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Democratic Audit Update - 16 April 2008

by Democratic Audit Australia

The latest update from the Democratic Audit program (now at Swinburne) on how our democracy is working.



First moves on lobbying

The Cabinet Secretary, Senator John Faulkner, released an exposure draft of the proposed Lobbying Code of Conduct on 2 April 2008. In this Audit Discussion Paper John Warhurst assesses the proposal. While welcoming the code, he writes that in important respects "it is timid and narrow".

  • Read this new Audit Discussion Paper here

Electoral green papers

A few days earlier, on 28 March 2008, Senator Faulkner, who is also Special Minister of State, announced that the government would prepare two Green Papers on electoral reform and will seek the cooperation of the State and Territory Premiers and Chief Ministers in the drafting process. The first paper, to be released in July 2008, will look at disclosure, funding and expenditure issues; the second, to be released in October, will examine a broader range of options aimed at strengthening a range of other elements of electoral law.

  • Read the transcript of Senator Faulkner's media conference here

Funding and disclosure reforms

At the same media conference, Senator Faulkner announced five immediate measures: reducing the campaign donation disclosure threshold level to $1,000, banning donations from overseas or from non-Australian companies, tying election funding to reported and verified electoral expenditure, removing the loophole whereby separate divisions of a political party are treated as separate entities, and increasing public scrutiny of donations by setting six-monthly disclosure timeframes. In an article for the Canberra Times on 7 April, the Audit's Norm Kelly broadly supported the proposals but took issue with the requirement that candidates must verify campaign expenditure in order to trigger public funding.

  • Read Norm Kelly's article here

Federal electoral inquiries underway

The Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters is currently conducting two inquiries: an inquiry into Schedule 1 of the Tax Laws Amendment (2008 Measures No.1) Bill 2008 - the schedule applying to political contributions and gifts - with a closing date for submissions of 18 April 2008, and an inquiry into the 2007 federal election, with a closing date for submissions of 16 May 2008. The Democratic Audit is making submissions to the both of these inquiries; these will be available soon.

NSW inquiry

The Legislative Council Select Committee on Electoral and Political Party Funding Inquiry has held public hearings and a public forum. Submission 107A outlines the Labor Party's recently announced proposal to ban all private donations to political parties.

  • Submissions can be found here

Audit members at the 2020 Summit

Three people associated with the Audit - Marian Sawer, who headed the Audit from 2002-2007 and is now Director, Democratic Audit ANU, and Audit contributors Sally Young and George Williams - will attend the federal government's Australia 2020 Summit late this month. Marian Sawer will chair a session on parliamentary democracy.

  • Summit background papers, prepared by the Summit steering committee in consultation with ministerial co-chairs and their departments, are available here
  • A short Audit paper on political financing prepared for the Summit is available here

Major parties looking after themselves

In the Sydney Morning Herald on 5 April 2008 Alan Ramsey reported on changed arrangements for federal budget night which will enable the major parties to use Parliament House facilities for fund raising.

  • Read the article here

North American electoral reforms

On 11 April 2008 on ABC Radio National's The National Interest, Peter Mares interviewed Amy Loprest, Executive Director of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, on its regime of in-time disclosure of political donations and Professor Fred Fletcher of York University on Canada's new political donation and expenditure laws.

UK looks to Australia (among others)

In January Britain's Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt Hon Jack Straw, issued the report, Review of Voting Systems, which considers the various voting systems used in the UK and a selection of those of other countries, including Australia's system of preferential voting. The Guardian reported that Michael Wills, the constitutional affairs minister, praised the alternative vote system - what Australians call preferential voting - at a meeting on electoral reform last month. "The alternative vote has many attractions," he said, "including the fact that you have to get 50% plus one in that constituency, therefore you have a greater legitimacy."

  • Read the report here

Election timetable updated

The Parliamentary Library's occasional publication Australian Elections Timetable has been updated. The paper lists the dates of the next Commonwealth, state and territory elections, where they are fixed, or gives the earliest and latest possible dates on which they may occur.

  • Read Australian Elections Timetable here
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