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Democratic Audit Update December 2008

by Democratic Audit Australia

This the last Audit update for 2008 update from the Democratic Audit program at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne. Season's greetings from the Audit team.


Healthy democracy?

In Public Confidence in Australian Democracy, Scott Brenton uses data from the 2007 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes and the 2007 Australian Election Study to examine public perceptions of democracy. He finds that respondents were satisfied and proud of a general conception of Australian democracy but that indications of citizen engagement are not strong and the performance of government, politicians and other public officials.

Read the full paper here (PDF)

Labor and the Senate

Tony Smith provides a concise overview of the main issues arising from the interaction of the government and the Senate over the past year in this new Audit discussion paper, New Fangs for the Platy-tiger? The Senate and the Rudd Government in 2008.

Read the full paper here (PDF)

Green paper released

The Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner, has released the government's Electoral Reform Green paper – Donations, Funding and Expenditure, and invited submissions on the issues raised by 23 February 2009. The paper covers issues relating to the disclosure of political donations, and the funding and expenditure of political parties and others in the political process. Options raised include: enhancing disclosure, including tighter timeframes and broadening the definition of the types of donations that should be disclosed; banning or capping political donations; placing limits on campaign expenditure by political parties and other participants in the political process; examining public funding rates for participants in the political process; and further regulating the involvement of third parties in the political process.

Read the full paper here

Brennan inquiry

Fr Frank Brennan will lead the federal government’s National Human Rights Consultation, which is seeking views on three questions: Which human rights and responsibilities should be protected and promoted? Are human rights sufficiently protected and promoted? How could Australia better protect and promote human rights? The NHRC is expected to consider proposals for a legislative charter of rights.

Visit the NHRC website here

New Electoral Commissioner

The federal government has appointed Edward Killesteyn PSM as the new Electoral Commissioner. Mr Killesteyn is currently the deputy president of the Repatriation Commission and a deputy secretary at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. He has held senior Public Service positions including four years as a deputy secretary at the then Department of Immigration and Indigenous Affairs.

Read the full text of the announcement by Senator John Faulkner, the Special Minister of State here

Operation Sunlight

Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner has released the government’s response to a report by the former Democrats senator, Andrew Murray, on improving the transparency of budget papers. As part of Mr Tanner’s Operation Sunlight project, Murray was asked to look at how the budget papers and the appropriations process could be improved.

Read Andrew Murray’s report and the government’s response here

Donation legislation

On 3 December the federal government tabled its proposed amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008 in response to the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. According to Senator John Faulkner, ‘The government is taking the unusual action of tabling the proposed government amendments to this Bill well in advance of parliamentary debate. We want to ensure that there is ample opportunity for these measures to be fully scrutinised prior to the proposed commencement of the Bill, which on the advice of the AEC and for the benefit of all those affected, will not commence until 1 July 2009.’

Read Senator Faulkner’s full speech here

FoI changes

The federal government introduced legislation into Senate to abolish conclusive ministerial certificates under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and the Archives Act 1983 on 26 November. The certificates have given ministers sweeping powers to keep documents secret.

Read Senator Faulkner’s statement here

State of the Service

The Australian Public Service Commissioner has released the State of the Service Report 2007–08, which details the activities and human resource management practices of the APS during the 2007–08 financial year. According to the Commissioner’s preface, the report ‘finds the APS in the midst of a sea change in direction and context.’ She goes on: ‘The Australian public has much higher expectations than ever before about what the government and the public service can deliver. There is a new government, with an ambitious and far-reaching reform agenda that it is seeking to implement in tandem with other levels of government, and we are linked much more closely into the global economy. Technology is continuing to accelerate the pace and the way in which we work. The APS must adapt and reform to keep in step with these developments.’

Read more here

Senate question time

South Australian Labor Senator Annette Hurley and SA Liberal Senator Alan Ferguson discussed the recent changes to Senate question time on ABC Radio National’s The National Interest. Devised by Senator Ferguson, the new rules give ministers only two minutes to reply to a question, down from the usual four, allow for two follow-up questions, and require ministers to keep their answers ‘directly relevant’ to the topic at hand.

Read the transcript of the discussion here

Rear vision

Audit member Peter Brent discussed the series, The Howard Years, on the new website, Inside Story, published by the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University of Technology. Also on Inside Story, James Panichi looks at how the novel overseas Italian electoral arrangements have played out in Australia, and Audit contributor Norman Abjorensen profiles Senator Marise Payne and the NSW Liberal Party.

Read Peter Brent’s article here

Read James Panichi’s article here

Read Norman Abjorensen’s article here

Fixed terms

In a new report from the Parliamentary Library, House of Representatives Fixed Terms: The Barriers to Implementation, Scott Bennett looks at the issues raised by Labor’s promise to hold a referendum to introduce fixed House terms on the same day as the next federal election. The paper examines the issues and proposes a compromise amendment that may assist in the passage of a fixed term constitutional alteration.

Read the report here

Institutional integrity

Ashgate has recently published Promoting Integrity: Evaluating and Improving Public Institutions, edited by Brian W. Head, A. J. Brown and Carmel Connors. Using Australia as a case study, this collection of essays reviews a variety of existing efforts to understand, ‘map’ and evaluate the effectiveness of integrity policies and institutions, not just in the government sector but also across all the major institutions of modern society. The book will be launched on 29 January 2009 by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Professor John McMillan, at the Public Policy Network conference at the ANU.

More details here

New NZ government disbands electoral panel

The Expert Panel on Electoral Administration established by the Labour government two months ago has been ‘disestablished’ by the incoming government. The panel was to have reviewed the administration of the electoral system under the Electoral Finance Act and whether or not political parties should be state funded. According to the Justice Minister Simon Power, ‘The Electoral Finance Act 2007 was passed without a broad base of support across parties represented in Parliament. Similarly, the Expert Panel was established without wider political consultation. National opposed both of these measures. So we are disbanding the panel and will start this whole process afresh.’

Read the full announcement here

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