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Democratic Audit Update March 2009

by Democratic Audit Australia

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


Electoral green paper submissions published

Forty nine responses (including one from the Democratic Audit of Australia – see below) to the federal government’s Donations, Funding and Expenditure Green Paper were published online by the federal government on 6 March 2009.

Audit responds to funding green paper

The Democratic Audit’s submission (PDF) to the federal government’s Donations, Funding and Expenditure Green Paper is available online. The submission argues that Australia has fallen far below world’s best practice in the area of regulating political money, and makes a series of proposals for reform.

Audit Office reports on Howard-era government advertising

In its 5 March 2009 report on The Administration of Contracting Arrangements In Relation to Government Advertising to November 2007 the Auditor-General revealed that between July 1995 and November 2007 the federal government spent $1.8 billion on advertising and that “nearly half of these outlays occurred in the last four years.”

Victorian by-election advertising report

In its report on the 2008 Kororoit by-election the Victorian Electoral Commission has urged the state parliament to review those sections of the Electoral Act 2002 that seek to regulate misleading advertising.

Political finance reform blocked

The Commonwealth Electoral Act (Political Donations and other Measures) Bill 2008 [2009] was refused a second reading in the Senate on 11 March 2009. The government has stated it will reintroduce the Bill. Read the debate in Hansard. Among other things, the Bill lowered the disclosure threshold for political donations to $1000.

Queensland to gain electorate at NSW’s expense

The Australian Electoral Commission determined on 18 February 2008 that, because of population movements, the number of federal divisions in Queensland should rise from 29 to 30 and in New South Wales should fall from 50 to 49. This will trigger redistributions in both states.

Democracy funding program deficiencies

The Australian National Audit Office’s 5 March 2009 report on The Administration of Grants under the Australian Political Parties for Democracy Program identified significant deficiencies in the financial administration of the scheme. Funding of up to $1 million is provided annually under the programme – which aims to strengthen democracy internationally by providing support for the international activities of Australia’s major political parties – to both the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party of Australia.

Privilege examined

In a new paper, Parliamentary Privilege: First Principles and Recent Applications, Gareth Griffith of the Parliament of New South Wales Research Service looks at parliamentary privilege in the context of a wider constitutional setting, in relation to its underlying purpose, by reference to such doctrines as the separation of powers and the relationship between the courts and parliament. The paper also looks at how the courts have dealt with parliamentary privilege in selected recent cases.

Federal whistleblower scheme

In its report Whistleblower Protection: A Comprehensive Scheme for the Commonwealth Public Sector, the House of Reps Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs recommends that the Australian government introduce new legislation to facilitate public interest disclosures and strengthen legal protection for whistleblowers.

Latest federal FOI figures

Australian Government agencies received 29,019 FOI access requests in 2007–08, a decrease of 25 per cent on the previous year’s figure, according to the federal government’s annual report (PDF) on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982. The report shows that 85 per cent of FOI requests are from people seeking access to documents containing personal information about either themselves or other people; the remaining 15 per cent are for documents containing other information, such as documents concerning policy development and government decision-making.

Rights charter overview

In Charter of Rights Update, the NSW Parliament Research Service’s Gareth Griffiths provides an overview of the main proposals for a federal charter of rights and examines the operation of charters in the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria.

Conscience voting under Howard

Conscience Votes During the Howard Government 1996–2007, by Deirdre McKeown and Rob Lundie from the Parliamentary Library, examines the five bills that attracted a conscience vote over that decade: Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996, Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002, Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002, Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of Ministerial Responsibility for Approval of RU486) Bill 2005 and Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006.

Constraints on political funding reform

Anne Twomey’s paper, The Reform of Political Donations, Expenditure and Funding (PDF), written for the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, considers the constitutional and practical constraints on reforming electoral campaign funding in Australia. It looks at the banning or capping of political donations, the limiting of campaign expenditure and the expansion of public funding of political parties, drawing on the experience of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Germany.

Political donations in New South Wales: the state of play

In Political Donations Law Update (PDF), Gareth Griffith from the NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service outlines developments in the laws relating to political donations in New South Wales since 2007. Griffiths writes in the context of further discussion of reform at the state and federal government levels including the bill to reform federal political donations law that was introduced into the Commonwealth Parliament and was referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which reported in October 2008. Published December 2008

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