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Democratic Audit Update September 2008

by Democratic Audit Australia

The latest update from the Democratic Audit program at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, on how our democracy is working. Apologies for this late Audit Update – we were waiting on the still-delayed release of the federal government’s first electoral reform green paper (see first item below)...


Green paper

The first of the federal government’s electoral law green papers, due in July, has been delayed. Reports suggest that the paper has encountered opposition among government MPs over proposals to tighten controls over disclosure, funding and expenditure.

• The background to the green paper is here

Citizenship test

Also running late is the report of the federal government’s inquiry into the citizenship test, chaired by Richard Woolcott, which was presented to the government some time ago but has not been yet made public. The report is expected to recommend abandoning the current test in favour of a test that concentrates on questions relating to Australia’s system of government and legal arrangements.

WEL history published

Making Women Count: A History of the Women’s Electoral Lobby, by the Audit’s Marian Sawer with Gail Radford, is published this month by UNSW Press. Drawing extensively on archives, surveys and media coverage, this is the first full-scale history of WEL.

• Making Women Count is available to Democratic Audit readers at a discount of 20 per cent – further details are here

Commissioner returns to Veterans Affairs

Having served just over three years of his five year term the Australian Electoral Commissioner, Ian Campbell, has been appointed head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is the first time a serving Commissioner has been appointed to another public service position.

• Read John Faulkner’s media release here

2007 election inquiry

Hearings of the inquiry into the 2007 federal election by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters are almost complete.

• Submissions to the inquiry and Hansard transcripts of the hearings are available here

Queensland electoral inquiry

The Queensland Parliament’s Legal, Constitutional and Administrative Review Committee is conducting an Inquiry into Certain Contemporary Electoral Matters. Submissions are due by 31 October 2008.

• Read the issues paper here

New boundaries in Queensland

Also in Queensland, the state’s electoral redistribution has been completed.

• Read the report and view the maps here

Indigenous rights

In Indigenous Rights and the Constitution: Making the Case for Constitutional Reform, Megan Davis from the Indigenous Law Centre argues that we need to emphasise the connection between dealing with disadvantage, an urgent and immediate priority, and the ‘big picture’ in terms of addressing unfinished business between Indigenous peoples and the state.

• The full text is available here (PDF)

Executive scrutiny improved

Drawing on figures compiled by the Department of the Senate, the Australian Financial Review reported on 26 August that the Rudd government has a better record of responding to written parliamentary questions than its predecessor. Comparing two periods, February–May 2007 and February–May 2008, the figures show that the current government answered 97 per cent of written questions lodged during additional Estimates sessions compared to 58 per cent answered by its predecessor, and 78 per cent of questions on notice compared to 55 per cent.

Senate and accountability

The 48th edition of Papers on Parliament, published in January but only just having appeared on the Audit radar, is on the theme of ‘The Senate and Accountability’. The topics and authors in this volume are: The Selection of Judges for Commonwealth Courts (Sir Gerard Brennan); The States, the Commonwealth and the Crown – the Battle for Sovereignty (Anne Twomey); What Did the ‘Yes’ Vote Achieve? Forty Years After the 1967 Referendum, (Larissa Behrendt); Mandates, Consensus, Compromise, and the Senate (Stanley Bach); The Senate, Accountability and Government Control (Harry Evans); Parliamentary Privilege and Search Warrants: Will the US Supreme Court Legislate for Australia? (Harry Evans).

• The full volume is available here (PDF)

Review of the NSW Freedom of Information Act 1989

Bruce Barbour, the NSW Ombudsman, has released a discussion paper as part of a broader investigation by the office into the processes and procedures surrounding freedom of information in New South Wales. This investigation will also involve reviewing documents and auditing randomly selected files from 18 different government agencies, as well as interviewing agency staff who deal with FOI applications.

• Read the paper here

Approval for lobbyist code

In Knock, knock... Who’s There? The Lobbying Code of Conduct, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration reports that it received evidence from a variety of organisations and individuals generally welcoming the Lobbying Code of Conduct. Some concerns were expressed, however, and the committee proposes to review the operation of the Code towards the end of 2009.

• Read the full report here

Whistleblowing under the microscope

Edited by A. J. Brown, Whistleblowing in the Australian Public Sector, published by ANU E Press, draws on one of the world’s most comprehensive research projects on the phenomenon. Evidence from over 8,000 public servants in over 100 federal, state and local government agencies shows that whistleblowers can and do survive, and that often their role is highly valued.

• The full text is available here

Not so fearless?

Also new from ANU E Press is Whatever Happened to Frank and Fearless? The Impact of New Public Management on the Australian Public Service, by Kathy MacDermott. Changes in the culture of the Australian Public Service have led many contemporary commentators to lament the purported loss of traditional public service values. MacDermott argues that structural and cultural change compromising the integrity of the public service reached its apogee towards the end of the eleven years of the Howard government.

• The full text is available here

The role of NGOs

Agreeing to disagree: Maintaining dissent in the NGO sector, a new report by The Australia Institute’s Gemma Edgar, considers whether a formal agreement between government and NGOs, foreshadowed by the Rudd Government, is the right way for the government and the community sector to go about building an on-going positive and constructive relationship.

• The full report is available here (PDF)

Privacy report released

The Australian Law Reform Commission has released a major report, For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice. Among other things, the report calls for: simplification and streamlining of the Privacy Act and related laws and regulations; uniform privacy principles and national consistency; regulation of cross-border data flows; rationalisation of exemptions and exceptions; improved complaint handling and stronger penalties; and more comprehensive credit reporting.

• The report is available here

Bicameralism compared

A free conference, Bicameralism: Australia in Comparative Context, will be held at Parliament House on 9-10 October 2008. The conference will locate the Australian Senate, and selected aspects of Australian state parliamentary arrangements, in an international context of bicameral parliamentary systems. The conference is sponsored by the Parliamentary Studies Centre and the Crawford School of Economics and Government at ANU in conjunction with the Departments of the Senate and House of Representatives.

• Full details are available here (PDF)

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