living in poverty and the proportion which this represents of the total population. The estimates were derived from synthetic small area data produced by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) at the University of Canberra.

Ministerial staffing report

In a new research paper from the Parliamentary Library, The Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 Framework and Employment Issues (PDF), Nicholas Horne looks at recent developments, staff figures, and staffing trends under the federal Ac. A future paper will consider accountability issues associated with the Act.

New electoral commissioner sets out the facts

On Inside Story the Audit’s Brian Costar comments on the testimony of the new Electoral Commissioner, Ed Killesteyn, to a Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters hearing last month. “By the end of an hour and three quarters, simply by presenting the hard data, Mr Killesteyn and his colleagues had slain the wild-eyed conspiracy theories used by the previous government to justify its regressive changes to electoral law in 2006,” he writes.

Roundtable on campaign finance green paper

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is holding a roundtable public hearing in Parliament House, Canberra, on Thursday 16 April 2009. The roundtable will provide the opportunity for the committee to question individuals and organisations on their submissions made to the federal government’s Electoral Reform Green Paper: Donations, Funding and Expenditure (PDF) (December 2008). The hearing will be held on Thursday 16 April 2009 from 9.30am – 1.00pm in Parliament House Committee Room 2S1.

Queensland launches lobbyist register

The Queensland government has established a Register of Lobbyists and introduced the Queensland Contact with Lobbyists Code, which provides that professional lobbyists who wish to lobby government representatives (ministers, parliamentary secretaries, ministerial staff and senior staff working in public sector agencies) must be listed on the Register.

Rethinking a charter of rights

In a speech at the Australian Human Rights Commission the former High Court judge, Michael McHugh, made a dramatic intervention in the debate about a national charter of rights, arguing that the role given to courts in existing Australian rights charters (in the ACT and Victoria) would probably not survive a constitutional challenge. The Canberra Times’s Jack Waterford discusses the McHugh speech here and Andrew Lynch from the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law discusses it here.

The rise and fall of the Democrats

In Australian Democrats: The Passing of an Era, Cathy Madden from the Parliamentary Library traces the factors that gave rise to this unusually long-lived minor party and the many factors that played a part in the decline of the Democrats, including support in the passing of the Goods and Services Tax legislation in 1999, the turnover of parliamentary leaders and the rise of the Australian Greens.

Tasmanian redistribution analysed

The Australian Electoral Commission finalised its redistribution of federal electoral boundaries in Tasmania on 16 February 2009. A new Parliamentary Library background note describes the main features of the redistribution. Three tables quantify the number and proportion of enrolled voters in each new electoral division classified by the current electoral divisions; a fourth table describes the possible electoral impact by converting the two-party preferred vote from the 2007 election onto the new boundaries.

Government advertising report

Campaign Advertising by Australian Government Departments and Agencies, a joint release from the Special Minister of State and the Department of Finance and Deregulation, is the first in a series of biannual reports on campaign advertising expenditures for government department and agencies which are subject to the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. Covering the period 1 July to 31 December 2008, the report summarises campaigns where advertising expenditure exceeded $250,000 during the reporting period are provided in the report, along with historical advertising expenditure of government agencies.

Electronic voting trials report

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has released an interim report of its inquiry into the conduct of the 2007 election examining two electronic voting trials: a trial of electronically assisted voting for blind and vision impaired electors and a trial of remote electronic voting for selected Australian Defence Force personnel serving overseas. The committee recommends that electronically assisted voting for blind and vision impaired electors and remote electronic voting for Australian Defence Force personnel serving overseas be discontinued due to a combination of the unsustainable costs involved in the delivery of these solutions along with more general concerns about the low level of participation experienced during the trials and the ready availability of suitable alternate solutions.

Queensland redistribution suggestions sought

The Australian Electoral Commission has invited the public to submit suggestions about the redistribution of federal electoral boundaries in Queensland by Friday 24 April 2009.

Indigenous politics examined

Audit contributor Sarah Maddison’s new book, Black Politics: Inside the Complexity of Aboriginal Political Culture, was released last month by Allen and Unwin. Based on interviews with Aboriginal leaders including Mick Dodson, Tom Calma, Alison Anderson, Jackie Huggins, Warren Mundine and Larissa Behrendt, the book looks at why Aboriginal communities find it so difficult to be heard, get support, and organise internally. It also offers suggestions for the future.

Draft FOI bills released

The Cabinet Secretary and Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner, released the draft Information Commissioner Bill 2009 and the draft Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill 2009 for public consultation on 24 March 2009. This forms the second stage in the Australian Government’s two-staged approach to implementing reforms to the FOI Act. Following consideration of comments received on the draft Bills, the Government proposes to introduce the Bills into the Parliament in 2009. Senator Faulkner discussed the legislation in this speech at the Right to Know conference, on a conference panel, and in this interview with Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National. The opposition responded here and the Greens here. In the first stage of the FOI reforms, Senator Faulkner introduced into parliament on 26 November 2008 a bill to abolish the power to issue conclusive certificates in the FOI Act and the Archives Act 1983.

Funding bill returns to the House… and thence to the Senate

The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2009, rejected last week by the Senate, was debated – and passed – once again in the House of Representatives on 16 March. Speakers included National Party member, Darren Chester, who described his own experience of what he called the “campaigning arms race.” The Hansard record of the debate is available here (see pages 44–58). The Bill will now return to the Senate. Update, 19 March: The Coalition and Senator Steve Fielding combined in the Senate to prevent debate on the Bill.

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