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Democratic Audit Update November 2007

ANAO: Regional spending program ‘political’
A report by Auditor-General on the first three years of the Federal Government’s Regional Partnerships Program (2003-06) has found it to have ‘fallen short of an acceptable standard of public administration’. There has been much comment in the media and elsewhere on the use of the program for pork-barreling in the 2004 election. The Auditor-General’s report expresses concern that decisions were taken to fund certain projects not recommended by the department, and that some decisions ‘were open to the interpretation that they had been made for political reasons and not on the merits of the project’.

Further politicisation of the public service
The Canberra Times reports that public servants have been compiling ‘cheat sheets’—breaking down government expenditure by federal electorate—for government MPs and candidates to use in the election campaign. The information compiled by public servants was not passed on to the parliamentary library and FOI requests have been blocked by extortionate charges quoted for scrutiny of the expenditure breakdowns. Together, Education, Communications, Defence and Family and Community Services wanted more than $50 000 to release the documents, estimating it would take thousands of hours to scrutinise the documents. The Canberra Times notes that the self-imposed regime of scrutinising the documents line-by-line has enabled agencies to ride out the election without disclosing further evidence of pork barrelling.
Former PMs criticise ‘culture of secrecy’

Former prime ministers Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam have written an open letter on the decline of responsible government and the failure to observe the principle of ministerial accountability. They have urged the winners of the November 2007 general election to launch a full, independent inquiry. Read the letter:

Relating to the former PMs' open letter, Spencer Zifcak and Victor Perton have an article in the Australian calling for a revamped code of ministerial accountability, as recommended in the Australasian Study of Parliament's Be honest, minister!

How should I vote?
GetUp has an online questionnaire designed to find the candidate who most closely matches your opinions. Candidates in all electorates answered 20 questions and their responses were recorded. You answer the same questions and your answers are matched with the candidates standing in your electorate. A personal How To Vote card is then generated. It's good fun and the site has been independently checked for fairness, though not all candidates have answered the questionnaire.
Australian democracy special edition
In the wake of the Federal election, the Centre for Policy Development is publishing a special edition of InSight, its online journal, on the state of Australia’s democracy. It is to be published on 28 November 2007.
ASIO criticised
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) have been roundly criticised by a judge for their conduct, including false imprisonment and kidnap, in bringing terrorism charges against a Sydney medical student.
MPs’ activity
The Daily Telegraph has audited the activity of members of the House of Representatives. It finds that members who are stepping down are generally less active and hard-working than those standing for re-election and that coalition members in marginal seats are more likely to ask ‘Dorothy Dixers’ at Question Time. Read more here:
Tightening up the New Zealand political finance regime
The Justice and Electoral Committee of the New Zealand parliament has just reported back on the Electoral Finance Bill. The Bill is intended to close loopholes revealed in the last election when the Exclusive Brethren was the third largest known spender. Read more here (pdf)
Accountability failings in Canada
The regulations to govern lobbyists under Canada’s much publicised Federal Accountability Act have still not come into force, although the Act received royal assent in December 2006. The party launched its bid for government at the last election with a strong commitment to closing the 'revolving door' between lobbyists and government.
Despite promises, little has been done to curb the power of lobbyists, and now Prime Minister Harper has come under fire over the appointment of the head of an industry lobby group, the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, to lead the Conservative research bureau.
Hate speech
Audit contributor Katherine Gelber (UNSW) and Adrienne Stone (University of Melbourne) have edited a collection on the laws governing hate speech.
More details are available here:

Dr Phil Larkin
Democratic Audit of Australia
Political Science
Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200
Tel: +61 2 6125 0696 or 1600
Fax: +61 2 6125 3051

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