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Democratic Audit Update October 2011

by Democratic Audit Australia

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

Papers from the Challenges of Electoral Democracy workshop
Convened by Audit members Joo-Cheong Tham (Melbourne Law School), Graeme Orr (Queensland University Law School) and Brian Costar (Swinburne Institute for Social Research), this July 2011 workshop was hosted by the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies, Melbourne Law School, and sponsored by the New South Wales Electoral Commission and the Victorian Electoral Commission. The papers are now available online.

APSA papers available
The Australian Political Studies Association held its annual conference at Old Parliament House in September. A number of papers dealt with democracy and electoral issues; they can be viewed here.

NSW campaign finance reforms
The NSW premier, Barry O’Farrell, introduced the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Amendment Bill 2011 into the Legislative Assembly on 12 September 2011. The bill seeks to “ban donations from other than individuals.” Law academic Anne Twomey discussed the ramifications and constitutional uncertainties associated with the bill on Radio National’s The National Interest.

Compulsory and “automatic” enrolment
Out of the clash of interests in federal parliament in 1911 came an enduring electoral reform, compulsory enrolment, writes the Audit’s Brian Costar in Inside Story. He argues that an update of that part of electoral law is long overdue.

The Australian Voter
Ian McAllister’s new book, The Australian Voter: 50 Years of Change, was published by UNSW Press in July. Among many interesting findings is the fact that “Australians most value integrity and leadership skills in their leaders.” Norman Abjorensen reviewed the book for Inside Story, and Professor McAllister discussed the book with Peter Mares on Radio National’s The National Interest.

Women in government
The NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service has released a report by Talina Drabsch on Women in Politics and Public Leadership. It considers women in positions of leadership within the public sector and those serving on government boards and committees. The debate surrounding the use of quotas to improve gender equality in the composition of boards and committees is also briefly discussed.

Committee examines government advertising bill
Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration has released its report on the Government Advertising (Accountability) Bill 2011, introduced by Senator Nick Xenophon, which aimed to prevent governments from using taxpayer funds to pay for the advertising of a policy not yet enacted in legislation. A majority of the committee concluded that “the current guidelines for government advertising adequately cover many of the issues raised by submitters relating to government advertising” and recommended that the bill not proceed. Although the Coalition senators did not agree that the current guidelines for government advertising adequately address these concerns, they agreed with the recommendation that this bill not be passed. Senator Xenophon took the contrary view to the majority.

2011 NSW election report
The NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service has released an analysis of the results of the 2011 New South Wales election. The report provides summaries of the elections for both chambers, analysis of Legislative Assembly results both before and after the distribution of preferences, as well as a summary of the Legislative Council election.

Recognition of local government
An expert panel, appointed by the federal government, is examining whether local government should be recognised in the Australian Constitution. The chair of the panel, former NSW chief justice Jim Spigelman, writes about the inquiry here. The panel released a discussion paper in September.

The professionalisation of the Liberal Party
Back in 1961 the distinguished journalist Don Whitington provided an alternative explanation for Liberal Party’s electoral hegemony in the years after 1949. This essay was first published in Nation in October 1961 and republished in Inside Story.

Electoral Commissioner’s determination of membership entitlement in the House of Representatives
The number of members to be elected to the House of Representatives at the next federal election will remain unchanged at 150 following a determination by the Australian Electoral Commission.

Local government probed
The Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government has released Unfinished Business?, a survey of the evidence and findings presented in inquiries into local government over the past decade.

Victorian rights charter review report
The final report of the review of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 was tabled in the parliament on Wednesday 14 September 2011. “In essence,” write Sarah Joseph, Julie Debeljak and Adam Fletcher from the Castan Centre for Human Rights, “the majority of the Committee recommends stripping most of the operative provisions from the Charter, leaving only the Executive and Parliamentary scrutiny functions.” The initial reaction to the report by Premier Ted Baillieu suggests that little radical change to the charter is likely.

2010 federal election inquiry
The report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ inquiry into the conduct of the 2010 Federal Election was released in July. Among its important and contentious recommendations was the introduction of a form of “automatic” enrolment and savings provisions for some categories of informal votes (based on the South Australian House of Assembly ticket voting provisions).

2010 Victorian election report
The Victorian Electoral Commission has released its Report to Parliament on the 2010 Victorian State Election. The election produced a change of government from Labor to the Coalition, and the proportion of informal votes for the Legislative Assembly rose again to 4.96 per cent. A series of technical recommendations appears in the report.


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oppositions and paradoxia

Dr Reynolds, are you telling me you have actually read, all of this –what an order!!

During smoko at work over a macaroon and pot of tea, whilst for light relief you simultaneously marked essays and gave lectures during also the tending of your spring garden?

(shakes head, defeated).

Had wondered why things had gone quiet, with that slithering blow-job from NSW, O'Farrell. Rust never sleeps.

The underlying thrust of above reminds me of an email reply from present day ALP Cabinet minister Jenny Macklin, years ago, that the key to Australian society and its health lay in constitutional reform.

I suppose It's paradoxical that whilst absolutely agreeing with Jay Somasundaram's reading at one level, I can yet honestly contest with Jay in that far from being healthy, the system is also broke in quite tragic ways and senses.

It's alive and it’s probably as healthy as anywhere on earth here and yet Andrew Glikson's article screams out at me, "wasteland".

In a wider sense even our system often seems crippled by oligarchs and vested interests. "Aw a muddle".

Malcolm in the muddle

But that is why I am hopeful, Paul. Yes, it is a muddle, but yet humanity does muddle through. There is progress, Yes, every once in a while, we do steer in the wrong direction, take a couple of steps back, but I would much prefer to live today than be a prince a couple of centuries ago.

What frustrates me is that we are in a brave new world. We do have the answers, even if we are not quite sure how to turn them into practice.

What happens in cabinet shouldn't stay in cabinet

Perhaps the most important upgrade to democracy in recent decades is the recognition of the importance of freedom of information. So when politicans start talking about a need to keep things secret, I smell the stink of corruption. Aren't the politicans willing to stand up for what they really think?

Democracy: Time for an upgrade

Cars, phones, flu shots...Everywhere we look things are forever changing, brighter and better. But democracy itself, that most important of institutions, is long past its best by date. It retains virtually the same tired old structure since it was created. The last major change was when women got the vote, a hundred years ago, and then ATSI were finally recognised as equal humans fifty years ago. But structural change? We spend so much time chasing our tail over republicanism, which is window dressing at best. New Zealand, after much belly gazing went from one tired old system to another. But change based on what we now know in the 21st century? You've got to be kidding.

So, how do we upgrade democracy for the 21st century?

Let business processes re-engineer. Politicians. Is it working, what do they actually do, is there another way of doing their job?

A hundred years ago, we needed politicians. Firstly, most of us weren't well educated, we needed someone to guide us (personally, I don't buy that, but let's go with what they thought a hundred years ago). Also, we couldn't rush off to Canberra every time a vote was called.

We've got technology now, everybody has a mobile phone, and can cast their vote from wherever they are. Alternatively, we've got modern statistical sampling, which is much cheaper than the traditional ballot, and accurately fairer to the minorities who get disadvantaged by the polling system.

And people don't need to vote on every bill. They could set a proxy and forget. Or let the proxy vote on only some bills. Or change the proxy at any time.

So, do we need a government, or can we let the public servants run the government? To some extent. Perhaps we use a modified form of the private sector model. We elect a handful of people to be a board of non-executive directors. People from all walks of life, who have succeeded in their profession and retired. Who do it solely for love of country. We make the laws, but the board keeps the public servants in check and decides their salaries.

So, who develops policy? Let's face it, the policies of all the major parties are virtually identical, all motherhood and apple pie. The germs come from both the public and the public servants themselves, but, importantly, they all go through a well-defined, robust policy development process, full consultation and a comprehensive Regulatory Impact Statement before we vote on the bills.

This is just one concept. Let's get a blank whiteboard and start drawing.

We need to move democracy in to the 21st century. Car manufacturers spend billions developing their next model. Doesn't democracy deserve the same?

I vote for change

Jay, you are correct. Democracy should be a continuous development.

Some thoughts that  could be mulled over may include the following.

1. Reduce the age of people who have the right to vote. 16 would be good: most 16 year olds have a good knowledge of  how the system works and have many more years to suffer if governments make bad decisions.

2. Give people under forty one extra vote.   Again they will have more time to suffer bad consequences of poor decisions.

3. Enable people to vote on-line.

4. Increase terms of government to 5 years and only allow one term.

5. Allow parents to vote on behalf of their children, until the children reach the age of 16.

Children should be seen and not heard

I fully concur with the underlying issue you raise with items 1 and 5, John, it's about time we enfranchised our children. I would go so far as to push the voting age back to five - the age when we force our children to a prison called school. 

Not capable of making good decisions? How arrogant. Didn't we give the same excuse regarding women in the not too distant past?

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