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Democratic Audit Update January 2011

By Democratic Audit
Created 15/01/2011 - 15:16

by Democratic Audit Australia [0]

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

Media and democracy
Audit member Sally Young’s new book, How Australia Decides: Election Reporting and the Media [1], has been published by Cambridge University Press. Based on a four-year empirical study, the book reports the results of the only systematic, historical and in-depth analysis of Australian election reporting. It shows how election reporting has changed over time, and how political news audiences, news production and shifts in political campaigning are influencing media content.

Law and politics
Audit member Graeme Orr’s new book, The Law of Politics: Elections, Parties and Money in Australia [2], has been published by Federation Press. The first dedicated monograph on the law on democratic politics in Australia, it synthesises the law on elections, with a central focus on political parties, parliamentary elections and referendums at federal and state levels.

The Rudd government and Commonwealth administration
A new ebook from ANU E Press, The Rudd Government: Australian Commonwealth Administration 2007–2010 [3], edited by Chris Aulich and Mark Evans, includes discussion of changes to the institutions of state, including the public service and parliament, as well as discussions of key issues and policies that marked Rudd’s term in office. Contributors include Roger Wettenhall, Harry Evans, John Halligan, Gwynneth Singleton, John Wanna and Deb Wilkinson.

Parties and privacy
In the online journal First Monday, Daniel Kreiss and Philip N. Howard look at Political Parties and Voter Privacy: Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and United States in Comparative Perspective [4]. “Political parties are among the most lax, unregulated organizations handling large volumes of personally identifiable data about citizens’ behavior and attitudes,” they argue. In relation to Australia, they find: “There is little formal oversight of the activities of Australian political parties when it comes to data management and privacy.” The article concludes with proposals for reform.

NSW electoral finance reforms
New limits on donations and campaign spending came into force in New South Wales on 1 January and will first apply at this year’s state election on 26 March. Details of the Election Funding and Disclosures Amendment Act 2010 are here [5]and a Sydney Morning Herald summary of the legislation is here [6].

Hung parliaments and minority governments

A new background paper [7] by the Parliamentary Library’s Nicholas Horne looks at the forming the minority Labor federal government, voting dynamics in the House of Representatives, the next federal election, and the last hung parliament of 1940-43. He also provides a listing of hung parliaments and minority governments in the states and territories since 1989, together with a discussion of minority government agreements in the states and territories and some information on the overseas context.

Queensland electoral reforms proposed
On 18 December the Queensland premier, Anna Bligh, released a paper outlining the government’s proposed reforms to the Queensland electoral system. These include limits on political donations, caps on expenditure by candidates, parties and third parties, and automatic enrolment of eligible voters. Further details are here [8].

High Court decides on early roll closure
On 15 December, the High Court of Australia published its reasons in the case of Rowe & Anor v Electoral Commissioner & Anor, which concerned the Howard government legislation to close the electoral roll on the day of the issue of the writs at each election. The Court, by the four–three majority, declared the provisions invalid. A summary of the reasons is here [9] and the full judgment is here [10].

Political finance and NSW local government
In a new report, Regulating the Funding of NSW Local Government Election Campaigns [11], the Audit’s Joo-Cheong Tham examines the distinctive structure of NSW local government and its electoral system, the regulation and patterns of election funding at this level of government, the risks posed by such funding, and the question of reform. He makes ten recommendations to deal with the more significant risk of corruption and undue influence and deal with the challenge of promoting fairness in local government elections.

Survey finds support for compulsory voting
A Newspoll study [12] of attitudes to voting methods, commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs (Victoria) and published in October 2010, reported strong community support for compulsory voting but a surprising lack of enthusiasm for preferential voting.

Managing government information
In Towards an Australian Government Information Policy [13]the Australian Information Commissioner defines some of the key issues that face Australian government in developing information management policy, and proposes ten draft principles on open public sector information. Publication of this paper coincides with the opening of the new Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). The OAIC invites written comments on the draft principles by 1 March 2011.

2010 election inquiry under way
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has commenced its inquiry into the conduct of the 2010 federal election [14]. The committee invites interested persons and organisations to make submissions addressing the terms of reference by Wednesday, 16 February 2011.

Final Victorian redistribution announced

On 21 October 2010 the presiding member of the augmented Electoral Commission for Victoria, the Hon Peter Heerey QC, announced [15]the outcome of its deliberations on the boundaries and names of the 37 federal electoral divisions in Victoria. The key change to the earlier Redistribution Committee’s proposal is the reinstatement of the Division of Murray, meaning that the creation of a new Division of Burke would not proceed. A number of changes to the boundaries of other electoral divisions were also made in response to public objections to the Redistribution Committee’s proposal. With minor modifications, this decision was confirmed [16] on 9 November.

Constitutional reform survey
Australians are ready for a debate about updating Australia’s Constitution, but it is only likely to lead to change if people are engaged with the process, according to A. J. Brown and Ron Levy of the Federalism Project. Their report [17]outlines the results of the Australian Constitutional Values Survey 2010, which examines the prospects for successful referendums on Indigenous recognition and local government recognition in the next three years, as recently promised by the federal government in its agreements with the Greens and independents. The survey was conducted nationally for Griffith University by Newspoll and funded by the Australian Research Council. 1201 respondents were interviewed in May 2008 and 1100 respondents in March 2010.

Inaugural FOI Commissioner appointed
James Popple, First Assistant Secretary of the Civil Law Division of the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and an Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Computer Science at the Australian National University, has been appointed Australia’s first Freedom of Information Commissioner [18]. He joins the Privacy Commissioner [19], Timothy Pilgrim, in supporting the work of the Australian Information Commissioner [20], John McMillan.

Whither the watchdog?
The Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery has traditionally been regarded has having the quasi-institutional watchdog role of the “fourth estate”. But, according to Helen Ester in Whither the Federal Fourth Estate? [21], documentary and interview evidence gathered during the prime ministership of John Howard shows that a number of extreme media management strategies stretched executive media relations close to breaking point.

Parliamentary reforms begin operating
As a result of the agreement with the independent MPs, 27 standing orders in the House of Representatives have modified, a new one adopted and two deleted altogether, affecting question time and private members’ bills and acknowledging the Indigenous people in and around Canberra. On ABC Radio National’s The National Interest [22], Damian Carrick talked to Bernard Wright, Clerk of the House of Representatives, and Harry Evans, Former Clerk of the Senate, about the changes and their implications.

Party funding in Britain: a pathway to reform
In a new report the UK Democratic Audit considers the available evidence on party income and spending, assess the strengths and weaknesses of the current legal framework, and seeks to map out a route to reform. The report, Funding Political Parties in Great Britain: A Pathway to Reform [23], was written by Stuart Wilks-Heeg and Stephen Crone and commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. The Director of the Audit, Stuart Wilks-Heeg, discusses the report in an article for Open Democracy [24].

Forthcoming redistributions
In Electoral Redistributions During the 43rd Parliament [25], a new paper for the Parliamentary Library, Stephen Barber looks at redistributions in the current parliament, which are likely to be confined to Victoria and South Australia.

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