Tuesday 25th of June 2024

The Democratic Audit of Australia

The Audit offers a range of interesting topics and articles that can surely add grist to our mill. The main audit has been examining five key areas. In its own words:

  • citizenship, law and rights: for example, what protections are there for minorities in Australia?
  • representative and accountable government: for example, what level of corruption is there
    in Australian government?
  • participation and government responsiveness: for example, what modes of public
    consultation are used by Australian governments?
  • democracy beyond the state: for example, how does Australia meet its international
    obligations under United Nations treaties?
  • democracy and federalism: for example, how open are arrangements for intergovernmental decision-making?

What originally brought me to the audit was an article on the substantial costs charged by governments for processing Freedom if Information requests (an issue I will revisit). But then the more I read, the more I found interesting fodder, and as my handle [myriad] suggests, had a hell of a time trying to pick which area to highlight in my first blog entry here.

In the end, I have realised that there's too much good information to confine it to a single entry - after all the range of topics covered run the gamut from women in politics, to political party funding, to debate over whether Australia needs a Bill of Rights, to prisoner voting rights and the growing informal vote.

Over the next while, I will take a few of the key strands from the audit, and present them for discussion. In the meantime, if you can find the time to have a look around yourself, and want to suggest a key area or two for discussion, please, be my guest.

Next entry, in line with our focus issue as identified in the strategy II thread - media and Australian democracy.

democracy assessment

Hi Myriad, thanks for bringing this terrific project to notice: fascinating.

I checked-out the 'Democracy Assessment' document & think it would be be a worthwhile exercise to ask our political leaders to complete it, ahead of the survey results being published?


Evolution of democracy

We are all (I assume) interested in the protection and even the enhancement of democracy. However are we all interested in enhancing the current Representative democracy we have in Australia or are we seeking ways to change the system?

There are after all a number of different types of democracy, some of which are:

Representative democracy; where you vote to have a representative act on your behalf. In reality this type of democracy should be called a Limited Democracy because you may only vote for those things, which are acceptable within the framework of a constitution.

Direct democracy. Modern direct democracy (as in the Swedish model) consists of (1) Initiative (2) Referendum (including binding referenda) (3) Recall; which gives the people the right to recall elected officials by petition and referendum.

Delegative democracy. In delegative democracy, delegates are selected and expected to act on the wishes of the constituency. In this form of democracy the constituency may recall the delegate at any time. Representatives are expected only to transmit the decisions of electors, advance their views, and if they fail to do so they are subject to immediate recall with only minimal process.

Demarchy. Which has people randomly selected from the citizenry to either act as representatives, or to make decisions in specific areas of governance (defense, environment, etc.). One of the results of this would be the cessation of political parties and elections

Something else to ponder: If we were to take away the right of women and of aboriginals to vote could we call ourselves a democracy? Yet it is only 21 years ago that aborignals were finally granted the same rights and responsibilities under federal electoral law.

Maybanke Anderson summed it all up from a woman’s perpective in The Sun, July 6 1912. She wrote:

In the politics of democracy there should be no sex. A woman without a vote is an inferior and liable to be so regarded.

Democracy Audit

Hey Myriad, I've had a bit of a look at the site. I gather they are getting close to producing some results. I hope that is useful.

There are some interesting topics there. One of my interests is FOI as I worked on both sides of it. Anyone in QLD would know that Beattie uses FOI to restrict information using what I heard someone describe as the "tea trolly" clause. Being, stick any document you want hidden on a trolley. Wheel it in and out of Cabinet and bingo. It's locked up for 30 years.

I'd like to hear others views on that when you are ready to kick off a discussion.

On the other site, I do wonder what results a committee made up of professors only might arrive at. I await such with interest.

Hi John

Can you direct me to that doco please? I did a quick look 'round but (assuming not just having an ordinary Friday) couldn't spot it.

I'm very curious given your comment.


I agree John H

If nothing else, having an understanding of the different systems is certainly useful to be able to comment on our current system. And yes, it is an evolving thing.

For my money, the next big evolution for us is the move to a Republic, and what systems we put in place to enact that change.

For me, the most compelling argument for keeping the Crown is that because it doesn't utilise its Constitutional powers, it acts as a foil to executive abuse. IE it provides a vessel for those powers, but never exercises them, rendering them void.

What I've never understood regarding the Republic debate was why anyone thought we had to invest those powers in anyone or thing, if we took away Queenie. We could just as easily remove those powers, review the powers of Parliament & the PM to ensure no glaring loopholes, and settle for a President who is a figurehead, not an executive.

Ok, this is probably way more specific than what your original post scoped out, but I'll return to my first point - a new debate about a Republic is our most likely next democractic evolution, and with that, could open up a broader debate on our democratic institutions & systems.

Thanks for such an informative post.

Definitely interested in FOI

Did you find the articles, Pegasus, at the audit site on the desparate need for an FOI Act overhaul, and also a short article on the dollar costs levied against FOI requests, using a specific ACT example? Scroll down on this link and you'll find the articles I'm talking about under the heading beginning 'Open Government'.

I'd like to return to that, as how FOI functions is to my mind a critical tool and indicator of democracy.

democracy assessment

Hi Myriad.

See link - Democracy Assessment: Assessment Framework



Hey Myriad, no I haven't read far yet but I will, on some topics at least.

FOI has been an interest of mine since it was introduced. I was a public servant when that started and we were trained in what not to show people rather than the opposite. Naturally it was instantly dubbed Freedom From Information but these days the free bit doesn't apply in any way.

I loved Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey's "Open Government," and I think those series are actually used by most political parties every day. Except it's not funny without Jim and Humphrey.

As an aside can I just say I think your writing is so well organised and easy to follow it makes even boring subjects capable of being read. Mine is a bit emotional and jumps around but that's OK, that's me.


The FOI Peg

That is not true Pegasus! Don't say things that are not true just because a woman is in the room.

Good writing is objective but is based on human feelings. Anything without feeling is a lump of garbage. And that is usual with political writing.

Myriad knows she is good. She writes that way to express that she is good to us all. Don't tell her any more that she is as she picked the surname Mint for she knows she is in mint condition.


I picked 'Mint' 'cause I love a good peice of alliteration, and it is a synonym of 'myriad'. Trite but true. ;-)

Thanks for the compliments. I will use them as a spur to improve my writing further.

Pegasus, FOI is definitely begging for a blog entry. I'll do my best to get to it soon. Next I want to continue on the theme of a fair & accurate media, and talk about two topics - the systematic attacks on the ABC (and SBS if I can find more info on it - any links appreciated); and media coverage / exposure of political donations / rorts.


Thanks for the link John R

My honest first thought? Too complex for most pollies! More seriously, I also thought the 'do it yourself' guide was a little short on info on the 'how', and I myself don't feel confident enough on the preceding more detailed info to want to try it. So I guess I'm saying it's feeling a bit too complex for me too at the moment. :o

If you'd like to expand on how we can use it, please do. Perhaps I'm over-thinking it.


ABC Board

Myriad, the new person on the ABC Board is Janet Albrechtsen, and there has been some conflict. She is as hard as nails and writes a weekly column for the Australian but also says she has no allegence to Rupert Murdoch. Of course! Ms Albrechtsen clashed with the Media Watch program after presenter David Marr accused her of misrepresenting foreign research in one of her columns.

I like this kind of thing

I agree with you Myriad that a Republic is probably the next step in Australian democracy and that the whole issue has been badly handled. I think its in reference to one of your entries earlier?? I think you mentioned that an extreme conservative tactic is to cloud the debate with surface issues. I believe this was done with the current Republic Referendum. Unfortunately many monarchists threw up dust (like erroneously questioning Australia's participation in the Commonwealth Games) in order to draw attention away from the real issue and prevented any meaty debates. Now our democratic evolution, as you call it, has been put on hold because there is little chance of another referendum in the near future. Maybe I'm wrong ... but this is just another example of how the Howard Government is throwing our democracy back to the apes and before we can evolve we need to stop reversing.

Hey Len

Hey Len how are you doing? Been a bit of rain down your way I saw on the news. Hope you are doing OK.


Pegasus I am fine. Weather now is fine, yes it did rain. Just as I was putting on the line a peg it was sus.

online technologies

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Myriad.

Jo Barraket reports on a preliminary analysis of Australian third sector, or non-profit, organisations’ attempts to mobilise citizen engagement using online technologies. She reviews recent debates about the impacts of online technologies on citizen engagement in order to identify the significance of these technologies to third sector organisations. While the organisations reviewed are using online technologies to present information about their offline activities, they are less consistent in using these technologies to mobilise civic engagement in new ways Australian Centre for Emerging Technologies & Society Online opportunities for civic engagement? An examination of Australian third sector organisations on the internet

Other papers of note: Scott Brenton examines data from the 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes and the 2004 Australian Electoral Study, in considering whether there is declining confidence in Australia’s democratic institutions. He examines issues of democracy, government, politicians, parliaments, the legal system and public servants - Democratic Audit of Australia, Australian National University (PDF file) Public confidence in Australian democracy

In June 2004 the Liberal Party’s Bill Stefaniak introduced the Charter of Responsibilities Bill into the ACT Legislative Assembly Bills of responsibilities: is one needed to counter the ‘excesses’ of the ACT Human Rights Act 2004?

Virtual Reference

update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

New Focused Audit on sexual and gender minorities released

The latest in the Audit’s Focused Audit series, How Well Does Australian Democracy Serve Sexual and Gender Minorities by Sarah Maddison and Emma Partridge is now available. Whilst there has been considerable progress in the human rights of sexual and gender minorities in recent decades, it highlights the extent to which significant inequalities persist, particularly in respect of relationship recognition.

Download Audit Report No. 9

A limited number of hard copies are available from the Audit (first free, $10 for each subsequent copy).

The Haneef case

Following attempted terrorist attacks in the UK, a Gold Coast doctor has been charged with giving material assistance to a terrorist organisation—namely his mobile phone SIM card. Dr Haneef passed the card on to a second cousin 12 months ago when he was leaving the UK. Despite being granted bail by a magistrate, Dr Haneef has had his visa withdrawn and has been placed in immigration detention.

James Jupp (ANU) reviews the case

The Governance of Britain

As one of his first moves, the new British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has released a Green Paper, The Governance of Britain, to launch discussion of a wide range of constitutional reform.

The Green Paper is available here

Phil Larkin provides provides an overview of the Green Paper

The Audit’s Norman Abjorensen discusses the proposals relating to ministerial advisors

Government responses to committees

The latest six-monthly report on government responses to committee reports was presented to parliament on 21 June 2007. Astonishingly, it would appear that the government has failed to respond to a single report within the required three-month period. Indeed, some are still awaiting a response after several years. Whilst in a few cases the government claims a response is pending, subject to developments, in the case of the report on A Certain Maritime Incident (tabled in October 2002), the government is still deciding whether it is going to respond at all. Perhaps the most worrying thing is not that the government is reluctant to respond to reports, but that parliament allows this.

The full reports can be found in Hansard:

The Senate (from page 102)

The House (from page 94)

British votes to decide key Australian seats?

A government response to a question on notice from Sen Andrew Murray has revealed that there are still some 163,887 voters on the electoral roll who are not Australian citizens. British subjects who were on the roll in January 1984 were allowed to stay on it indefinitely, unlike the situation in Canada where Canadian citizenship was required from 1975. The Australian High Court determined in 1999 that the UK was a ‘foreign power’, making British citizens ineligible to sit in the Australian parliament because of their foreign allegiance. British citizens can still, however, decide elections in federal seats such as Brand and Canning in WA and Kingston and Wakefield in SA.

Same-Sex: Same Entitlements

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission released its report Same-Sex: Same Entitlements on 22 June 2007. This reports on the inquiry into discrimination against same-sex couples in accessing financial and work-related entitlements. HREOC found that 58 federal laws discriminated against same-sex couples, including areas such as superannuation, Medicare and child support. While same-sex couples were 'first-class tax-payers’ they were second-class citizens in terms of entitlements and this also meant a discriminatory impact on their children.' This was the inquiry that Howard government ministers instructed their departments and agencies not to make submissions to.

Read the report

NSW Election Funding Inquiry

The NSW Legislative Council has set up (27 June) a select committee to inquire into the funding and disclosure of donations to political parties and candidates in State and local government elections. The inquiry was moved by Liberal MP Don Harwin, with the support of the Greens, the Shooters Party and the Christian Democratic Party. The inquiry will look at the impact of donations on the democratic process and the advantages and disadvantages of a ban on corporate and union donations and of introducing expenditure limits. It will report by the first sitting day in March 2008. There has been continuing controversy in NSW over developer donations and their potential impact on planning laws and planning decisions.

go to inquiry home page

Parliamentary administration compared

June Verrier, currently a visiting fellow at the Audit has an interesting paper on parliamentary administration in the Australasian Parliamentary Review. Comparing experience in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK, she argues that, contrary to much opinion, improved corporate governance will not, of itself, increase parliament’s independence or effectiveness. An underpinning commitment is necessary to the kind of administrative and budgetary arrangements needed for independence, the best-practice model being a cross-party parliamentary commission. The Australasian Parliamentary Review is not yet available online, but the article is reproduced with permission.

Read the paper

Strengthening government and parliament in Victoria

The Victorian parliament’s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) is conducting an inquiry into strengthening parliamentary accountability. Some interesting submissions to the inquiry have been made, which are now available from the PAEC website.

WA boundary changes

The Western Australian Electoral Distribution Commissioners have released their proposed new electoral boundaries on 29 June, following a period of public comment—these proposed boundaries are the first under WA’s one vote, one value legislation. The Commissioners’ web site contains the various maps, submissions, and process timeline. Objections to the proposed boundaries need to be submitted to the Commissioners by 30 July, with the final boundaries being published on 29 October 2007.

Kenyan ministers 'bored'

The perils of coalition building have been revealed in Kenya, with 30 assistant ministers complaining they are bored and have no work to do. The number of assistant ministries has grown as the president has used the positions to reward coalition partners, but evidently has not found sufficient work to keep them busy, or has not trusted them with t responsibility. The assistant ministers are now calling for a clear statement of their duties. Cynics have, however, questioned why it has taken them until months before an election to complain.

Read more

Government communication in Australia

Audit contributor, Sally Young (University of Melbourne) has published a timely edited collection on Government Communication in Australia (Cambridge Univ. Press). The book covers issues including how governments use spin, new media and expensive government advertising to influence reporting and public opinion. It includes chapters by other Audit contributors including Graeme Orr, Brian Head, Peter Chen, Rachel Gibson, Sarah Maddison and Katherine Gelber.

Find out more

The pillars of power

Audit contributor David Solomon AM (University of Queensland), has published The Pillars of Power (Federation Press). The book examines changes in Australian political, legal and regulatory institutions, including the growth in prime ministerial power, the downgrading of parliament and the remaking of the federal system. It draws on 50 interviews with politicians, administrators and other observers.

Find out more

Dr Phil Larkin

Democratic Audit of Australia

Political Science

Australian National University

Canberra ACT 0200

Tel: +61 2 6125 0696 or 1600
Fax: +61 2 6125 3051

update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

Prisoner vote decision

In the wake of the High Court’s decision on prisoner enfranchisement, Graeme Orr (University of Queensland) describes the issue of prisoner disenfranchisement as a continuing ‘political football’ in this new paper for the Audit.


The High Court’s reasoning is available here:


Whatever happened to frank and fearless?

Kathy MacDermott, former head of evaluation for the Australian Public Service Commission, considers the tension between the public service’s role in providing ‘frank and fearless’ advice to government and its role in development and implementation of government policy.


At 8pm on Wednesday 17 October 2007, the federal electoral roll closed for enrolments and re-enrolments. Electors already on the roll but who want to change their address have until the evening of Tuesday 23 October to get their forms to the Australian Electoral Commission. You can check your current enrolled address here https://oevf.aec.gov.au/ and obtain a form here:


Note, however, that it is now too late for people who are not on the roll to register.

When last year the federal government legislated to close the rolls for new enrolments on the day the writs were issued, and for re-enrolments three days afterwards, it justified the change on the grounds that the week’s grace that had previously existed had placed unwanted stress on the AEC’s operations. The Commissioner agreed that it would ‘make our life easier’. It is not clear, therefore, whether the AEC welcomed the three day window that resulted from the Prime Minister issuing the writs three days after announcing the election in 2007.

However, after the election was announced the AEC advertised widely the Wednesday evening deadline, and the Sydney Morning Herald has reported a last minute ‘steady stream’ of first-time voters enrolling at the AEC’s Sydney office.


Also on the subject of the electoral roll, Simon Jackman, who co-authored an Audit paper with Peter Brent in June has an update at The Bulletin’s website:


Jackman and Brent for the Audit: http://democratic.audit.anu.edu.au/papers/20070620brentjackmanaecroll.pdf

Blogger William Bowe looked at the issue in Crikey this week:


As did the Sydney Morning Herald


and the Canberra Times


We will have to wait until after the election to determine how well the AEC coped under the new conditions

Party donations

In the wake of the prime minister’s admission that he would welcome donations to the Liberal Party from Gunns, the company behind the proposed Tasmanian pulp mill, Ken Coghill (Monash University) has a piece on the ABC’s website on the shortcomings of the regulation of political finance in Australia.


Labor commitment to fixed terms

ALP leader Kevin Rudd has committed his party to a referendum on the introduction of four-year, fixed-term governments.


Kirby calls for dissenting judiciary

Justice Michael Kirby has criticised the conservatism of his fellow High Court judges in the annual Hawke Lecture. Whilst government is inevitably constrained to a degree by the need for consensus and compromise, he argues the independence of the judiciary should see them dissenting from majority opinion in order for social progress to be achieved.

The transcript and a recording of the speech are available here:


Campaign poster ban in NSW?

An apparently innocuous piece of legislation currently before the New South Wales parliament could have important election campaigning implications, especially for small parties and Independents. The Electricity Supply Amendment (Offences) Bill 2007 makes it an offence to enter or climb electricity works and this, it seems, would include putting up campaign posters on electricity poles. Lacking the resources of the big parties, smaller parties and independents rely on this sort of free campaigning so the bill could further skew the electoral process against them.

The bill is available here:


Another Bill of Rights?

Following a community consultation process, the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute has recommended that Tasmania become the latest jurisdiction in Australia to enact a Bill of Rights. Australia remains the only comparable country without a Bill of Rights, though the ACT and Victoria have both introduced them.

A summary of the Institute’s recommendations is available here:


The full report is available here:


Democracy in Pacific Asia

Roland Rich, the former head of the ANU’s Centre for Democratic Institutions and recently appointed executive head of the United Nation’s Democracy Fund, has a new book examining democracy in Pacific Asia.

It’s available from Amazon



Dr Phil Larkin

Democratic Audit of Australia
Political Science
Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200

Tel: +61 2 6125 0696 or 1600

Fax: +61 2 6125 3051

update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

The importance of boundaries 

Colin Hughes, former Federal Electoral Commissioner and Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Queensland, considers the issue of electorate boundary changes. The paper provides a comprehensive review of the 2006 redistributions in NSW and Qld and summarises the history of redistributions in the two states. Hughes analyses the party political competition involved, even when the redistributions are carried out by independent electoral commissions. 

Government advertising on industrial relations 

Fred Argy, visiting fellow at ANU’s Crawford School, reviews the federal government’s publicly funded, multi-million dollar campaign to persuade the Australian electorate of the merits of the controversial WorkChoices policy.Read the paper

Fairfax media freedom fears

Media baron JB Fairfax has spoken of his concerns about the freedom of the press. He identified two trends of particular concern: Freedom of Information (FOI) and whistleblower protection. Governments’ ability to deem the disclosure of documents to be contrary to the public interest significantly undermines the principle of FOI. He also called for a legal right for journalist to protect their sources, except in cases of national security.More in the Geelong Advertiser

Garrett’s FOI knock-backALP

Environment Spokesman, Peter Garrett had an FOI request for documents relating to the impact of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef rejected, apparently on the bizarre grounds that it would benefit Labor’s election campaign. The executive director of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) said that, if the matter was of public concern, then the information would assist Labor’s campaign and, presumably, damage the Liberals’. Read more  

Australia improves its press freedom ranking

Reporters Without Borders’ latest annual survey of world press freedom has Australia in 28th place, up from 35th in 2006.Read more

The Australian electoral roll

The Audit’s Peter Brent and Simon Jackman (Stanford University) have followed up their Audit paper on the shrinking electoral roll, with this analysis of the latest enrolment figuresRead the analysis  

The right to vote is not enjoyed equally

A recent report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) shows that, whilst all Australians aged 18 or over are supposedly obliged to vote, in fact certain groups are disproportionately more likely to miss out. Those with a disability, those in rural areas, indigenous Australians, the homeless, and prisoners serving sentences longer than three years, are all likely to excluded from voting for legal or practical reasons.Read the full report here  

Political campaigns website

Audit contributor Sally Young (University of Melbourne), has launched The Soapbox, a new website dedicated to political campaigns in Australia since 1901.Visit The Soapbox  

Election 2007: Voters and the Senate

Whilst governments may not like it, it seems voters prefer a Senate that is not under government control. David Denemark (UWA), Shaun Wilson (Maquarie University) and Gabrielle Meagher (University of Sydney) have a paper based on the latest Australian Social Attitudes Survey (AuSSA) that shows that 57 per cent prefer the government not to have control of the Senate, against just 14 per cent who consider it a good thing.Read more

Ruddock vs Ludwig debate

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Shadow Attorney-General Joe Ludwig will debate their parties’ policies as they affect Australia’s legal system. The debate will be held at NSW Parliament House on Tuesday November 6, between 9.00am and 10.00am. Booking required: phone 02 9385 2257 or email gtcentre@unsw.edu.au.   

Dr Phil Larkin

Democratic Audit of AustraliaPolitical Science

Australian National UniversityCanberra ACT 0200 

Tel: +61 2 6125 0696 or 1600Fax: +61 2 6125 3051

Update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

ANAO: Regional spending program ‘political’ 

A report by Auditor-General on the first three years of the Federal Government’s Regional Partnerships Program (2003-06) has found it to have ‘fallen short of an acceptable standard of public administration’. There has been much comment in the media and elsewhere on the use of the program for pork-barreling in the 2004 election. The Auditor-General’s report expresses concern that decisions were taken to fund certain projects not recommended by the department, and that some decisions ‘were open to the interpretation that they had been made for political reasons and not on the merits of the project’. 


Further politicisation of the public service 

The Canberra Times reports that public servants have been compiling ‘cheat sheets’—breaking down government expenditure by federal electorate—for government MPs and candidates to use in the election campaign. The information compiled by public servants was not passed on to the parliamentary library and FOI requests have been blocked by extortionate charges quoted for scrutiny of the expenditure breakdowns. Together, Education, Communications, Defence and Family and Community Services wanted more than $50 000 to release the documents, estimating it would take thousands of hours to scrutinise the documents. The Canberra Times notes that the self-imposed regime of scrutinising the documents line-by-line has enabled agencies to ride out the election without disclosing further evidence of pork barrelling. 

http://canberra.yourguide.com.au/news/local/general/ps-used-in-cheat-sheets-for govt/1084013.html 


Former PMs criticise ‘culture of secrecy’ 

Former prime ministers Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam have written an open letter on the decline of responsible government and the failure to observe the principle of ministerial accountability. They have urged the winners of the November 2007 general election to launch a full, independent inquiry.

Read the letter:  http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,22740912-5000117,00.html  

Relating to the former PMs' open letter, Spencer Zifcak and Victor Perton have an article in the Australian calling for a revamped code of ministerial accountability, as recommended in the Australasian Study of Parliament's Be honest, minister! 


How should I vote?

GetUp has an online questionnaire designed to find the candidate who most closely matches your opinions. Candidates in all electorates answered 20 questions and their responses were recorded. You answer the same questions and your answers are matched with the candidates standing in your electorate. A personal How To Vote card is then generated. It's good fun and the site has been independently checked for fairness, though not all candidates have answered the questionnaire.


Australian democracy special edition In the wake of the Federal election, the Centre for Policy Development is publishing a special edition of InSight, its online journal, on the state of Australia’s democracy. It is to be published on 28 November 2007.   


ASIO criticised 

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) have been roundly criticised by a judge for their conduct, including false imprisonment and kidnap, in bringing terrorism charges against a Sydney medical student.  


MPs’ activity 

The Daily Telegraph has audited the activity of members of the House of Representatives. It finds that members who are stepping down are generally less active and hard-working than those standing for re-election and that coalition members in marginal seats are more likely to ask ‘Dorothy Dixers’ at Question Time. Read more here: 


Tightening up the New Zealand political finance regime The Justice and Electoral Committee of the New Zealand parliament has just reported back on the Electoral Finance Bill. The Bill is intended to close loopholes revealed in the last election when the Exclusive Brethren was the third largest known spender. Read more here: 


Accountability failings in Canada 

The regulations to govern lobbyists under Canada’s much publicised Federal Accountability Act have still not come into force, although the Act received royal assent in December 2006. The party launched its bid for government at the last election with a strong commitment to closing the 'revolving door' between lobbyists and government.  Despite promises, little has been done to curb the power of lobbyists, and now Prime Minister Harper has come under fire over the appointment of the head of an industry lobby group, the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, to lead the Conservative research bureau. 

http://canadianpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5i35JuPuX69RC7aZIaZQn6bq0kfJQ Hate speech Audit contributor Katherine Gelber (UNSW) and Adrienne Stone (University of Melbourne) have edited a collection on the laws governing hate speech.More details are available here:  http://www.federationpress.com.au/bookstore/book.asp?isbn=9781862876538    

Dr Phil Larkin

Democratic Audit of Australia

Political ScienceAustralian National UniversityCanberra ACT

0200 Tel: +61 2 6125 0696 or 1600Fax: +61 2 6125 3051

Update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

Removing partisan bias from Australian electoral legislation – An Audit discussion paper

The ANU’s Brendan McCaffrie discusses a way of removing partisan bias from the formulation of Australia’s electoral laws.  His proposal for an Independent Electoral Law Committee seeks to remove the partisan influence of the major parties from electoral law-making.  Although the major parties may be loath to give up this control, there are international precedents, as McCaffrie discusses. 

Read Brendan’s paper here.    

Not so special anymore: The demise of SBS television – An Audit discussion paper

Monash University’s Emma Dawson assesses the state of SBS as a public broadcaster reflecting the concerns of ethnic Australia.  Dawson discusses how SBS management has responded to being caught up in the culture wars, attempting to adequately respond to the interests of its viewers, and its political masters.   

Read Emma’s paper here.  

Informal voting at the 2007 election – Preliminary notes

In this commentary piece, the Audit’s Peter Brent notes the decrease in informal voting (from 5.18 to 3.95 per cent) at the 2007 federal election.  However, the level of accidental informal voting still appears to be significant, and Brent identifies the relationships with different voting systems at the state level, as well as the level of non-English speaking voters. 

Read Peter’s comments here. 

Rudd government support for NGOs’ advocacy role

The Rudd Labor government has announced that it will amend contracts with the non-government sector to allow NGOs to resume their advocacy role without the need for prior government vetting.  The previous government had restricted the advocacy function of NGOs by requiring public statements to be scrutinised by government officials prior to release.  In an influential discussion paper for the Audit in June 2006, drawn on by ACOSS in their recent discussions with government, Joan Staples (UNSW) discussed the impact that think-tanks such as the Institute of Public Affairs were having on the Howard government's policies towards NGOs. 

Read her article here  

See Matthew Franklin’s story in the Australian here 

WA human rights report

The government-appointed Consultation Committee has reported on the proposed Human Rights Act for Western Australia.  The Committee received 377 submissions (including one from the Audit), and has recommended that additions be made to the original draft Bill. Recommended additions include the right to an education and adequate housing.  The WA government is reluctant to include additional rights, and has deferred further action on human rights legislation pending Rudd government consultation on possible federal legislation. 

Report of the Consultation Committee (3.7MB)Consultation Committee’s website (includes links to the report and submissions

Attorney General Jim McGinty’s media statement  

Article on voter ID laws

American electoral law specialist Professor Rick Hasen draws parallels between US and Australian voter ID laws in this Canberra Times article.  Hasen highlights problems in requiring voters to produce ID at the time of voting.    

New House of Representatives’ petitions committee

The Rudd government has announced that a 10-member parliamentary committee will be established to review and report on petitions presented to parliament.  Up to now there has been no formal action on petitions after they have been tabled.  Given the number of petitions presented to parliament (over 900 in the previous parliament, according to The Australian here), it will be interesting to see how the committee establishes its priorities.  For example, one of the largest generators of petitions (both in number of petitions, and number of signatories) is the Falun Gong issue in China.  

Kind regards, Norm  

Norm Kelly

School of Social Sciences,

Faculty of Arts

The Australian National University

Rm 2156 Haydon-Allen Building

Ph: (02) 6125 4209

Mb: 0414 493 749

Em: norm.kelly@anu.edu.au

update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

Priorities for Electoral Reform

The election of a new government means an opportunity to fix some of the things that have been going wrong with Australia’s electoral system.  Australia has been making it harder to enrol and vote, and easier for private money to influence electoral outcomes.  Read the Audit’s priorities for electoral reform here.   

Discussion paper – Time to introduce automatic enrolment in Australia

With the Rudd government looking at making changes to the Electoral Act, the Audit’s Peter Brent places automatic enrolment as a high priority.  In this paper, he highlights the mass of database information which the Australian Electoral Commission has access to, but cannot efficiently use for updating the electoral roll.  Peter calls for the AEC to be given the power to update the roll automatically – doing away with the need for citizens to fill out lengthy enrolment forms.  Read his paper here.    

NSW elections database

Antony Green has produced an excellent database of NSW Legislative Assembly election results dating back to 1856 (the first general election under responsible government).  Produced for the NSW parliament, the information includes seat by seat results for every election and by-election, an alphabetical listing of every candidate that has ever stood in NSW (listing all contests each candidate has stood in).  Very easy to navigate around, this is not only a valuable research tool for election nerds, but a useful reference point for anyone with an interest in the history of NSW politics.  Access the database here  

NSW 2007 election inquiry

The NSW parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is currently conducting an inquiry into the conduct of the 2007 general election.  The deadline for submissions is 29 February.  For information on making a submission, visit the Committee’s web site here 

Political finance - Call for restrictions on donations

In a recent opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, David Humphries argues that Australia should follow the Canadian example by putting limits on the size of political donations, and prohibiting foreign donations.  It should be pointed out that there is a small error in the piece – Canada now prohibits all donations from corporations and trade unions.  Only donations of less than $1 000 from individuals are now allowed.  Read David Humphries’ article here.   

Pace-setting FOI Discussion Paper from Queensland

One of the first actions of the new Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, was to commission Dr David Solomon to head a review of Queensland's Freedom of Information Act. Its Discussion Paper has now been released (30 January 2008) and suggests fundamental changes. These are relevant beyond Queensland and, for example, would help repair the notoriously weak Commonwealth FOI Act. 

The Queensland discussion paper refers approvingly to the principle underlying the New Zealand approach to FOI, where the default position is to release even Cabinet documents unless it can be shown this would damage the public interest. It suggests all FOI exemptions in the Queensland Act be subject to an over-riding public interest test. At the federal level the Rudd Government is so far only committed to removal of conclusive certificates and the setting up of a FOI Commissioner, not to reducing currently exempt areas or introducing an over-riding public interest test. 

For the Discussion Paper (Enhancing Open and Accountable Government) click here.  Submissions to the review close on Friday 7 March.  

For Jack Waterford's analysis in The Public Sector Informant (February 2008) click here 

Civil unions - Self-government for the ACT?

The ACT Attorney-General, Simon Corbell, has called for the removal of the provision in the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 that gives the Governor General (i.e., the Commonwealth government) the power to disallow laws passed by the Territory Assembly. This is what happened to the Civil Unions Act 2006. The Howard Government objected to the Civil Unions Act on the grounds that it equated civil unions with marriage and would have authorised marriage celebrants to conduct civil union ceremonies. 

Following the Governor-General's disallowance of the 2006 ACT legislation, Labor, Green and Democrat Senators (Ludwig, Nettle and Stott Despoja) moved a motion in the Senate to disallow the Governor-General's action and were joined by ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries. The motion was defeated, however, when the Family First Senator sided with the Government. 

After the change of federal government a new Civil Partnership Bill was presented to the ACT Legislative Assembly in December 2007. The Bill creates 'civil partnership notaries' to witness the declarations of those entering into formal domestic partnerships and provides the opportunity for this to be a public ceremony. This change of language, from the celebrants referred to in the 2006 Act, was intended to underline that a civil partnership was different from marriage.  The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said that his government would not over-ride the legislation as it was a matter for States and Territories.  

In 2008, however, the Commonwealth Attorney-General, Robert McLelland, has repeatedly claimed the public ceremony aspects of the ACT Bill are 'unacceptable'.  His preference is for relationships registers that do not involve a ceremony before an official. Hence the ACT Attorney-General's statement that existing provisions allowing the Commonwealth to over-ride Territory legislation are undemocratic and should be abolished. 

Unfortunately the ACT seems to have little pull in the federal parliament, having no representation in the Cabinet or Ministry and ACT votes being worth less than votes in any other jurisdiction in House of Representatives elections. 

For a comprehensive assessment on the proposal for civil unions in the ACT, including the various political forces at play, read this article from Carol Johnson (University of Adelaide) at On Line Opinion.   

Audit moves to Swinburne

This is the final email update from the Audit team at ANU.  Future updates, and management of the Audit, will be handled by Brian Costar and Peter Browne at the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University.  However, we will remain involved in the Audit’s aims and work, particularly with finalising The State of Democracy report, and the Marketing Government focused Audit report, due out in the coming months.

Regards, Norm  

Norm Kelly

School of Social Sciences,

Faculty of Arts

The Australian National University

Rm 2156

Haydon-Allen Building

Ph: (02) 6125 4209

Mb: 0414 493 749

Em: norm.kelly@anu.edu.au

update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

This is the first Democratic Audit Update from the Audit’s new home at the Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology. Readers won’t notice any dramatic changes – the Audit will continue to draw on a network of researchers around Australia, including the team at ANU, who’ve kept up a remarkable flow of reports, papers and news over the past six years. Particular thanks to Marian Sawer, Peter Brent, Norm Kelly and Norman Abjorensen for helping with a smooth transition. Contributions to future newsletters are welcomed; please send them to Brian Costar – bcostar@swin.edu.au.

Democratic Audit submission to NSW inquiry

The Audit’s Dr Phil Larkin has made a submission to the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into Electoral and Political Party Funding, highlighting three issues: the relationship between funding regimes; the timeliness of donation disclosures; and the structure of the Election Funding Authority.

  • Read the full submission here

Colin Hughes on political funding

The former Electoral Commissioner, Professor Colin A. Hughes, has told the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into Electoral and Political Party Funding that “[t]he essential components for an election finance system without which the system must be suspect are, first, machinery to enforce, monitor and recommend, and second, continuous, comprehensive and total disclosure of both income and outgo. All else is bells and whistles.”

  • Read the full Hughes submission here
  • Visit the inquiry’s webpage here

JSCEM members announced

The membership of the federal parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) has been finalised: the chair is Labor’s Daryl Melham MP and the deputy chair is Liberal MP Scott Morrison.

  • A full membership list is here

McEwen goes to the Federal Court

The contested result in the federal division of McEwen is set down for a directions hearing in the Federal Court of Australia (Melbourne) on 28 March 2008, before Justice Tracey.Foreign political donationsIn this briefing note Senator Andrew Murray argues that Australia – like countries including the United States, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom – should ban foreign donations to domestic political parties to stop foreign influence in domestic political affairs.

  • Read this paper here

Dear Minister, ignore public service experience at your peril

Writing in the Public Sector Informant supplement to the Canberra Times, Patrick Weller argues that the public service prospers when it is well led by ministers who know what they want and how to use the skills of the public servants who work with them.

  • Read page 1 of this article here
  • and page 2 here

Politics/Media Conference proceedings

Convened by the Media and Communications Program, University of Melbourne, on 12–13 February 2008, this conference brought together researchers and practitioners in Australian politics, media and political communication. Conference papers covered political reporting from both a research and practitioner point of view, with a number focusing on the 2007 federal election campaign and others taking a broader view of political communications in both theory and practice. The full text of most papers in available at The Soapbox, an elections database established by the Media and Communications Program.

  • Find the papers here

Will the latest aNiMaLS be CUTSies or go CaCTUS?

In 1996 the infamous National Media Liaison Service (known as “aNiMaLS”) became the equally infamous Government Members’ Secretariat. Will the Rudd government’s Caucus Committee Support and Training Unit perform the same role, asks Mark Davis in the Sydney Morning Herald on 25 February 2008. Not so, says Senator Robert Ray: there will be “no media monitoring; no research on the Opposition; no direct campaigning in elections and the like…”

  • Read Mark Davis’s article here

Branch stacks and smokestacks

Linton Besser, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on 8 March 2008, reveals branch stacking to influence candidate pre-selection has played a roll in the troubles besetting the Wollongong City Council.

  • Read the full article here

The Everyday Democracy Index

Demos in the UK has developed this index as “a tool for assessing the democratic health of European countries across many different dimensions”. According to a paper launched on 31 January, everryday democracy “includes not just formal dimensions of democracy but also more everyday features of democracy – how important democratic principles and practices are to the cultures of workplaces, to people’s community life, to the way they interact with public services, and even to the way they talk to their friends and family.”

  • Read the full report here

update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

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

update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

Relics of a bygone era  

Peter Brent examines the regional structure of the Australian Electoral Commission and argues that the existence of permanent District Returning Offices is wasteful and is holding back the adoption of world's best practice enrolment procedures. 

Read the discussion paper.

Young democratists 

The Institute for Social Research at Swinburne is holding the third of its Emerging Scholars' Workshops on the theme of Democracy. Applications are sought for places at the workshop. 

Find out more here 

Donations, disclosure... 

The Electoral Matters Committee of the Parliament of Victoria is conducting an Inquiry into Political Donations and Disclosure. Submissions close on Friday 27 June 2008.

Details here 

… disputation 

The case of the disputed election in the Division of McEwen is set down for hearing in the Federal Court of Australia, Melbourne, in courtroom 8D on 21 and 22 May at 10.15 am

… and more donations 

The Australian Electoral Commission has released details of electoral donations from the 2007 federal election.  

They can be found here 

Undeclared donations ... 

The NSW Election Funding Authority has asked the Crown Solicitor to prosecute 800 donors who failed to declare $8 million in donations to parties and candidates at the 2006 state election, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on 3 & 4 May 2008. 

More details here 

... and deductible donations 

The Democratic Audit of Australia supported limited tax deductibility on small political donations in its submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters Inquiry on Tax Deductibility of Political Donations. 

Read the submission here and the transcript of the public hearing held in Canberra on 29 April 2008 here.

No four-year terms for Queensland 

"Talks have again broken down between the Bligh Government and the Queensland Opposition over a referendum on fixed four-year terms," reported The Australian on 1 May.  

The full item is here 

And some late arrivals ..... 

electoral changes in the Senate 

The government has today introduced its changes to the Electoral Act into the Senate.

Senator Faulkner's media release is here: http://www.smos.gov.au/media/2008/mr_162008.html 

lobbyist register website 

As well, the federal government's lobbyist register website is now up and running, and can be viewed here: http://lobbyists.pmc.gov.au/lobbyistsregister 

The lobbyist register will be fully operational from 1 July. Crikey's Bernard Keane reports today that Senator Andrew Murray "has referred the register to the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration to consider ways that it could be improved, including the key issue of whether in-house lobbyists should be included, and whether it should be extended to all members of Parliament. However, as a ministerial code rather than a regulation or legislation, the Register requirements are in force, and lobbyists have until 30 June to register themselves." 

reviewing the 2007 federal election 

Some readers will also be interested to download a copy of the Parliamentary Library's research paper on the 2007 federal election, written by Scott Bennett and Stephen Barber, which includes a narrative discussion of the election campaign and its outcome and a comprehensive set of statistics: http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/RP/2007-08/08rp30.pdf

update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

Different donors

In a new Audit discussion paper, Joo-Cheong Tham from the University of Melbourne argues the case for treating trade union financial contributions to political parties differently from those of corporations. The paper is a response to growing support for restricting or banning political donations from all organisations.

Citizenship: the Audit view…

The Democratic Audit of Australia has made a submission to the Woolcott committee reviewing the Citizenship Test. The Audit submission argues that if a test is to be retained it should be an oral one, dealing solely with the rights and responsibilities of being an Australian citizen.

… and the Woolcott view

On ABC Radio’s Sunday Profile program on 15 June the chair of the committee reviewing the Citizenship Test, Richard Woolcott, was asked “Do you personally think that there should be a citizenship test?” to which he replied, “No I don’t…”

  • Read a transcript of the interview, including Mr Woolcott’s criticism of the Becoming an Australian Citizen booklet, here

Deductibility inquiry reports

The federal parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has released its report on Schedule 1 of the Tax Laws Amendment (2008 Measures No1) Bill 2008. The committee, which heard evidence from the Audit’s Graeme Orr, recommends removing the tax deductibility of political donations.

Read the report 

Queensland FOI committee reports

Queensland’s FOI Independent Review Panel has released its final report, The Right to Information: Reviewing Queensland’s Freedom of Information Act. The panel, chaired by barrister, author and former journalist, David Solomon, has made 141 recommendations to Premier Anna Bligh. These amount to “not merely an upgrade of the legislation, but a new model … a radically different but more effective legislative architecture for FOI”. Government information should be released “routinely and proactively” without the need for individual requests. A Right to Information Act should replace the existing legislation. Cabinet material should be accessible unless it compromises collective ministerial responsibility, and released completely after ten years instead of thirty. The Queensland review could be a model for changes in other states and the Commonwealth.

NSW funding committee reports

New South Wales Legislative Council has released its report on Electoral and Political Party Funding in NSW. Among other things, the committee recommends a $1,000 cap on private donations and a ban on corporate donations. “Political donations and election spending would be disclosed in a timely, transparent and accessible manner,” says the report. “There would be greater policing of the electoral funding scheme, and tougher penalties for non-compliance.”

NSW legislation introduced

Meanwhile, the Electoral Funding Amendment (Political Donations and Expenditure) Bill 2008 and the Local Government and Planning Legislation Amendment (Political Donations) Bill 2008 were introduced into the NSW Parliament on 19 June 2008.

  • Read the minister’s second reading speech here

Canada sets a “radical” example

In an article for the Canberra Times, the Audit’s Marian Sawer reports on Canada’s electoral funding reforms and suggests that they have lessons for Australia. The first wave of reform, in 2004, was prompted by the “sponsorship” scandals under the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien. The Conservative government of Stephen Harper went even further in 2006 to remove the influence of corporate money from the electoral process. Still more legislation is currently before the Canadian parliament, designed to close loopholes regarding “loans” to parties and candidates.

  • Read the article here

Participation inquiry

Victoria’s Electoral Matters Committee has commenced an Inquiry Into Voter Participation and Informal Voting. Submissions close on 27 June 2008, and public hearings will be conducted at Parliament House Melbourne on 23 and 24 July 2008.

Regulating lobbying

In this paper Gareth Griffith from the NSW Parliamentary Library discusses the regulation of political lobbyists as at 2 June 2008. Taking a comparative approach, he looks at current and proposed schemes in Australia and in selected overseas jurisdictions and asks: what is the best and most effective regulatory scheme to safeguard and nurture confidence in the democratic system?

  • Read the paper here

Update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

Donations and disclosures in Victoria 

The Democratic Audit of Australia has made a submission to the inquiry by the Victorian Parliament’s Electoral Matters Committee into political donations and disclosures. The submission makes the case for an internet-based regime of disclosure similar to that operated by the NY City Campaign Finance Board.

• Read the Audit submission here

• Read other submissions here 

Auditing campaigns 

The Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner, and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, have issued new guidelines for federal government advertising under which all ad campaigns costing over $250,000 will be scrutinised by the Auditor-General.

• Read the 2 July media release 

JSCEM 2007 election inquiry 

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) has advertised a series of public hearings relating to its inquiry into the conduct of the 2007 federal election.

• Further information is available here 

Whistleblower inquiry 

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is inquiring into whistleblowing protections within the Australian Government public sector to develop a preferred model. Interested organisations and individuals are invited to make submissions by Friday 8 August 2008.

• More information is available here 

A new Indigenous representative body 

Tom Calma, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, has released Building a Sustainable National Indigenous Representative Body: Issues for Consideration, an issues paper examining the issues that need to be considered in the formulation of a new representative body. The report does not propose a model for the body itself.

• Read the report here 

Constitutional consequences 

Reforming our Constitution, a new report from the House of Representatives Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, examines the consequences of the lack of reform to the Constitution in recent decades. It recommends that all intergovernmental agreements are referred to a parliamentary committee for scrutiny, and advocates greater public debate on constitutional reform – particularly on issues such as whether the Constitution should be revised to “acknowledge where we as Australians have come from”; set out rights and protections as well as practical national governance structures; and articulate aspirations for a nation.

• Read the full report here 

The business of the House 

The House of Representatives Procedure Committee is inquiring into the conduct of the business of the House of Representatives. The inquiry will focus on options for sitting hour reform, speaking times for legislation and other debates, the length of time allocated to items of business, and options for managing the competing demands on members’ time posed by chamber duties, party meetings and parliamentary committee meetings.

• Further information available here 

Parliamentary remuneration 

Parliamentary Allowances, Benefits and Salaries of Office is a new report by the Parliamentary Library’s Leanne Manthorpe. It looks briefly at benefits and focuses on allowances and salaries, explaining the legislative basis and fixing and linking mechanisms.

• The report is available here 

Also released by the Parliamentary Library is The Annual Allowance for Senators and Members, also written by Leanne Manthorpe, which explains the legislative basis, fixing and linking mechanisms for the allowance.

• This report available here 


Australia is the subject of the cover featurein the latest edition of Federations magazine, published by the Forum of Federations: The Global Network on Federalism. The article was written by Anne Twomey, associate professor of law at the University of Sydney.

• Download the full June–July 2008 edition of Federations here

update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

Democratic Audit Update September 2008

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)

update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

Marketing Government: the public service and the permanent campaign.

In the latest focussed audit, Kathy MacDermott shows how the marketing of government has invaded the core business of policy development and the everyday work of public servants. Her case studies illustrate how public servants have become part of the 'permanent campaign', putting at risk the distinction between marketing and explaining government policy and between genuine and politically tailored data. 

·                     Read Report No. 10 (PDF) here 

·                     See all focussed audits here 

Donations inquiry

Members of the Democratic Audit gave evidence to the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters’ inquiry into the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008 in Canberra on 22 September 2008. The committee endorsed the Bill with minor amendments. 

·                     Read the transcript of the Audit’s evidence here

·                     JSCEM’s inquiry report is available here 

Green paper delays

Geoffrey Barker reports on the progress of the federal government’s two electoral reform green papers on Australian Policy Online. 

·                     Read the article here 

Lessons from the United States

Audit member Brian Costar compared the US and Australian political donation regimes and found that theirs is much more transparent than ours in an article for the new website, Inside Story, published by the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University of Technology. 

·                     Read the article here 

Lessons from Australia

Journalist Jill Lepore provided a lively history of the evolution of ballot voting in the United States – with appropriate references to the ‘Australian Ballot’ – in the New Yorker on 13 October 2008. 

·                     Read the article here 

Gender and democracy

A new website to be launched in November will provide resources for those interested in feminist thought at its intersection with democracy, and a place for debate about these issues. According to the founders of the site, Jasmine Westendorf and Ruby Murray, “By examining the way in which gender interacts with democratic processes and debates, The Democracy Project seeks to collapse areas that are currently considered ‘women’s issues’ into broader societal discourse and research, and show that a healthy, functioning democracy requires that we re-negotiate the way in which the boundaries between gender and society are drawn.” 

·                     Visit The Democracy Project here 

Reforming question time

In An Opportunity for Revitalization, Senator Alan Ferguson recommends replacing the current system, of one question without notice and one supplementary question from the questioner, with a system of one primary question on notice and multiple supplementary questions not confined to the questioner, and a stricter requirement for relevance of answers. 

·                     Read the discussion paper here 

Queensland government welcomes FOI report

The Queensland government has expressed full support for 116 of the recommendations in The Right to Information, David Solomon’s review of Queensland’s Freedom of Information laws. The government either partially or in principle supports another 23 recommendations, with only two recommendations not accepted. 

·                     The Queensland government’s response to the Solomon report, and the report itself, are available here 

Local government in New South Wales

This Briefing Paper by Jason Arditi of the Research Service, Parliament of New South Wales, looks at the operation of local government in NSW, examining the history and constitutional foundation of local government, together with the salient features of the Local Government Act 1993 and the service and regulatory functions set out by the Act. 

·                     Read the paper here 

Indigenous governance

In Contested Governance: Culture, Power and Institutions in Indigenous Australia, a collection of papers from the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, contributors examine the dilemmas and challenges involved in the Indigenous struggle for the development and recognition of systems of governance that they recognise as both legitimate and effective. 

·                     Read this eBook here 

Auditing handbook

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) has released Assessing the Quality of Democracy: An Overview of the International IDEA Framework, which presents the organisation’s State of Democracy (SoD) Assessment Framework. Developed for public use around the world, the SoD Framework has to date been applied in some 20 countries worldwide since its first launch in 2000. 

·                     The report is available here 

New Zealand electoral review

In September the NZ government announced the terms of reference and membership of an expert panel to review electoral administration and political party funding. A question mark hangs over the future of the committee, however, with the National Party indicating that it would abandon the plan if it wins government. 

·                     Details of the panel’s work and composition are available here  

October 30, 2008

Update from the Democratic Audit of Australia .....

Democratic Audit – Election extra - 6 November 2008 

New Zealand 

The Audit’s Norm Kelly reviews the New Zealand election campaign and looks at how the Mixed Member Proportional electoral system is likely to play out at this Saturday’s poll, for the new current affairs website Inside Story. Read Norm’s article here.

Although its future is uncertain, the NZ Electoral Review, mentioned in the latest Audit Update, now has its own website.  

The United States 

The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law described Tuesday’s poll as “an election day full of record turnout, long lines, machines problems and registration challenges” in a statement calling for reforms to registration and administrative process. The full statement is here. The Brennan Center is a member of The Right to Vote Campaign, a national collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union.

update from the democratic audit of australia .....

This is the last Audit update for 2008. 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

update from the democratic audit of australia .....

Apologies for the late arrival of our first newsletter for 2009. Technical problems delayed the launch of the Audit’s new website – democraticaudit.org.auand held up the newsletter. Normal transmission has now resumed! The website will be updated at least weekly and newsletters will appear monthly.

Please forward this email to friends and colleague who might be interested in subscribing. They can sign up via the button on the right-hand side of the website.

Electoral green paper submissions published

NEWS | 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

AUDIT SUBMISSION | 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

NEWS | 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

NEWS | 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

NEWS | 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

NEWS | 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

NEWS | 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

NEWS | 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

NEWS | 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

NEWS | 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

NEWS | 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

NEWS | 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

NEWS | 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

NEWS | 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.

update from the democratic audit of australia .....

Australia: The State of Democracy, by the Democratic Audit's Marian Sawer, Norman Abjorensen and Phil Larkin, will be published on 15 June by Federation Press.

Redistributions submissions released

The Australian Electoral Commission has released public comments on suggestions received for the Queensland 2009 Redistribution and public suggestions for the New South Wales 2009 Redistribution.

Museum of Australian Democracy opens

Former prime minister Bob Hawke opened the Museum of Australian Democracy in Canberra's Old Parliament House on 9 May 2009. Remarks made by the special minister of state, Senator John Faulkner, can be read here. On Radio National's The National Interest recently, Peter Mares explored the museum.

Brimbank City Council probe

Investigation Into the Alleged Improper Conduct of Councillors at Brimbank City Council was tabled in the Victorian parliament on 7 May 2009. The state Ombudsman investigated whether councillors at Brimbank City Council had conspired with each other to breach public trust, misuse information, mismanage public resources and perform their functions as public officers dishonestly. According to the report, [click to continue...]

The Audit's Brian Costar writes about the report and its implications on Inside Story.

Whistleblower protection in NSW

In a new report, Public Interest Disclosures, Jason Arditi from the Research Service, Parliament of New South Wales, looks at new legislative protection proposals for whistleblowers in New South Wales. The report aims to identify the circumstances in which whistleblowing is recognised as a public good (and in some respects, a requirement) which warrants protection and encouragement by the law. The paper also lays out the matrix of relevant laws currently in effect in NSW and outlines suggested proposals for reforming the regime.

Chatsworth challenge proceeds

The Liberal National Party candidate's legal challenge to the state election result in the seat of Chatsworth will proceed after a Supreme Court judge refused an application to have it struck out, reports the Brisbane Courier-Mail.

Bridging the gap

How effectively do Australian governments engage with the community, asks Marian Sawer in this article for the Canberra Times Public Sector Informant supplement, republished on Australian Policy Online.

Policy and democracy

Writing for Inside Story, the Audit's Norman Abjorensen argues that the federal government's reversal on climate change is another example of the corporate colonisation of society.

Donations and disclosure in Victoria

The Parliament of Victoria's Electoral Matters Committee has published its very detailed report, Inquiry Into Political Donations and Disclosure. The committee recommended that: [click to continue...]

Electoral law debate

Writing for Inside Story, the Audit's Peter Brent examined the criticisms of the electoral roll by the opposition's Senator Michael Ronaldson.

Members' interests under scrutiny in Victoria

The Victorian Parliament's Law Reform Committee is reviewing the Members of Parliament (Register of Interests) Act 1978. The closing date for submissions is 29 May 2009.

Senate committees: back to the future

The Senate Procedure Committee has released its report, The Senate Committee System, which makes a proposal to change the membership of the legislative and general purpose standing committees. "Basically," says the committee, which is chaired by the Liberal senator Alan Ferguson, "this proposal involves restructuring the committees to return to the system that was in effect from 1994 to 2006, whereby in each of the eight subject areas of the standing committees there is a legislation committee and a references committee."

Direct democracy guide

From International IDEA comes Direct Democracy: The International IDEA Handbook. At a time when citizens around the world are showing a growing disenchantment with politicians, this handbook explains how people are increasingly turning to other ways of influencing their governments. [click to continue...]

update from the democratic audit of australia .....

ACT campaign advertising inquiry

The Audit's submission to the ACT Legislative Assembly's Select Committee on Campaign Advertising is now available, as are submissions from a number of other organisations. Public hearings will be held in July 2009.

The shadow cabinet in Australia

In the Shadows: The Shadow Cabinet in Australia, a new report by the 2008 Australian Parliamentary Fellow, Joel Bateman, discusses the roles, functions and procedures of the modern Australian shadow cabinet.

Campaign finance forum

The Democratic Audit is co-hosting a forum on campaign finance reform in Melbourne on 27 July 2009 at Parliament House. The forum will be broadcast on the ABC Radio National program, The National Interest. Further details to follow.

A modest democracy

On the one-hundredth anniversary of the creation of Australia's modern political party system, Paul Strangio writes for Inside Story about two very different landmarks - Alfred Deakin's Point Lonsdale holiday house and the new Museum of Australian Democracy.

Ministers: Ludwig replaces Faulkner

Following the departure of Senator John Faulkner to the defence portfolio, the new Special Minister of State is Senator Joe Ludwig. Senator Faulkner initiated a series of legislative and policy development initiatives during his eighteen months as minister, which were welcomed by the Audit. The new minister has an extensive background in union advocacy and industrial law.

House of Reps committees under review

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure is conducting an inquiry into the effectiveness of the House committees, examining: the number, subject coverage, membership and means of appointment of committees; the type of work being undertaken by committees; the appropriateness of current Standing and Sessional Orders; the powers and operations of committees; and factors influencing the effectiveness of House committees, including resources and structural issues. Submissions are sought by 3 July 2009.

Forthcoming elections

The Parliamentary Library has released a new edition of its Australian Elections Timetable, which provides n overview of the rules for determining the next Commonwealth, state and territory elections. The paper lists the date of the next election where this is fixed, or, where applicable, the earliest and latest possible dates on which it may occur.

Electoral school decision criticised

In a media release, a series of interviews and an article in the Sunday Age, the Audit's Brian Costar has criticised the decision of the federal government to withdraw funding from the Australian Electoral Commission's Electoral Education Centre in Melbourne. Audit contributor Dean Jaensch wrote about the issue for the Adelaide Advertiser, and the closure was discussed at the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee's Estimates hearing on 28 May (see pages 35-41 of the Hansard transcript).

The state of Australian democracy

Australia: The State of Democracy, by the Democratic Audit's Marian Sawer, Norman Abjorensen and Phil Larkin, originally due in mid-June, will now be published on 3 July by Federation Press.

update from the democratic audit of australia .....

Democratic Audit Update - July 2009

The state of Australian democracy

The major Democratic Audit publication, Australia: The State of Democracy, by Marian Sawer, Norman Abjorensen and Phil Larkin, has been published by Federation Press. You can read the introduction here (PDF) and view publication details here (PDF).

Queensland redistribution

The Australian Electoral Commission has published the Report of the Redistribution Committee for Queensland: 2009 Proposed Redistribution of Queensland into Electoral Divisions. Antony Green looks at the implications here.

Harry Evans on 40 years of parliament

Harry Evans, the retiring Clerk of the Senate, reflects on changes in the parliament over the forty years of his association with it.

Audit speaks to MPs' interest inquiry

The Audit's Director-Swinburne, Brian Costar, and Jock Given from the Institute for Social research, appeared before the Victorian Parliament's Law Reform Committee during public hearings for its review of the Members of Parliament (Register of Interests) Act 1978.

Electoral reform continues... slowly

On Inside Story Audit contributor Peter Brent examines the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters from its inquiry into the 2007 federal election. He argues that while the proposed reforms are a step in the right direction, the adoption of new technologies and approaches continues to be perplexingly slow.

Victorian by-election inquiry

The Parliament of Victoria Electoral Matters Committee has called for submissions to its inquiry into the 2008 Kororoit District by-election. The inquiry is examining allegations that electors were deliberately misled in a pamphlet authorised by the Secretary of the Australian Labor Party, which claimed "A vote for Les Twentyman is a vote for the Liberals", which contributed, in the opinion of the Victorian Electoral Commissioner, to "an undesirable trend for candidates to take advantage or build on community misunderstandings of preferential voting with confusing statements."

ACT campaign advertising inquiry

Audit members Kathleen McDermott and Director-ANU Marian Sawer gave evidence to the ACT Legislative Assembly Select Committee on Campaign Advertising on 2 July. Read the transcript here (PDF).

Review of secrecy laws

In this discussion paper the Australian Law Reform Commission considers the best legal arrangements to ensure a balance between the need to protect some Commonwealth information and the need to maintain an open and accountable government through providing appropriate access to information. The ALRC has identified and considered 507 secrecy provisions scattered across 175 pieces of legislation, including 358 distinct secrecy offences carrying a wide variety of criminal penalties... [click to continue...]

Victorian information inquiry reports

The Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee of the Parliament of Victoria has released its report, Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data (PDF), which discusses the benefits and costs of maximising access to and use of government information for commercial and non-commercial purposes and calls for improved access to Victorian government information. The Committee's key recommendation is that the Victorian government establish an Information Management Framework, with open access to government information at no or marginal cost as the default position.

JSCEM election reports released

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has released its Report on the Conduct of the 2007 Federal Election and Matters Related Thereto, which contains a series of recommendations largely consistent with the Audit's submission and oral testimony to the inquiry, although a number of key Audit recommendations were not addressed. JSCEM also released its Advisory Report on the Commonwealth Electoral (Above-the-Line Voting) Amendment Bill 2008.

Consultation examined

In The Dilemmas of Engagement: The Role of Consultation in Governance, published by ANU E Press, Jenny Stewart maps out the principal approaches used by governments to consult with and engage affected communities of interest. Governments well understand that policy occurs in a highly contestable environment in which there are multiple, and often competing interests... [click to continue...]

update from the democratic audit of australia .....

Dollars and Democracy broadcast

Dollars and Democracy: How Best to Regulate Money in Australian Politics, a seminar sponsored by the Audit, University of Melbourne Social Justice Initiative and the Melbourne Law School, will be broadcast on ABC Radio National's The National Interest at 6pm on Friday 21 August and noon on Sunday 23 August.

O'Farrell calls for campaign finance reform

The leader of the NSW opposition, Barry O'Farrell, has called for "significant" campaign finance reform, including limits on campaign expenditure for candidates and parties, a cap on the amount individuals can donate in a given year, and a ban on donations from "organisations, unions or corporations". Read his full article for the Sydney Morning Herald here.

Audit submission to by-election inquiry

The Audit has made a submission to the Parliament of Victoria's Electoral Matters Committee inquiry into the 2008 Kororoit District by-election. The inquiry is examining allegations that electors were deliberately misled in a pamphlet authorised by the Secretary of the Australian Labor Party, which claimed "A vote for Les Twentyman is a vote for the Liberals". The Audit's Brian Costar also gave oral evidence to the committee.

Audit's Costar on Meet the Press

On Channel Ten's Meet the Press, the Audit's Brian Costar discussed cutting the cost of election campaigns, banning corporate party fundraising and improving the disclosure regime for parties and candidates.

NSW privacy law proposal

The New South Wales Law Reform Commission has released a report, Invasion of Privacy, which recommends that "there should be an action for invasion of privacy". The Commission has also established a blog to canvass opinion on the report. Journalist David Marr was critical of the report in this article for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Privacy Foundation responded to critics of the report here.

Killesteyn discusses electoral mechanics

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the creation of the Australian Electoral Commission, the current commissioner, Ed Killesteyn, discussed potential improvements to electoral enrolment procedures with Peter Mares on ABC Radio National's The National Interest. A transcript of the interview is available here.

NSW redistribution

Maps of the proposed federal electoral divisions for New South Wales have been released by the Australian Electoral Commission. The abolition of the safe Labor seat of Reid, held by Laurie Ferguson, has been recommended, but the greater impact has been to imperil adjacent Liberal seats - Greenway, Gilmore and Macarthur. For commentary see Phillip Coorey in the Sydney Morning Herald and Antony Green's Election Blog.

Integrity in Queensland

The premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh, has released a green paper entitled Integrity and Accountability in Queensland, which deals with a range of topics including political donations and fundraising, lobbying, whistleblowing and pecuniary interest registers.

Allowances and staffers

Two updated reports from the Parliamentary Library: Parliamentary Allowances, Salaries of Office and Entitlements, by Deirdre McKeown, Leanne Manthorpe and Cathy Madden, provides relevant data, hyperlinks and documents on the remuneration of Australian federal parliamentarians. It explains the legislative basis, fixing and linking mechanisms for salaries and allowances, and those entitlements that are reported such as travel and electorate allowances. Links to the administering agencies are included for those who wish to read further on these matters. The Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 Framework and Employment Issues provides comprehensive information on the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 (Cth) employment framework including recent developments, staff figures, and staffing trends. It also updates and expands a previous Parliamentary Library publication on employment issues associated with the MoPS Act.

Overseas donations

Strong arguments exist for banning overseas donations to political parties, argues the Audit's Norm Kelly in this article for the Canberra Times, republished on Australian Policy Online.

Public leadership examined

Various Audit members and authors are among the contributors to a recent e-book, Public Leadership: Perspectives and Practices, edited by Paul ' t Hart and John Uhr. "This book brings together academics from a broad array of social science disciplines who are interested in contemporary understandings of leadership in the public domain. Their work on political, administrative and civil society leadership represents a stock-take of what we need to know and offers original examples of what we do know about public leadership."

update from the democratic audit of australia .....

Blowing the whistle

Protection for whistleblowers in Australia is patchy and inconsistent, writes the Audit's Norman Abjorensen in Inside Story.

Reps committee to examine referendums

The federal government has referred the framework which governs federal referendums to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

AEC rules on school signs

The Australian Electoral Commission has made rulings on the controversial Nation Building-Economic Stimulus Plan school signage plan - see the media releases of 7 September and 9 September 2009 - requiring that the signs must contain an appropriate authorisation as they comprise "electoral matter" as defined in the Act. A more detailed letter from Commissioner Ed Killesteyn to the Hon Christopher Pyne MP was released to the media by Mr Pyne on 7 September. The Audit's Brian Costar commented on the matter in the Sunday Canberra Times on 6 September.

Auditor-general reports on entitlements

The Australian National Audit Office has released its report on the Administration of Parliamentarians' Entitlements by the Department of Finance and Deregulation, which makes five significant recommendations for reform to current and past federal parliamentarians' allowances, including printing, postage and travel. Tabling the report in the Senate, the Special Minister of State, Joe Ludwig, accepted all of the recommendations on behalf of the federal government; his announcement is here.

ANAO's campaign advertising report released

The Australian National Audit Office has published its Campaign Advertising Review 2008-09.

Evaluating parliamentary committees

A recent Parliamentary Studies Centre report, In the Eye of the Beholder? A Framework for Testing the Effectiveness of Parliamentary Committees, by David Monk, argues that it is both possible and valuable to assess the impact of committees quantitatively. Monk's suggested approach is to assess the level of approval of committee reports by different political sectors or relevant groups, by surveying voters and other stakeholders and analysing the government response to reports. [click to continue...]

Passport to Democracy

The Victorian Electoral Commission has released Passport to Democracy, a beautifully designed class kit of educational material for secondary schools, including teacher guide, student workbooks, voting screen, ballot box and more.

Parliamentary strengthening: an annotated bibliography

The Parliamentary Studies Centre at ANU has created this bibliography, which will progressively list relevant research on parliamentary strengthening, beginning with this summary of published articles from the UK Journal of Legislative Studies since the year 2000. This listing has been prepared by Avinash Kumar, a PhD scholar at the Crawford School of Economics and Government, Australian National University.

National Indigenous representative body

In Our Future in Our Hands the Human Rights Commission's Steering Committee for the Creation of a New National Representative Body outlines a plan for a national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Commissions and inquiries

According to a new Australian Law Reform Commission discussion paper, Royal Commissions and Official Inquiries, a legislative framework is required to govern the establishment and operation of official inquiries at the federal level to ensure that such inquiries have adequate investigatory powers while the rights of individuals are protected. This would put what are now simply 'ad hoc inquiries' on the same solid footing as royal commissions, and provide more options and flexibility for governments. [click to continue...]

update from the democratic audit of australia .....

Second green paper released | The federal government released its second electoral reform green paper, Strengthening Australia's Democracy, on 22 September. The issues raised in the paper include: current arrangements for elections in Australia; the definition of who is entitled to vote in Australian elections; maintenance of the electoral roll and close of roll provisions; arrangements for casting of votes at elections; and processes for the counting of votes and determination of election results. The first electoral green paper examined Australia's electoral funding and disclosure arrangements. The minister, Joe Ludwig, was interviewed about the paper by Peter Mares on the 25 September on Radio National's The National Interest.

School signs update | Following the controversy over the legality of Building the Education Revolution signs under Commonwealth and state electoral acts, the Australian has obtained government documents which suggest that the signage program has been suspended.

New citizenship test | The federal government announced a new citizenship test on 17 September, incorporating 24 of the 33 recommendations made by Richard Woolcott's review, which reported in August last year. Writing in the Age, Kerry Ryan and the Audit's Brian Costar argue that the new test is still flawed and open to challenge.

Chatsworth decision | The Supreme Court of Queensland, sitting as a court of disputed returns, handed down its decision in the case of Caltabiano v the Electoral Commission of Queensland and Another. The court dismissed the application by the defeated Liberal National Party candidate that the result of the 2009 state election in the seat of Chatsworth be set aside on the grounds of multiple voting and admissibility of ballots. In making recommendations for law reform, Atkinson J suggested two changes to the procedures for making applications for postal, including a proposal that political parties no longer be able to distribute postal vote application forms.

Ex-premiers on political finance | On Radio National Breakfast the former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop and former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett discussed contending proposals for political donation reform. The discussion can be heard here.

Citizenship chronology | Australian Citizenship: A Chronology of Major Developments in Policy and Law is a new background paper from the Parliamentary Library, written by Michael Klapdor, Moira Coombs, Catherine Böhm. It describes major developments in Australian immigration and citizenship policy since 1900.

Political writing 2008-09 | Selected Australian Political Writings 2008-09, compiled by Roxanne Missingham, is a bibliography of significant material received in the Parliamentary Library during 2008-09 in the subject areas of parliamentary issues, party politics and politics, including books, reports, and pamphlets; key articles from the Library's intake of journals; transcripts of the most significant radio and television current affairs programs; and reference and serial items.

update from the democratic audit of australia .....

Happy new year to all our readers...

House committee recommends referendum changes | Sweeping changes need to be made to the process of informing Australians before a referendum, according to a new report from the House Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. The Committee found the written material provided to all electors before a referendum is insufficient, and that a greater range of communication is needed to properly inform the public. The report makes 17 recommendations, with the key proposal being a Referendum Panel to be established prior to each referendum. The Panel would be independent of government and would be responsible for developing an overarching communications strategy for the referendum; it would identify what material should be provided so that electors can make an informed vote.

Committee recommendations analysed | In a new report from the ANU Parliamentary Studies Centre, A Statistical Analysis of Government Responses to Committee Reports: Reports Tabled Between the 2001 and 2004 Elections (PDF), David Monk judges the success of committees in eliciting changes in government policy over this period.

Automatic enrolment inquiry | The Joint Committee on Electoral Matters is examining auromatic enrolment legislation introduced into the New South Wales parliament for its potential impact on Commonwealth elections. The Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Amendment (Automatic Enrolment) Bill 2009, introduced on 12 November 2009, proposes significant amendments to the processes surrounding, and requirements for, enrolment for the purposes of NSW elections. All states and territories currently have joint roll agreements with the Australian Electoral Commission and electors only need to complete one form to enrol for federal, state and local government elections, giving the NSW bill federal implications. Further information is available from the Committee's webpage. The Committee is expected to report by 25 February 2010 and will accept submissions until Friday 22 January 2010.

Women in parliament | When women from four political parties came together to force approval of RU486, a new cross-party grouping seemed to be in the making. In Inside Story Sara Dowse talks to three of the protagonists about what happened next.

Managerial federalism | A new paper from the NSW Parliamentary Library, Managerial Federalism: COAG and the States, by Gareth Griffith, looks at the intergovernmental mechanisms by which federalism operates in Australia, notably the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). The paper argues that, taking a broad view, a new form of federalism - regulatory, conditional and prescriptive in nature, at least in the formulation of performance goals and reporting requirements - is taking shape.


update from the democratic audit of australia .....

Recent federal legislation | The Tax Laws Amendment (Political Contributions and Gifts) Bill 2008 completely its journey through federal parliament on 25 February. The legislation brings into effect the government's election commitment to abolish the tax deduction for donations to political parties and independent candidates and members. It limits existing provisions that allow tax deductions for gifts and contributions by businesses to political parties and independent candidates and members. Meanwhile, parliament has begun debating the government's bill to restore the seven-day period of grace to enrol after an election is called, remove the need for voters to show photo ID, and other matters. Antony Green discusses the bill here.

Government 2.0 | In late February the chair of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce, Nicholas Gruen, spoke about the taskforce report at a vital issues seminar at Parliament House in Canberra. The audio of the seminar is available here. According to the report, "Government 2.0 involves a public policy shift to create a culture of openness and transparency, where government is willing to engage with and listen to its citizens; and to make available the vast national resource of non-sensitive public sector information. Government 2.0 empowers citizens and public servants alike to directly collaborate in their own governance by harnessing the opportunities presented by technology."

New information commissioner | Australia's new freedom of information commissioner, the former Commonwealth ombudsman John McMillan, was appointed in February to oversee the federal government's new FOI laws, which will soon be enacted. He discussed his role with Elizabeth Jackson on ABC radio's AM. According to Professor McMillan, "One of the roles of this new commission will be to take a central leadership in the development of a pro-disclosure culture in government. And we'll do that through familiar ways; through training, through publication of manuals and guidelines, through getting agencies to develop best practice in web publication, but also reaching out a lot more to the community, to journalists and to members of parliament to provide them with essential information about making document and information requests to government."

Minority governments examined | In a new paper, Minority Governments in Australia 1989-2009: Accords, Charters and Agreements, Gareth Griffith from the NSW Parliamentary Library and Research Service discusses a period of two decades in which there have been at least ten examples of this political phenomenon in the Australian states and territories. The paper confines itself to those instances in which a minority government has been based on an agreement, charter or accord between major parties on one side and minor parties and/or Independents on the other; in particular, in the context of the ACT, it looks only at the minority governments formed in 1998 and 2008.

Political donations in NSW | In a new paper from the NSW Parliamentary Library and Research Service, Political Donations and Electoral Finance (PDF), Jason Arditi reviews the current state of play in NSW with respect to the public and private funding of political parties and examines the possibility of instituting bans or caps on political donations and/or campaign expenditure. The paper also builds on the issues considered an the earlier publication, Political Donations Law Update (PDF).

Victorian federal redistribution underway | The Australian Electoral Commission has announced the enrolment quota for the Victorian redistribution of federal electoral boundaries, the first step in the process of redistributing federal electoral boundaries in Victoria. Public suggestions and comments about the redistribution will be invited in early March. The redistribution process is expected to be finalised on 17 December this year. Should a federal election be called before this date then the electoral boundaries for Victoria that applied at the 2007 federal election will be used.

Smart enrolment recommended | The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has released the report of its inquiry into the implications of the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Amendment (Automatic Enrolment) Act 2009 (NSW) for the conduct of Commonwealth elections. The report recommends that the Commonwealth adopts a system of automatic enrolment of voters similar to the proposed New South Wales system. The Audit's Peter Brent outlined the case for automatic enrolment in this 2008 discussion paper (PDF).

"Recall" option examined | The idea of a "recall" election has been debated recently in New South Wales. In a recent paper (PDF) for the NSW Parliamentary Library and Research Service, Gareth Griffith examines the proposal that the law could be changed to allow a recall petition to be used to trigger an early state election, presenting the electorate with the opportunity to remove an ineffective or unpopular government.

The parties' democratic deficit | In a democratic system the parties themselves should practise internal democracy, argues the Audit's Norman Abjorensen in Inside Story.

Campaign finance update | The annual data on who donated how much to which political party was released on 5 February by the Australian Electoral Commission. Because of the global financial crisis and the fact there was no federal election, the amount declared in donations to both major parties was down about 60% on the previous financial year, 2007-08. The Audit's Graeme Orr discussed the list, and the policy issues it raises, with Peter Mares on Radio National's The National Interest.

Election year | This year sees four Australian elections - in South Australia and Tasmania on 22 March, in Victoria in November, and federally at a date yet to be announced. In Inside Story, Audit member Peter Brent discussed the prospects in each of those polls.

update from the democratic audit of australia .....


2010 enrolment controversy | A full system of online enrolment should be a priority for Australia's new government after the election, writes George Williams in the National Times. Professor Williams discusses the fact that up to 1.4 million Australians are missing from the roll and will be unable to vote next month, and discusses the controversial efforts by the Getup! organisation to recruit young voters. To faciliate enrolments, GetUp! created a website called OzEnrol.com.au, which featured a simple tool allowing people to submit enrolment forms easily online in just a few minutes, signing their form using their computer mouse, trackpad or digital pen. The AEC decided that "digitally constructed" signatures are not valid for enrolment; Getup! disagrees and is considering a test case before the Federal Court. Here, Crikey's Pollytics blog analyses the potential electoral impact of the decision to close the roll on the Monday after the 2010 election was announced.

Money and politics | Money and Politics: The Democracy We Can't Afford, a new book by Audit member Joo-Cheong Tham to be released in August 2010, will be launched as part of a public forum at The Melbourne Law School at 6pm on 3 August. The chair is Professor Keith Ewing (King's College, London) and other panellists include Daryl Melham MP, Michael O'Brien MP, Lee Rhiannon, Joel Fetter and Royce Millar. The venue is Room 920, Melbourne Law School, 185 Pelham St, Carlton; RSVP to (03) 8344 8924.

Electoral reform bills | The Parliamentary Library has released digests of three bills amending the Commonwealth Electoral Act, all of which are likely to be reintroduced if Labor regains government at next month's election. The digests examine the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill, and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2).

Quotas for the Liberal Party? | Judith Troeth is trying to persuade Liberals that the presence of more women in the parliamentary party will mean a larger pool of talent for ministerial and leadership positions, writes the Audit's Marian Sawer in Inside Story.

Electorates and the Census | The Parliamentary Library has released Electoral Division Rankings: 2006 Census (2009 Electoral Boundaries) (PDF), a report by Paul Nelson that provides an analysis of Commonwealth electoral division using socio-demographic data from the 2006 Census of Population and Housing. The electoral boundaries used in this paper are the boundaries that will be used in the upcoming federal election, and incorporate the recent redistributions in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania. Sixty tables cover a broad range of census topics and broadly reflect those frequently requested from the Parliamentary Library.

Lobbying proposals | A federal government discussion paper released before the election campaign canvasses possible reforms to the Lobbying Code of Conduct and Register of Lobbyists. The paper includes "several proposals aimed at strengthening and maintaining the integrity of the Register and the Code, as well as addressing the broader issues of openness, transparency and accountability, were discussed at a roundtable meeting of selected lobbyists in March 2010." Areas of possible reform, some background information and additional feedback provided by roundtable participants are set out in the paper for comment.

Queensland's parliament, 1957-89 | In the new e-book, The Ayes Have It: The History of the Queensland Parliament, 1957-1989, John Wanna and Tracey Arklay examine in detail the Queensland Parliament from the days of the 'Labor split' in the 1950s, through the conservative governments of Frank Nicklin, Joh Bjelke- Petersen and Mike Ahern, to the fall of the Nationals government led briefly by Russell Cooper in December 1989. The authors focus on parliament as a political forum, on the representatives and personalities that made up the institution over this period, on the priorities and political agendas that were pursued, and the increasingly contentious practices used to control parliamentary proceedings.

A republican future? | In his new e-book, Fiducial Governance: An Australian Republic for the New Millennium, John Power discusses the challenges of designing governance regimes suited to the new millennium. According to the publisher, "Power's monograph asserts the need for the reform of Australian governance and charts Australia's fitful progress towards a republican future. Along the way he sketches a framework for constitutional reform, mindful of the strengths and weaknesses of the current system of government and the contest of ideas about the role and configuration of Australian Heads of State. Long a frustrated Australian republican, Power contends that the republican log jam is due in significant part to a lack of respect shown by the republican policy community to the contribution long made to good governance by monarchical heads of state."

House committees under review | Building a Modern Committee System, a report from the House Standing Committee on Procedure, recommends a set of measures to strengthen the system of committees in the House of Representatives. According to the report, "Most of these recommendations suggest incremental change, which, in the past, has been the most effective means of bringing about practical improvements."

Reform by stealth? | In an article for the Australian Review of Public Affairs, Lifting its Game to Get Ahead, Paul 't Hart looks at efforts to reform the Commonwealth public service since the election of the Labor government in 2007.

Cabinet confidentiality | This new report (PDF) by the Parliamentary Library's Mark Rodrigues focuses on the confidentiality of Cabinet documents, examining the concept of Cabinet confidentiality, its origins and evolution and contemporary arguments about its application.

Is gender irrelevant now? | Australia has its first woman prime minister. But compared with other countries, our progress in giving women access to political power is patchy, writes the Audit's Marian Sawer in Inside Story.

Polling places under scrutiny | The Electoral Matters Committee of the Victorian Parliament has released the report of its Inquiry into the Function and Administration of Voting Centres. The report makes a series of recommendations designed to ensure that voting centres - also known as polling places - are well-located and accessible.

Senators and members | In What Lies Beneath: The Work of Senators and Members in the Australian Parliament, the Parliamentary Library's Scott Brenton "compares senators as a group of political representatives with members of the House of Representatives as another group to assess the similarities and differences between their work, their roles and responsibilities, and their conceptions of representation." Drawing on surveys of current and former parliamentarians and interviews with prominent politicians, Brenton finds that the profession has changed as a result of technological change, increases in staff and constituent numbers, increased media scrutiny, and challenges to balance work and family.

update from the democratic audit of australia .....

High Court opens up voting rights debate | GetUp! has scored an unexpected victory in the High Court, giving an extra 100,000 people a chance to vote on 21 August and opening up the debate about the right to vote, writes the Audit's Graeme Orr in an analysis of the decision and its implications in Inside Story. GetUp!'s second case - contesting the AEC's decision not to accept online enrolments using 'digital' signatures - goes to the Federal Court this week.

Victoria adopts automatic enrolment | The Victorian Legislative Council has passed the Electoral Amendment (Electoral Participation) Bill 2010, which introduces automatic electoral enrolment for all school students on their eighteenth birthdays, and allows election-day enrolment for everyone else. While the Coalition opposed this bill, which was passed by the ALP and Greens, it is similar to one passed recently in New South Wales with the support of all parties. Rob Hoffman discuss the new arrangements in the Age. More details are available in the Parliamentary Library Research Service's research brief on the legislation.

Women and the 2010 election | In a new Audit discussion paper, Candidate Gender in the 2010 Australian Federal Election, Tony Smith compares the recently announced list of candidates for this month's federal election with the candidates standing in 2007. He finds that despite a modest rise in the number of women candidates, the representation of women in federal parliament could go backwards at this election.

Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people | In this research report, Gareth Griffith from the NSW Parliamentary Library and Research Service examines the NSW government's proposal to amend the Constitution Act 1902 (NSW) by the insertion of a new section 2A honouring and recognising the unique historical position of Aboriginal people.

Electoral reform bills - correction: In the last newsletter we mentioned that the Parliamentary Library had released digests of three bills amending the Commonwealth Electoral Act. In fact, two of the Bills had been passed by the Senate. The digests examine the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill, which were proclaimed last month, and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2), which has not been passed by the Senate.

Your update John is

Your update John is undoubtedly an honest resume of Parliamentary activity as recorded in the archives? But to me, at this time, my concern is that Australia - the once again "lucky Country" is in danger of falling back into the Howard abyss and - as before - this is due to the unregulated and abusive "freedom of the press" (Howard style) which the Murdoch Empire seeks to control information to Australians, even as it does to the people of the UK.

These unprincipled and dishonest people still try to use misinformation and untidy character assassination as a weapon to influence voters.

How does this predator continue to achieve the ultimate power of electing any government it chooses – irrespective of facts?

I know that I am a small dissenter even in this forum but, I just cannot come to terms with the blatant abuse of truth and our National Interests that the Howard “New Order” created for Murdoch and we are now suffering from the lack of the truth that may have reduced his power or profit.

Of course he will oppose the Labor NBN plan and why – because irrespective of the $600 billion plus of the Howard foreign debt he can increase that debt by buying up that NBN plan. More Liberal foreign debt and lessen the efforts of courageous people like Gough Whitlam, Hawke, Keating, Rudd and now Julia Gillard.

Even though there are small examples of fact filtering through the neo-con Murdoch barrier, I have to say that the majority of our Australian people were relaxed by the election of Labor and then, a claimed abuse of Rudd’s honesty was trumpeted, without truth, to destroy a Labor Party that had worked so hard for the working families of Australia.

How many of our military personnel know that they were forced into the Vietnam war by the Menzies' ballot of death, even though they could not even vote until they were twenty one.  The Labor Government under Gough Whitlam gave those young people the right to decide who would offer their lives to pointless wars.

The Murdochracy had ramped up the unfounded hatred of Kevin Rudd to a point where a double dissolution COULD bring down the Labor government. The timing was excellent and Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party knew it.

The consistent Senate Opposition that Labor and Malcolm Turnbull had agreed to on the ETS. was clearly an impediment of the Murdoch election policies.  Unfounded accusations were paramount and Rudd the “Howard Killer” was personally character assassinated, without proof by the Murdochracy.

Should they have been forced to prove their innocence, of course not but - consider that the all powerful Murdochracy accuses you of something? Are you obliged to defend it, no matter how false it may be?  When you announce a policy which favors the balance of natural wealth between the “haves and have not’s” is, to the “powers that be” an infringement of their born to rule entitlements.  Irrespective of stupidity.

Make no mistake, Laurie Oakes had his notoriety imbelished by the Conservatives and any "leaks" he claims were only suspect to the victims.  Mr. Andrew Robb has suggested that a AFP investigation should be instigated immediately and I agree.  But let that AFP investigation include ALL and any suspect "leaks".  Even those of the pillar of Conservative trust, Laurie Oakes.  He has been built up, as was "Captain Smirk" Costello, without fact or reason.

I watched the unbelievable exhibition of absolute hubris when Costello was copied for “what he actually said on camera” and he claimed that the person he had so often demonized Julia Gillard, should stop the ad that exposes him?  Fair dinkum.

The “black dog” victim of the confused Liberal Finance shadow minister Andrew Robb, is possibly waiting for the Australian government to attack him.

This IMHO was set up by the repulsed Leader of the Liberals – Andrew Peacock the “Peacock” when his Party removed him twice – and seemed to invite an expected explosion of resentment when he unnecessarily accused Labor voters of being “handicapped” by his measure of competence.

This trap was ignored by Labor but, I wonder if my guess of figures are valid since the Menzies’ “Ballot of Death” was introduced to satisfy the US regime in the unnecessarily attempt to crush Vietnam – how many of us are victims of that very same “God” [Menzies] that the Corporations still adore.  Fair dinkum.

This election is an all out “class election” by any measure of truth. The Labor Federal Government is a government which tries to bring us into the 21st century, while the Abbott “WorkChoice” remnants cannot exist without their preferential treatment from their controllers – the Foreign Corporations.

May all gods bless Australia and may we survive the Abbott attack on our independence.  NE OUBLIE.



real 'class' .....

Hi Ernest,

This election is an all out "class election" you say.

Perhaps you are right, but what does the 'ordinary awstraylen' understand about 'class', in a day & age where obscene rewards await any mindless nincompoop accidentally captured in a '15 seconds of fame' frame or able to assume the one-dimensional persona of a 'well known personality'?

What do our 'little aussie battlers' understand about real struggle when our daily existence is played to the beat of the media cycle & driven by the rhythm of an instant gratification marketing machine, where I can have any amount of whatever I want on the never-never, as long as its material?

'Class' is no longer relevant in a world where values & principles are ignored; laws are bought & sold; pissing anywhere is fine, as long as you don't do it inside my tent; it's about me, me, me Ernest .... It's not about you or anyone-else. Who gives a rat's arse about anyone-else?

The emails flood in day by day, alleging all sorts of Labor chicanery, including being 'soft' on refugees. Under the Liberals, the last treasurer thought it was a wonderful idea to hand a $5,000 'baby bonus' to any unmarried 14 year old girl who got herself knocked-up; unsurprisingly, we now have a country full of young, irresponsible unmarried mothers, all living off the public teat. But when we have someone who has the character, courage & determination to escape from our murdering armies; risking everything, including their lives, to try & find a new beginning, we don't have $5,000 to invest in their value as potential citizens; no, we spend millions packing them off to some out-of-the way prison, so we'll feel 'safe'.

Ernest, in my humble opinion, the notions of 'class' & 'class struggle' have been bought & traded just like everything-else has. Modern awstrayla is becoming a place where every man is for himself & that's why our politicians & political institutions have lost there meaning. No politician or political party can succeed unless it becomes all things to all people. Your average 'class' member isn't interested in thinking about, let alone, understanding issues; only that they don't effect him.

No Ernest, this is not about 'class' anymore. It's musical chairs; it's about me getting more than you; it's about the strong screwing the weak, just like they always have, whilst convincing the weak that this is the way it should be. It's about money Ernest; who has it & how to get more or at least hang onto what you've got. Our materialistic world has turned us into spiritual paupers & the only question that begs answering is how long will it be before we all go down the plug hole as grey water.

Our real problem Ernest is that we have no 'class'. If we did, we'd demand genuine leadership from our politicians, asking less for ourselves & more for our fellow man.

As to your status on YD, please be assured that your voice has equal resonance to that of anyone-else. We'd like to think that this is the reason that you take the trouble to be here .... It's Your Democracy & that's real 'class'.

A Lot of emotion there John but......

I have read your article a few times and I cannot grasp any absolute denial of real class distinctions from your description of a materialistic society of f......you Jack I'm inboard? 

In fact, I think your description highlights the very principles of the class struggle of many centuries – from the Empires of Rome and Persia to the British and American of today.

For example - surely the financial collapse of the world economy was a perfect example of what the greed of the "upper class" (with their own descriptions of "Old Money" and "New Money) did to the people who trusted them.  In particular, Goldman Sachs came out of that debacle richer than before.  Notwithstanding the fact that they were completely dishonest.

In addition, I haven’t heard of any of the upper class jumping out of the windows of the tallest of buildings, as they did when THEY went broke in 1929 Great depression? (What an oxymoron?)

My rough understanding of what I consider class war is simple and relates to a great extent to the tribal instincts so inherent and, as you say, less attractive use of dividing the wealth of a nation into two clearly money motivated one by the rich and one by the poorer mob that pays the majority of the taxes and the majority of the dead in wars ordered by the upper class?

It is just a fact of life John that the upper and lower classes are absolutely divided and represented by the diametrically opposed intentions of the Corporation’s Abbott/Howard remnants and what would benefit it (Murdoch wants the NBN but can’t get it if Labor wins) and the Gillard government for all - especially the needy.

The difference is of course, a democratic Labor government where all voters are considered as equals, or an elite Murdoch elected f….you Jack I’m inboard.  “Besides his British brothers are even prepared to give us a job”.

To maintain the Monarchy and their “class” the wealthy noblemen and women accumulated wealth to the detriment of the peasants and raised themselves an army to enforce their draconian laws.  Eventually as time passed the people rose up with courageous leaders and in many cases, like Russia, behaved in the only way they could do to stop the slaughter of their class in the “class war” of Germany and England etc.  The Great War?

Several Monarchies were either destroyed or pulled into line at that time but, the accumulated post war wealth again bred the evolution of the “Kings and Queens” into the elite and paid for their own politicians.  However, to maintain that advantage in these new “democratic” laws, the upper class wrote the rules because only they had been allowed to be educated at the higher level because it was beyond their means?  Whitlam was probably the person who removed that distinction by free University places for people like Howard and Costello. Packer (read Murdoch) lied him out of power and Howard soon changed that back to the rich.

I could rave on John, but let me just say that I consider this current election is definitely an example of the have’s and have not’s, right down from education funding grossly disproportionately favoring the rich private and Catholic schools (Howard style)and education for all in the Labor style.

The $600 billion plus foreign debt that the Howard/Costello upper class left us with is increasing and is mainly due to the Howard policies of selling our assets.  The Labor party has tried to stave off the fearful results of the Liberal policies for the foreigners to even buy more of our public assets.  Just like Menzies and Howard.  They euphemistically call it “investment” and while we become more and more reliant on the condescending attitude of our foreign masters, we have a slim and unsupported chance of taking back and protecting what assets we still have by electing Labor.

Oh, and John, the class distinction in England may have motivated Murdoch to take an anti-Labor stance there since Labor was going to stop the Upper Class Lords from being automatically replaced by a relative?   

I don’t think that we are too far apart John since greed and selfishness is more likely a throw back to the lower class beggars of Charles Dickens - just for survival. 

Cheers Mate,

Ern G.



update from the democratic audit of australia - election extra

Voting rights: round two to GetUp! | Following last week's High Court win, GetUp! has had another win in its campaign to reform voter enrolment rules. In Inside Story, Audit member Graeme Orr looks at Friday's Federal Court decision.

Updated roll needed for federal election | The Audit's Brian Costar called for the Australian Electoral Commission to issue an updated electoral roll after last week's High Court decision enfranchising approximately 100,000 voters disadvantaged by the early closure of the roll for the 21 August federal election.
Update: GetUp! reports that the AEC has decided to reissue the electoral roll for the 21 August election with the additional names included.

Election material analysed | Using a sample of letters and leaflets from the fifteen most marginal seats in the 2010 election, Audit member Sally Young looks at the role of direct mail campaigning in this election for Inside Story.

Strengthening democracy | In 'Strengthening our Democracy,' a chapter in the new election e-book, More Than Luck: Ideas Australia Needs Now, the Audit's Marian Sawer, Kathy MacDermott and Norm Kelly look at three key election-related issues: political finance, government advertising and the electoral roll. "Irrespective of who wins this year's election," they write, "it is time for reforms that place political equality ahead of perceived partisan interests." More Than Luck is published by the Centre for Policy Development.

Money in politics | Audit contributor Joo-Cheong Tham discusses the main themes of his new book, Money and Politics: The Democracy We Can't Afford, in this videocast from Melbourne University.

Election funding transparency | Although Australia will votes this month, electors won't find out who made large donations to the parties during the campaign until early 2012. In this respect, we can learn something from the United States, writes the Audit's Brian Costar in Inside Story.

update from the democratic audit of australia .....

Post-election update

1 September 2010


Green-Labor agreement released | The Greens have released the text of the party's agreement with the ALP, signed this morning, which details the terms of its support for a minority Labor government. The agreement outlines electoral and parliamentary reforms, arrangements for consultation between senior party figures, and an agreement to act in four specific policy areas: climate change (including a price on carbon and a well-resourced Climate Change Committee including experts and representative Labor, Greens, independent and Coalition parliamentarians); improved dental care; an implementation study for a High Speed Rail to be completed by July 2011; and a full parliamentary debate on the war in the Afghanistan.

Blueprint for democracy | The Audit's Brian Costar, Marian Sawer and Graeme Orr, and Audit contributor George Williams, are among the contributors to A Blueprint for Australian Democracy, released today by GetUp! as an input into the post-election discussions between the independent MPs and the main party leaders. The report includes measures to strengthen the role of private members, create a Parliamentary Budget and Economic Office, improve Question Time, strengthen the House committee system, reform political donations and advertising and lift electoral enrolments.

Commentaries on the role of the independents | Inside Story has published an updated extract from Rebels with a Cause: Independents in Australian Politics, by the Audit's Brian Costar and Jennifer Curtin from the University of Auckland, which looks at their motivations, role and significance. Inside Story also features a podcast of an interview with Rob Oakeshott, recorded for ABC Radio National's The National Interest when he first became an independent in 2002. And Peter Browne argues that the sudden rise to influence of the independents is a chance to rethink the increasingly rigid operation of the two-party system.

Minority government, good and bad | On Radio National's The National Interest, presenter Peter Mares talked to the former Victorian premier Steve Bracks and Queensland independent MP Peter Wellington about their positive recollections of minority government, while former Tasmanian premier Tony Rundle was less enthusiastic about his experience of governing without a majority.

Four-year terms for Tasmania? | The Hobart Mercury reports that the Tasmanian premier, David Bartlett, has confirmed that the leaders of all parties in the state will meet soon "in a bid to firm up legislation for fixed four-year parliamentary terms." According to reporter Sue Neales, "Mr Bartlett told State Parliament yesterday [24 August] there was a 'date in the diary' for the meeting with Greens leader Nick McKim, Liberal leader Will Hodgman and Legislative Council President Sue Smith. Mr Bartlett's statement was prompted by Lyons Greens MP Tim Morris, who had asked why the legislation had disappeared from the political radar. He said the talks would also look at a plan to increase numbers in the House of Assembly from 25 to 35, and the possibility of increasing the number of Upper House members."

Defence FOI backlog "cleared" | The Australian Financial Review's John Kerin reported on 30 August that John Faulkner had told a parliamentary inquiry that the Department of Defence has reduced its number of outstanding freedom of information requests to zero. In 2009, Senator Faulkner instigated a new FOI and records divisions to handle FOI requests; earlier, while Special Minister for State, he had introduced a FOI commissioner and an information commissioner to improve the FOI protocol.

update on the democratic audit of australia .....

Independent MPs since the war | 5 October 2010

In a new paper from the Parliamentary Library, The Age of Independence? Independents in Australian Parliaments, Mark Rodrigues and Scott Brenton survey the role and influence of independent state and federal MPs in the postwar period.

Inside the deal | 5 October 2010

For this program on the post-election negotiations, ABC TV's Four Corners accompanied the three rural independents as they made their decisions about which party they would back to form government.

UK political finance inquiry | 2 October 2010

Britain's Committee on Standards in Public Life has embarked on an inquiry into political finance. The committee has published an issues and questions paper, setting out in more detail the areas that the inquiry will cover and inviting evidence. A final report is expected in 2011.

Report on Boothby and Flynn irregularities | 1 October 2010

The Australian Electoral Commission has released a report by a former Electoral Commissioner, Mr Bill Gray AM, into the irregular handling of pre-poll votes by electoral officials in the Division of Boothby and the Division of Flynn leading to the exclusion of these votes in final election counting in the 2010 election. The report finds that the mishandled votes were due to apparent polling official error and that no evidence was tendered of any tampering with ballot papers at any of the three pre-poll voting offices.

Missing votes: the 2010 tally | 24 September 2010

Almost 3,252,000 eligible Australians didn't cast a valid vote in last month's federal election, write Brian Costar and Peter Browne in Inside Story.

Campaign funding back on the agenda | 24 September 2010

On ABC Radio National's The National Interest, the new Special Minister of State, Gary Gray, promised greater transparency in relation to campaign donations to political parties but didn't commit the government to action to control party fundraising events or cap donations.

The ballot box wars | 16 September 2010

Despite the vast difference in the way elections are run in the United States and Australia, the two countries have one thing in common - persistent allegations that voting fraud is affecting election results. In Inside Story, the Audit's Peter Browne and Brian Costar look at how the debate is holding back the modernisation of the electoral system.

Getting off the bus | 16 September 2010

In a podcast for Inside Story, Peter Clarke talks to the Audit's Brian Costar and Sophie Black, editor of the online news and current affairs site, Crikey, about the 2010 federal election result and the media coverage of the campaign.

Agreement to form government | 15 September 2010

The text of the agreement (PDF) between Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and the Labor government was released on 10 September. It includes the text of the Agreement for a Better Parliament negotiated between the independents, Labor and the Coalition.

Pondering privilege | 7 September 2010

In a new paper for the Parliamentary Library Research Service, Parliament of Victoria, Greg Gardiner and Rachel Macreadie examine the law and practice of parliamentary privilege both in Australia and in other jurisdictions. The paper, An Introduction to Parliamentary Privilege, contains a discussion of the historical background to parliamentary privilege, defines the key elements of privilege, and examines the issues and tensions associated with parliamentary privilege.

Women and the 2010 federal election | 5 September 2010

In the ABC online magazine, The Drum, the Audit's Marian Sawer discusses the absence of women's policy from the federal election campaign and the representation of women in the new parliament.

The wild card | 5 September 2010

As the negotiations to form government continued, Jennifer Curtin, Humphrey McQueen and the Audit's Brian Costar discussed independent MPs in Australian political history on ABC Radio National's Rear Vision.

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Media and democracy | Audit member Sally Young's new book, How Australia Decides: Election Reporting and the Media, 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, 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, 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. "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 and a Sydney Morning Herald summary of the legislation is here.

Hung parliaments and minority governments | A new background paper 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.

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 and the full judgment is here.

Political finance and NSW local government | In a new report, Regulating the Funding of NSW Local Government Election Campaigns, 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 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 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. 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 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 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 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. He joins the Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, in supporting the work of the Australian Information Commissioner, 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?, 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, 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, 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.

Forthcoming redistributions | In Electoral Redistributions During the 43rd Parliament, 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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Papers from the Challenges of Electoral Democracy workshop | Convened by Audit members Joo-Cheong Tham (Melbourne Law School), Graeme Orr (Queensland University Law School) and Brian Costar (Swinburne Institute for Social Research), this July 2011 workshop was hosted by the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies, Melbourne Law School, and sponsored by the New South Wales Electoral Commission and the Victorian Electoral Commission. The papers are now available online.

APSA papers available | The Australian Political Studies Association held its annual conference at Old Parliament House in September. A number of papers dealt with democracy and electoral issues; they can be viewed here.

NSW campaign finance reforms | The NSW premier, Barry O'Farrell, introduced the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Amendment Bill 2011 into the Legislative Assembly on 12 September 2011. The bill seeks to "ban donations from other than individuals." Law academic Anne Twomey discussed the ramifications and constitutional uncertainties associated with the bill on Radio National's The National Interest.

Compulsory and "automatic" enrolment | Out of the clash of interests in federal parliament in 1911 came an enduring electoral reform, compulsory enrolment, writes the Audit's Brian Costar in Inside Story. He argues that an update of that part of electoral law is long overdue.

The Australian Voter | Ian McAllister's new book, The Australian Voter: 50 Years of Change, was published by UNSW Press in July. Among many interesting findings is the fact that "Australians most value integrity and leadership skills in their leaders." Norman Abjorensen reviewed the book for Inside Story, and Professor McAllister discussed the book with Peter Mares on Radio National's The National Interest.

Women in government | The NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service has released a report by Talina Drabsch on Women in Politics and Public Leadership. It considers women in positions of leadership within the public sector and those serving on government boards and committees. The debate surrounding the use of quotas to improve gender equality in the composition of boards and committees is also briefly discussed.

Committee examines government advertising bill | Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration has released its report on the Government Advertising (Accountability) Bill 2011, introduced by Senator Nick Xenophon, which aimed to prevent governments from using taxpayer funds to pay for the advertising of a policy not yet enacted in legislation. A majority of the committee concluded that "the current guidelines for government advertising adequately cover many of the issues raised by submitters relating to government advertising" and recommended that the bill not proceed. Although the Coalition senators did not agree that the current guidelines for government advertising adequately address these concerns, they agreed with the recommendation that this bill not be passed. Senator Xenophon took the contrary view to the majority.

2011 NSW election report | The NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service has released an analysis of the results of the 2011 New South Wales election. The report provides summaries of the elections for both chambers, analysis of Legislative Assembly results both before and after the distribution of preferences, as well as a summary of the Legislative Council election.

Recognition of local government | An expert panel, appointed by the federal government, is examining whether local government should be recognised in the Australian Constitution. The chair of the panel, former NSW chief justice Jim Spigelman, writes about the inquiry here. The panel released a discussion paper in September.

The professionalisation of the Liberal Party | Back in 1961 the distinguished journalist Don Whitington provided an alternative explanation for Liberal Party's electoral hegemony in the years after 1949. This essay was first published in Nation in October 1961 and republished in Inside Story.

Electoral Commissioner's determination of membership entitlement in the House of Representatives | The number of members to be elected to the House of Representatives at the next federal election will remain unchanged at 150 following a determination by the Australian Electoral Commission.

Local government probed | The Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government has released Unfinished Business?, a survey of the evidence and findings presented in inquiries into local government over the past decade.

Victorian rights charter review report | The final report of the review of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 was tabled in the parliament on Wednesday 14 September 2011. "In essence," write Sarah Joseph, Julie Debeljak and Adam Fletcher from the Castan Centre for Human Rights, "the majority of the Committee recommends stripping most of the operative provisions from the Charter, leaving only the Executive and Parliamentary scrutiny functions." The initial reaction to the report by Premier Ted Baillieu suggests that little radical change to the charter is likely.

2010 federal election inquiry | The report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters' inquiry into the conduct of the 2010 Federal Election was released in July. Among its important and contentious recommendations was the introduction of a form of "automatic" enrolment and savings provisions for some categories of informal votes (based on the South Australian House of Assembly ticket voting provisions).

2010 Victorian election report | The Victorian Electoral Commission has released its Report to Parliament on the 2010 Victorian State Election. The election produced a change of government from Labor to the Coalition, and the proportion of informal votes for the Legislative Assembly rose again to 4.96 per cent. A series of technical recommendations appears in the report.

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New Audit paper: Equality and Australian Democracy | In this Audit Discussion Paper Marian Sawer and Peter Brent explore how the struggle between the political rights of property and the political rights of the people shaped the design of Australian political institutions and how this legacy continues to affect Australian democracy.
JSEM reports on political finance | The federal parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has handed down its report on the funding of political parties and election campaigns. Its recommendations are modest rather than sweeping. Dan Harrison’s article for the Age provides an overview of the recommendations, and Crispin Hull comments in the Canberra Times.


Direct re-enrolment inquiry | The federal parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has been asked to examine the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011. The Bill seeks to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act to allow the Australian Electoral Commissioner to directly update an elector’s enrolled address following the receipt and analysis of reliable and current data sources from outside the Australian Electoral Commission. The committee invites interested people and organisations to make submissions by Friday 27 January 2012.


Database raid raises longstanding issue | Victoria Police E-crime raided the offices of the Age in Melbourne on 15 December 2011 seeking documents relating to the newspaper’s alleged illegal access to the state Labor Party’s voter database. At issue is whether accessing the database was justified as part of an investigation of parties’ use of the electoral roll and other means to assemble dossiers on voters. The Audit examined the controversy involving political databases as long ago as 2004 – see Peter Van Onselen’s paper, Political Databases and Democracy – and the Australian Law Reform Commission examined the issue in its 2008 report For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice.


Lobbyist code under scrutiny | The Senate Finance and Public Administration Committees is inquiring into the operation of the Lobbying Code of Conduct and the Lobbyist Register. Submissions are sought by 27 January 2012, and the reporting date is 1 March 2012.


Victoria’s new fundraising and lobbyist code: honoured in the breach? | The Victorian premier, Ted Baillieu, announced a new code of conduct covering political party fundraising and the activities of lobbyists on 30 October. The Audit’s Joo-Cheong Tham comments on the code in Inside Story. Although the code states that “Corporate fundraising events can no longer promote privileged access to decision-makers or Ministers,” the Age reports that “Melbourne business figures have been offered the chance to spend an extra 15 minutes meeting with energy and gaming minister Michael O’Brien in a ‘boardroom’ discussion at a Liberal fundraiser for an extra $200.” Question about the apparent inconsistency, state Liberal Party director Damien Mantach said, “The event is in two parts, offered to all invitees. With dozens of people attending the first part of the evening it is clearly consistent with the code.”


NSW party funding bill under scrutiny | A NSW parliamentary select committee is examining the provisions of the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Bill 2011, which bans political donations from corporations and trade unions. Closing date for submission is 11 January 2012. Constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey discussed the bill with Peter Mares on ABC Radio National’s The National Interest.


ACT proposal to cap donations and spending | The ACT Assembly’s Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety has released its report, A Review of Campaign Financing Laws in the ACT. Among its recommendations, the committee calls for donations to political parties, candidates or third parties to be limited to $7000 in each financial year, and for electoral expenditure by political parties, their candidates and their associated entities to be limited to $60,000 per nominated candidate within the capped expenditure period, which shall commence on 1 January in an election year and close at the end of polling day. An Electoral (Election Finance Reform) Amendment Bill to give effect to the recommendations was introduced on 16 November 2011.


2010 election by numbers | Stephen Barber’s report, Commonwealth Election 2010, has been published by the Parliamentary Library of Australia. It provides a comprehensive set of statistical tables on the election, including: national, state and regional summaries; electoral division details; two-party preferred figures; and party strengths in the respective houses of the Parliament.


Hung parliament in action | The Commonwealth Parliamentary Library has released a Background Note, The Hung Commonwealth Parliament: The First Year. The paper provides coverage of selected procedural changes during the first year of the operation of the House of Representatives in the 43rd Parliament, together with a range of statistics relating to the work of the House, and also includes a table providing an overview of procedural changes. Rob Oakeshott discussed aspects of the operation of the hung parliament in a recent interview in Inside Story.

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Direct enrolment bills in parliament

The federal government has introduced two related bills, the Electoral and Referendum (Maintaining Address) Bill and the Electoral and Referendum (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill, which seek to introduce direct enrolment systems for federal elections. The bills are now at second reading stage. The Audit’s submission to the inquiry into the first of the bills by the Joint Selection Committee on Electoral Matters is available here, and the committee’s report will shortly be published here. The committee’s inquiry into the Electoral and Referendum (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill is under way.

2010–11 political donations data released

The Australian Electoral Commission released its annual disclosure of information about political donations and expenditure for the 2010–11 year on 30 January 2012. The Audit’s Graeme Orr and Brian Costar discussed the data and its limitations in this article for Inside Story.

2010 election book released

Julia 2010: The Caretaker Election, edited by Marian Simms and John Wanna, is the latest of the regular post-election analyses by a group of Australia’s leading political scientists. It provides a comprehensive coverage of one of Australia’s most historic elections, which produced a hung parliament and a carefully crafted minority government that remains a heartbeat away from collapse, as well as Australia’s first elected woman Prime Minister and the Australian Greens’ first lower house Member of Parliament. Contributors include the Audit’s Brian Costar and Marian Sawer.

NSW donation and spending bill passed

On 15 February a NSW Legislative Council select committee reported on its inquiry into the provisions of the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Amendment Bill 2011, which set out to ban all donations to political parties by organisations (including unions) and place caps on party spending. Although the report proposed a number of amendments, the bill was introduced on the same day, and proceeded to pass through parliament with the support of the Greens. Unions in NSW have indicated that they are considering a High Court challenge. The constitutional implications of the ban are discussed in this report from the NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service.

Indigenous recognition: recommendations and prospects

The report of the federal government’s expert panel on recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution was released on 19 January. The panel made five recommendations for constitutional amendment: the removal of section 25; the repeal of section 51(xxvi); the creation of a new head of power with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; the inclusion of a prohibition on racial discrimination; and the insertion of a provision recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. In Inside Story, Paul Kildea from the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law at the University of NSW discussed the recommendations and their prospects for implementation, while the Audit’s Brian Costar focused on the history of the controversial Section 25 of the constitution.

The Greens since 2008

Balancing act: the Australian Greens 2008–2011, a new paper by Joy McCann for the Australian Parliamentary Library, presents a brief introduction to the structure, ideological underpinnings and policies of the Australian Greens, and includes a brief history of the development of Green politics internationally and in Australia. It focuses on the party’s electoral fortunes and parliamentary activities from 2008 to the end of the first year of the 43rd Commonwealth Parliament.

Government advertising analysed

In a new Australian Parliamentary Library report, The Administration of Commonwealth Government Advertising, Nicholas Horne provides an overview of the current administration of federal government advertising, together with historical information. The report includes official figures for campaign advertising expenditure for 1994 to 2011, along with figures for non-campaign advertising expenditure for 1994 to 2008.

Federal election results 1901–2010

Between 1901 and 2010 there were 43 general elections for the House of Representatives and 41 Senate elections. In this paper Stephen Barger provides a brief commentary on each election, and statistical summary information of each election along with the results in each state and territory.

Queensland election preview

In a discussion paper for the Audit, The Forthcoming Queensland Election, Scott Prasser looks at this year’s state election, including the state of the parties and the current electoral geography. “If the Liberal National Party wins the forthcoming Queensland state election it will be a major watershed for state and national politics,” he writes, “not unlike the times when the National–Liberal Party Coalition reduced Labor to only 11 members in the 1974 State election and set the scene for the eventual demise of the Whitlam Labor federal Government.”

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Direct enrolment bills in federal parliament

Two bills to enable the Australian Electoral Commission to directly enrol voters using a variety of data sources have passed through the House of Representatives. The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012, which will allow the AEC to initiate a first enrolment, has also passed through the Senate, and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011, which will allow the AEC to update the information of voters who have changed address using the same data sources, is expected to be debated soon. Writing in the Canberra Times in March, Rob Hoffman and the Audit’s Brian Costar argued that the legislation is a necessary step in enfranchising a large group of potential voters.

Electoral Regulation Research Network launched

Collaboration between the New South Wales Electoral Commission, the Victorian Electoral Commission and the Melbourne Law School has resulted in the establishment of the Electoral Regulation Research Network. The central purpose of the Network is to foster exchange and discussion amongst academics, electoral commissions, political parties, parliamentarians and other interested groups on research relating to electoral regulation. Under its auspices, seminars and workshops will be held in various capital cities. The Network will also publish regular newsletters and working papers. For further information, visit the Network’s website. To join the mailing list of the Network, please send an email to law-errn@unimelb.edu.au.

Three decades of electoral reform

A new book by the Audit’s Norm Kelly was launched by Phillip Green, Electoral Commissioner for the ACT, on 18 May. Directions in Australian Electoral Reform: Professionalism and Partisanship in Electoral Management assesses Australian electoral reforms of the past 30 years using personal interview data and parliamentary debates, to provide a picture of the reform process as well as the outcomes. The book also examines Australia's electoral administration, testing for professionalism, independence and integrity. It can be downloaded for free from ANU E-Press and can also be ordered in hard copy.

SA draft redistribution

The Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission has released its latest Draft Redistribution Order, redrawing the boundaries of the 47 electoral districts of the House of Assembly in the South Australian Parliament. The draft report consists of a draft order for the electoral redistribution and its reasons for proposing that the electoral boundaries be altered in the way shown in the 47 separate sketch plans that form the schedule to the draft order. Comments are sought by 6 July.

JSCEM looks at AEC’s analysis of FWA on HSU

The federal Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has launched an inquiry into the AEC’s analysis of Fair Work Australia’s report on the Health Services Union. The committee invites interested persons and organisations to make submissions by 21 June 2012.

Victoria’s 2010 election examined

The Victorian Parliament’s Electoral Matters Committee has released the report of its Inquiry into the Conduct of the 2010 Victorian State Election.

Moving backwards?

Writing in Australian Policy Online, the Audit’s Marian Sawer shows that Australia is slipping in relation to comparable countries in the representation of women in parliament.

NSW election inquiry

The NSW Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is conducting a review of the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act 1912 (excluding Part 2) and the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981. The Committee will consider whether the acts “should be amended or rewritten to promote free, open and honest elections in New South Wales.” Further details, including the full terms of reference, are on the Committee’s website.

Broad-ranging inquiry in Victoria

The Victorian Parliament’s Electoral Matters Committee has commenced a very broad-ranging Inquiry into the Future of Victoria’s Electoral Administration. The inquiry will examine all aspects of electoral administration except local government.

Australian elections timetable

A new background note from the Australian Parliamentary Library, prepared by Rob Lundie, provides a brief overview of the rules for determining the next Commonwealth, state, territory and local government elections.

Codes of conduct in Australian and selected overseas parliaments

This background note details the approach taken in Australian and some overseas parliaments to codes of conduct for ministers and members of parliament, registers of interests, the post-separation employment of ministers and the use of ethics commissioners in providing advice on or conducting investigations into breaches of codes.

And on a lighter note…

How to win an election

In Inside Story, Brett Evans looks at a timeless guide for politicians, with a sting in the tail