The Democratic Audit of Australia is now at democraticaudit.org.au.
This page has been archived. It has been left at this URL to ensure the persistence of links that have been made to it from other resources. It may contain broken links and out-of-date information.
Go to the new Audit site.
Welcome to the Democratic Audit of Australia
A team at the Australian National University has been conducting Audits since 2002 to assess Australia's strengths and weaknesses as a democratic society. From early 2008 the Audit is based at the Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology, with continuing input from researchers at AN and other universities.
March 2009 Update: Read the important message at the top of this page
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.’
Ferguson on TNI
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
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.
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.
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.
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.’
29 October 2008
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.
19 September 2008
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.
18 July 2008
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.
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 from corporations. The paper is a response to growing support for restricting or banning political donations from all organisations.
15 May 2008
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.
16 April 2008
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".
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.
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.
1 February 2008
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.
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%) 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
20 December 2007
Rolling out the regional pork barrel: A threat to democracy?
Scott Prasser from the University of the Sunshine Coast, and Geoff Cockfield of the University of Southern Queensland analyse the Howard government’s Regional Partnerships Program, the subject of a recent Australian National Audit Office report. They discuss the democratic implications and question the political value of pork-barrelling.
The rejection rate for voters who applied for a provisional vote in the federal election was far higher than normal, rising from about 50 per cent to about 86 per cent. The Audit’s Peter Brent comments for the Audit.
The Audit’s Norman Abjorensen comments on the recently released Ministerial Code of Conduct—called Standards of Ministerial Ethics—by the Rudd Labor government:
Ministers’ shareholdings and post-separation employment are to be restricted under new transparency measures announced by the new Labor government. A new ministerial code of conduct imposes a 12-month ban on departing ministers having business dealings with MPs, public servants or defence personnel on any matter they dealt with in their official capacity during their last 18 months in office. In addition, departing ministers will have to undertake not to take advantage of their previous position as a minister.
However, the measures fall well short of independent scrutiny and enforcement, as has long been advocated by the Audit and other bodies such as the Australasian Study of Parliament Group.
The trend overseas, driven by a perceived need to address growing public disenchantment with government is to move towards some form of independent oversight, such as provided by a statutory ethics commissioner, as in Canada.
The Rudd government has announced the federal parliamentary sitting dates for 2008. There is an increased number of sitting days for the House of Representatives, however the move to Friday sittings has not been extended to the Senate.
Sitting days: House: 39 first half, 43 second half = 82 sitting days (18 sitting weeks)
Senate: 21 first half, 31 second half = 52 sitting days (14 sitting weeks)
Senate Estimates: 12 days first half, 4 days second half = 16 days (4 weeks)
Democrats’ accountability spokesperson Senator Andrew Murray comments for the Audit on the sitting program.
All parliaments have now released their sitting dates for next year. Links to parliamentary sitting dates for 2008:
12 November 2007
Democratic Audit of Australia chosen as one of top 300 political science sites
The Democratic Audit of Australia has been chosen by the IPSAportal project
of the International Political Science Association as one of the 300 best
sites for political science research. We can be found at the following
We have received a rating of 4.5 for content, 4 for access and 3.5 for
use. By comparison the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard also rated
4.5 for content and 4 for access but received 4 for use, while the Deliberative
Democracy Consortium received 4, 4 and 3.
2 November 2007
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.
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.
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.
ALP 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’.
Reporters Without Borders’ latest annual survey of world press freedom has Australia in 28th place, up from 35th in 2006.
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 figures
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.
Audit contributor Sally Young (University of Melbourne), has launched The Soapbox, a new website dedicated to political campaigns in Australia since 1901.
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.
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 email@example.com.
19 October 2007
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
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.
20 September 2007
The lobbying industry—Time to regulate
Julian Fitzgerald considers the regulation of political lobbyists in this new Audit paper. He argues that a registration scheme would alleviate some of the problems that this burgeoning industry has brought.
Also on the subject of lobbying, John Warhurst (ANU) has a new book, Behind Closed Doors: Politics, Scandals and the Lobbying Industry (UNSW Press, 2007). In it, he considers the ways in which the industry has attempted to gain influence and the wider effects, both positive and negative, on the way in which politics is conducted.
Not good news
The Audit’s Norman Abjorensen assesses the state of press freedom in Australia. The paper is based on a chapter for the Audit’s forthcoming book, Australia: The State of Democracy which will be out next year.
Scott Prasser (University of the Sunshine Coast) reviews the recent furore over forced amalgamation of local government in Queensland. Whilst there is agreement that some rationalisation of local government is needed, the process by which it has been conducted has been characterised by democratic deficit.
29 August 2007
Peter Andren: An independent way in Australian politics
Following Independent MP Peter Andren’s announcement that cancer has forced him to withdraw from active politics, his former Chief of Staff Tim Payne reviews his parliamentary career.
3 August 2007
A new ministerial code for the federal government?
Changes in the balance of power between the executive and parliament have been a general problem in Westminster democracies in recent years. In Canada and the UK there have been important moves to try to redress the balance and restore the accountability of the executive. The Australasian Study of Parliament Group has been trying to promote similar moves in Australia. In the run up to the federal election it has drafted a new ministerial code, greatly strengthening the Howard Government's version, and is trying to persuade all parties and the public of its merits. Elements in the new code include insisting that ministerial advisers be answerable to parliamentary committees, the on-line registration of lobbying activities, the appointment of a Parliamentary Standards Commissioner and provisions governing post-separation employment.
23 July 2007
New Focused Audit on sexual and gender minorities released
The latest in the Audit’s Focussed 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.
A limited number of hard copies are available from the Audit (first free, $10 for each subsequent copy).
The Haneef caseFollowing 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.
The Governance of BritainAs 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.
20 June 2007
Shrinking electoral roll
In an important new paper for the Audit, Peter Brent (ANU) and Simon Jackman (Stanford University) review the slowing rate of increase of the Australian electoral roll. They find that the Australian Electoral Commission has become more proficient at expunging than at enrolling or re-enrolling voters.
Go to a discussion on Simon Jackman's blog
Scottish and Welsh elections
Elections for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, and for local government in most of England and in Scotland, were held on 3 May 2007. In a new Audit paper, James Jupp (ANU) reviews the background and results.
25 May 2007
Gender and the NSW election
In a new Audit paper, Tony Smith analyses the representation of women in the New South Wales parliament following the election on 24 March 2007. He argues that the Coalition’s failure to make greater inroads into the Labor government’s majority can, in part, be attributed to their failure to promote women candidates in winnable seats and to their weakness on gender issues.
Political equality in Australia
The pursuit of political equality is one of the four underpinning values of the Democratic Audit of Australia. In this new paper, Audit leader Marian Sawer reviews the state of Australian democracy in relation to this core principle. Restrictions on voting, a lack of transparency surrounding political finance, and the use of public money for party political ends are some of the areas in which Australia currently fails to measure up.
29 March 2007
In the wake of the Brian Burke scandal in WA, Dr Carmen Lawrence, federal MP for Fremantle and former Premier of WA, argues for more stringent rules governing lobbyists’ activities and politicians’ dealings with them. Drawing on international examples, she argues that, at the very least, the transparency of the lobbying process needs to be far greater, yet the WA proposals fall well short of what is required.
Resources for members of parliament: More Australian anomalies
The Audit’s June Verrier argues that the decision to grant MPs an extra staff member is a boost to the incumbency benefits enjoyed by sitting members. Parliament will function better if resources are diverted from support for incumbents' campaigns towards areas of benefit to the parliament as a whole, such as parliamentary research services.
12 March 2007
One hundred and fifty years of democracy in South Australia
On March 9, South Australia celebrated one hundred and fifty years since its first election under responsible government. As Audit member Peter Brent explained on ABC Radio National's Perspective , the 1857 polls changed the way elections were run around the world.
How well does Australian democracy serve Australian women?
The Democratic Audit’s Focussed Audit Number 8, How well does Australian democracy serve Australian women? by Sarah Maddison and Emma Partridge, is now available, in advance of International Women’s Day. It finds that Australia, once a leader in efforts to establish equality between men and women, has slid backwards on gender equality over the past decade, with many of the gains made by women in earlier decades now undone. The report is available to download from the website.
Limited numbers of hard copies are available from the Audit (individual copies free, additional copies at $10.00).
Election funding in New Zealand
Andrew Geddis (University of Otago), author of Electoral Law in New Zealand: Practice and Policy (LexisNexis, Jan 2007), reviews New Zealand’s system of election funding in the light of the 2005 election in a new paper for the Audit. A series of serious breaches of the rules by several parties have been documented, but with little prospect of punishment. Enforcement of the rules is weak, with breaches treated as ‘victimless crimes’. However, such continued breaches risk undermining the legitimacy of the whole electoral process.
Funding arrangements for parliament
The Hon David Hawker, Speaker of the House of Representatives, considers the funding arrangements for the Australian parliament. Drawing on examples from overseas, he suggests changes to parliament’s funding and administration to strengthen its independence.
14 February 2007
The Australian Wheat Board and the Oil for Food program
Linda Botterill, Australian National University, considers the outcome of the Cole Inquiry into the AWB Ltd’s alleged bribery in Iraq. The problem was not so much one of government culpability, she argues, but shortcomings in the way in which the original privatisation of the wheat exporting institutions were carried out.
Nicholas Aroney (University of Queensland) and Scott Prasser (University of the Sunshine Coast) look at the debate surrounding the merits of restoring an upper house to the Queensland parliament. A second chamber could contribute to far greater executive scrutiny in Queensland, but much would depend on how a restored upper house was structured.
Time to tighten the caretaker conventions?
The Canberra Times’ Paul Malone reviews the current caretaker conventions, designed to ensure that a government does not exploit its position once an election is called. The conventions are, however, interpreted very differently between departments, particularly in relation to departmental websites. New guidelines should minimise the scope for conflicting interpretations.
19 December 2006
This is the last Update of 2006. Season's greetings from the Audit team. To see the current team click here.
Victorian Election, November 2006
In a new Audit paper, Nick Economou, Monash University, reviews the Victorian State election of 25 November 2006.
Rebecca Huntley, author of The World According to Y: Inside the New Adult Generation, gave the 2006 National Republican lecture in Canberra on 29 November. Her lecture, ‘Trust matters: Politics, trust and the republican cause’ is issued as a discussion paper for the Democratic Audit of Australia.
Representation for the Italian diaspora
In this Audit paper Elisa Arcioni, University of Wollongong, considers the decision to include seats for the Italian diaspora in the Italian parliament.The decision was of even greater significance since it was the results in the Australasian seat that gave the Prodi government its majority in the Senate.
50 years of campaign finance
Colin A Hughes, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of Queensland, looks at the history of the study of campaign finance in Australia and why it has been so under-developed.
21 November 2006
Political finance audit now available in PDF
Focused Audit Number 7, Political Finance in Australia: A Skewed and Secret System by Joo-Cheong Tham and Sally Young (both University of Melbourne) is now available in PDF. In it, the authors address the question: how democratic is the way in which political parties are funded? They identify two central problems: a lack of transparency around the way parties are funded and the way in which their money is spent; and an inequality in the system that favours the Coalition and ALP at the expense of the minor parties.
Go to all Focussed Audits
17 November 2006
Australian Industrial laws and freedom of expression
In a new paper for the Audit, Tom Roberts of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, discusses the implications of changes to industrial relations law for freedom of expression in the construction sector. Virtually all forms of industrial action are deemed unlawful in the sector and could result in deductions in pay, fines, and damages claims: the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner has been established to monitor and enforce this. This constitutes a direct attack on the right to peaceful political protest.
6 November 2006
Peter Andren on media diversity
Peter Andren MP, the Independent member for Calare, considers the impact of the recent changes to media law on media diversity in rural areas. The laws, which will allow a single owner to control both television and newspapers in a particular market, will see, he says, an end to local content in rural areas.
Australia, China and the death penalty
Australia and China negotiated a treaty on mutual assistance in criminal matters in 2006. Vic Adams considers the treaty and its possible implications in the light of China’s record on the death penalty. The treaty lack safeguards to ensure Australia in not implicated in executions and could be in breach of a number of other treaties to which Australia is a signatory, aimed at ending the death penalty.
26 October 2006
In a new paper for the Democratic Audit of Australia, Norman Abjorensen, ANU, considers the South Australian experiment of including non-Labor members in the Labor cabinet. The move marks a significant break with Australia’s Westminster tradition but has evidently paid dividends for the government.
Campaign finance: Australia and the US compared
Kenneth Mayer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison compares the systems of campaign finance in Australia and the United States. In spite of the huge sums involved in American campaigns, the disclosure requirements are far stricter than Australia’s, particularly since this year's changes.
Freedom of information in NSW
New Matilda has an article by Lee Rhiannon, Greens MLC, on the operation of the NSW Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. She argues that both Labor and Coalition governments have been hostile to FOI and the progressive movement has failed to be vigilant, allowing FOI to languish.
Her Private Members Bill aimed at setting up an independent review of the FOI Act has been passed by the Legislative Council.
New Zealand election advertising report
The New Zealand Auditor-General’s report on MPs' and parliamentary parties' misuse of parliamentary appropriations for electioneering purposes has been published. The report identifies ‘serious breaches’ of the rules. The report’s recommendations include the need for more robust accountability mechanisms and structures, and closer monitoring of breaches of the rules.
6 October 2006
Abolishing the South Australian Legislative Council?
In a new paper for the Democratic Audit, Jordan Bastoni, University of Adelaide, considers moves to abolish the South Australian upper house. Not only do the changes risk damaging the quality of the political process and the accountability of government, they are also ill-thought out and, it is argued, may be defeated anyway.
September 14 2006
JSCEM Inquiry into Civics and Electoral Education
Members of the Democratic Audit gave evidence to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters Inquiry into Civics and Electoral Education in August. As a result the Audit was asked for two supplementary submissions and all three are now available on-line. Links are:
August 31 2006
Reform of the Senate committee system
In a new Audit discussion paper, Liz Young reviews the government’s changes to the Senate committee system. Whilst the government maintains that the changes will make for a more efficient and effective committee system, opponents fear that the changes will merely strengthen executive dominance over parliament.
Democracy: The wrong message
President Bush’s strategy for promoting democracy is leading to the vigorous imposition of majority rule in some parts of the world. Harry Evans, Clerk of the Senate, argues that developments in the USA and Australia might reinforce the view that democracy is about complete power for elected governments and the squashing of opposition.
A J Brown of Griffith Law School reviews the state of whistle-blowing protection across Australia. He ranks legislative provisions on a scale of 0 to 3 and finds Queensland comes out the best and the Commonwealth the worst. Unexpectedly the ACT is second worst.
Reflecting on the recent decision to ban two Islamist books, Norm Abjorensen is critical of how censorship has been used in the war on terror to pursue political rather than security goals.
In the wake of the latest increase in the printing allowance for federal MPs, Norm Kelly of the Democratic Audit of Australia, criticises both the accumulation of incumbency benefits and rules that allow the use of parliamentary allowances for partisan purposes.
August 10 2006
New Focussed Audit published
The latest addition to the Focussed Audit series has been published. 'Electronic Democracy?' by Peter Chen, Rachel Gibson, and Karin Geiselhart is Report No. 6. It looks at the way those involved in the political process, including government, political parties, MPs and civil society groups have used new technology, and the implications for democracy. On the one hand there is the potential for increased big brother surveillance of citizens, on the other for broader citizen participation and interactivity in the policy process. Little of the potential for more open government has been realised.
A limited number of hard copies are also available from us.
Can human rights survive the war on terror and the war on crime?
Carol Harlow (LSE) explores how the UK Human Rights Act compromises between upholding European human rights standards and the Westminster principle of parliamentary sovereignty. She finds that the UK government has sometimes been impatient with constraints placed on the war on terror and the war on crime. Strengthening parliamentary scrutiny mechanisms on human rights may be the key to a more co-operative relationship with the judiciary.
Marian Sawer, Director of the Democratic Audit of Australia, discusses property votes. Whilst property votes are normally regarded as a relic dating back to an age before mass democracy, they persist in local government elections in much of Australia. Their continued existence is an affront to most modern conceptions of democracy.
Human rights: Australia versus the UN
Making independent bodies independent
Andrew Macintosh, deputy director of the Australia Institute, considers the process of appointment to public bodies. Where the independence of these bodies is compromised, so too are their outcomes. And yet the current processes for appointing members is far from transparent or merit-based.
IDEA's State of Democracy Assessment Methodology
Ozias Tungwarara, formerly of IDEA, describes the challenge of developing an audit methodology that clearly presents its normative and conceptual underpinnings but is still flexible enough to respond to very different environments. The methodology does not aggregate performance in discrete areas and recognises that democratic norms cannot be maximised simultaneously.
The Canadian Democratic Audit
William Cross describes how the Democratic Audit of Canada came into existence in the context of declining public confidence in democratic institutions and with voter turnout at a record low. The Audit used the benchmarks of public participation, inclusiveness and responsiveness to assess democratic performance and has produced nine books, widely used in political science and Canadian studies courses.
The Democratic Audit of Australia
Marian Sawer describes how the Democratic Audit of Australia has separated out the values of political equality, popular control of government, civil liberties/human rights and deliberative democracy in order to highlight the threat posed by populist majoritarianism. Attacks on the 'non-elected' intermediary institutions essential to accountability and rights protection in representative democracy undermine popular control of government despite speaking in its name.
From London to Ulaanbaatar: Making the State of Democracy Framework Travel
Todd Landman of the University of Essex describes how the democratic audit methodology has travelled beyond the eight countries in which the original pilot audits were conducted and has now reached Mongolia. He concludes that despite Mongolia lacking many features that modernisation theory has regarded as essential for democracy, the audit methodology has proved valuable in identifying both strengths and weaknesses.
The Democratic Audit of Ireland
Paula Clancy and Ian Hughes, of TASC, describe how the Democratic Audit of Ireland and the parallel Democratic Audit of Northern Ireland are being conducted by independent think tanks assisted by a commission chaired by the head of the Irish trade union congress and with party, business and community representatives. Issues include responses to the unprecedented inward migration into Ireland in recent years.
Electoral Amendment Bill passed
The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Matters) Bill has completed its passage through the Australian Parliament. The Audit has been a strong critic of the Bill that, amongst other things, raises the threshold for anonymous donations to parties and closes the electoral rolls earlier, which is likely to disenfranchise thousands of new voters, particularly the young.
Norm Kelly provided a summary of the main measures in the Bill in March this year:
June 15 2006
In a new Audit discussion paper, Joan Staples (UNSW) attacks the Federal Government’s policies towards NGOs as undermining the democratic process. She argues that the Government has been inspired by public choice perspectives in its attempts to limit the advocacy role of NGOs.
May 26 2006
The failure of Australian anti-corruption measures
In the wake of the AWB bribery scandal, Jürgen Kurtz reviews Australia’s commitment to combating bribery of foreign officials. Despite ratifying the OECD’s anti-bribery convention in 1999 and passing its own anti-bribery legislation in 1999, Australia has yet to establish proper implementation machinery or to charge any companies or individuals.
The English local government elections of May 2006
James Jupp analyses the local government elections held on 4 May in England, which saw the Labour vote at 26 per cent fall below that of both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. There was a doubling of the seats held by the anti-immigration British National Party but also an increase in the number of Muslim Councillors.
May 16 2006
Watchdog independence compromised?
In this new Audit discussion paper, Peter Van Onselen (Edith Cowan University) considers the implications of the WA government's decision to downgrade several independent watchdog posts. The decision, affecting the Electoral Commissioner, the Commissioner for Public Sector Standards, and the Information Commissioner, has obvious implications for the standing of these posts within the public service and for the ability to recruit candidates of the highest calibre to them in the future. But the role of the WA government in the decision also raises serious questions about the independence of these watchdog bodies, responsible to parliament, from the government departments that they are supposed to scrutinise.
April 24 2006
Question time - A failing institution?
Parameswary Rasiah, University of Western Australia, provides a damning critique of parliamentary question time. Analysing ministers' responses to questions on the Iraq conflict, she highlights how they evade answering properly unless questions come from their own side, concluding that question time fails as a means to hold government to account.
James Walter, Monash University, reviews how the role of ministerial advisors in Australia has evolved to their current status as 'political hitmen'. The lack of adequate accountability measures for ministerial advisers has contributed to the concentration of power in the government, the narrowing of the scope of policy advice, and the risk of a ‘descent into groupthink and policy fiasco’.
Enforcing party democracy
Anika Gauja, University of Sydney, considers the need for regulations requiring political parties to adopt internal democracy. Drawing on examples from abroad, she concludes that, in spite of objections, the arguments for requiring greater intra-party democracy are compelling.
The South Australian Election: implications for democracy in the festival state
In this paper for the Audit, Geoff Anderson and Haydon Manning of Flinders University review the March 18 election and analyse the Rann government's commitment to abolishing the upper house and inclusion of non-Labor members in Cabinet. They also examine South Australia's unique electoral redistribution formula.
Political Funding and Government Advertising Workshop
21 march 2006
On 25 February 2006, the Democratic Audit of Australia held a workshop on Political Finance and Government Advertising. The workshop centred around the draft of a forthcoming Audit Report by Joo-Cheong Tham and Sally Young, of the University of Melbourne and brought together Australian and international experts, electoral commissioners, former auditors-general and political party representatives. Go to political finance workshop page.
This workshop was particularly timely: the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005 is being considered by the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee, which is due to report on 27 March 2006. The House of Representatives is due to consider it later in the same week.
Apart from proposals for early closure of the electoral roll
and prisoner disenfranchisement, some of the most controversial elements
of the Bill relate to political finance. At the moment, parties have to
disclose the details of all donations they receive over $1,500 but, under
the Bill's measures, the threshold will rise to $10,000. To promote discussion
of the current Bill we are now making available the Draft Audit Report
as well as the workshop papers.
Kate Sullivan of the UK Electoral Commission reviews who can vote in the UK and finds that the franchise is much more expansive in Britain than in Australia.
Marian Sawer considers Government proposals for early closure of the roll in federal elections. Whilst the Government claims that such a measure is necessary to maintain electoral integrity, she suggests that evidence of fraud is anecdotal at best and is outweighed by effects on the comprehensiveness of the roll.
Malcolm Mackerras considers the best way to achieve the principle of 'one vote one value' in Australia and decides that it can only be achieved for the Territories by using the number of voters on the roll rather than population as the basis for distribution. This would give the ACT back its third seat and resolve the problem of the 2004 election when a vote in the Northern Territory was worth twice one in the ACT. It would be consistent with s122 of the Constitution Mackerras believes.
Clerk of the House of Representatives, Ian Harris, responds to a Democratic Audit discussion paper on the impartiality of the Speaker. Harris argues that Speaker David Hawker was procedurally correct in refusing to allow a question to be asked of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, De-Anne Kelly, about a letter she had written as a Parliamentary Secretary after her appointment as Minister. Only Ministers and not Parliamentary Secretaries are obliged to answer questions, even if they appear to be undertaking both roles simultaneously!
Harry Evans, Clerk of the Senate, reviews the appropriations process as it relates to Government spending on advertising. He suggests that appropriations are made for ends that are specified only in the vaguest terms. Consequently, little limit is applied to the purposes on which the money may be spent.
On Saturday, 25 February 2006, Australian and international political finance experts, electoral commissioners, former auditors-general and political party representatives gathered at the Australian National University to workshop the Draft Democratic Audit Report prepared by Joo-Cheong Tham and Sally Young. The workshop papers (apart from the Audit Report) will be published here later in March.
A review of the workshop appeared in The Canberra Times. Read it here.
Richard Herr of the University of Tasmania dissects some of the myths about 'hung parliaments'. He argues that the big problem arising from the Tasmanian State election in March 2006 will not be minority government but lack of personnel to staff a full ministry. Since the reduction of the size of parliament in 1998, Tasmania has not been able to meet Westminster norms concerning having a backbench larger than the frontbench.
Read his Tasmanian Times article here.
In a new paper for the Audit, Dr David Solomon, Adjunct Professor of Politics at the University of Queensland, looks at the law protecting whistleblowing, arguing that more protection is needed.
Bill Cross, Director of the Democratic Audit of Canada, analyses Canada's federal election. The Conservative Party victory (on 23 January 2006) followed the 'sponsorship scandal' which engulfed the Liberal government. The first-past-the-post system continues to deliver controversial results - the New Democrats won 18 per cent of the vote but only 10 per cent of the seats, the Greens won almost 5 per cent of the vote but no seats, the Liberals won no seats in Alberta despite winning 15 per cent of the vote and the Conservatives were shut out of the major cities despite winning 25 per cent of the vote in Toronto. The new minority Conservative government will be dependent on votes from either the Bloc Québécois or the Liberals to prop it up, so it could be as short-lived as the last Liberal government.
We anticipate plenty of activity in 2006, and as before, discussion on this site will aim to be as free of jargon as possible to encourage a wide readership.
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