Democracy – A User’s Guide
29 November 2007
Federal election 24
On Saturday the Labor Party, led by Kevin Rudd, defeated the John
Howard-led Coalition government.
The Democratic Audit snapped photos at several polling booths.
23 November 2007
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’.
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
Read the Canberra Times here
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tightening up the New Zealand political finance
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.
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.
Audit contributor Katherine Gelber (UNSW) and Adrienne Stone (University
of Melbourne) have edited a collection on the laws governing hate
- More details are available here
19 October 2007
Australian electoral management bodies' independence
Australia is at the forefront of professional and independent electoral
administration, especially when assessed in international comparative
studies. However, while there is often debate about the levels of
fairness provided by the various electoral systems in use throughout
Australia, less scrutiny has been applied to the electoral management
bodies charged with administering these systems.
- Read a paper given to the Australasian Political Studies Association
last month by the Audit's Norm Kelly, here.
The close of the electoral roll
At 8pm on Wednesday 17 October 2007, the commonwealth 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
and obtain a form here.
Note, however, that it is now too late for people who are not on the
roll to register.
When the federal government legislated last year 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 put 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
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
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
Jackman and Brent for
Blogger William Bowe looked at the issue in Crikey this
As did the Sydney
and the Canberra
We will have to wait until after the election to determine how well
the AEC coped under the new conditions
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
The bill is available
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
The full report is available
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
Nations Democracy Fund, has a new book examining democracy
in Pacific Asia.
It is available from
20 September 2007
Queensland and Victoria move on FOI reform
The practice of Queensland governments taking documents
to cabinet meetings to keep them secret will be restricted following
a review of the State's Freedom of Information laws. David Solomon,
who heads the committee established by new Queensland Premier Anna
Bligh to overhaul the laws, has identified the cabinet secrecy provisions
as a target for reform.
"It isn't good enough for documents to be able to
be wheeled into cabinet without any rules to keep them from the public
eye," he said.
The move follows an initiative by another new premier, John
Brumby, to strengthen Victoria's FOI regime.
Queensland premier resigns
Peter Beattie became the third Labor premier to
voluntarily step down in the last two years, when he announced his
resignation on August 10 2007. He stated exhaustion as the reason
for giving up the job after almost 10 years. His deputy, Anna Bligh
was elected unopposed as his successor.
The Attorney-General on a bill of rights
The Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock had a piece
in the Sydney Morning Herald arguing against an Australian
bill of rights. Australia is the only Western democracy without a
bill of rights or its equivalent, though the ACT and Victoria have
now taken this step and Western Australia is consulting on a draft
bill. The Auditor-General argues that a bill of rights will not ensure
rights are respected and moves power from elected government to an
High Court overturns prisoner vote ban
A High Court ruling has overturned the measure
contained in the 2006 Electoral Amendment Act to remove prisoners’
right to vote. Following an appeal by a woman prisoner serving a sentence
in Victoria, the High Court overturned the ban. The Court did maintain
earlier legislation imposing a ban on prisoners serving sentences
of over three years.
Access card legislation could be delayed
Legislation to introduce a national access card could be delayed
until after the upcoming federal election. The bill was put on hold
after a Senate committee warned that the smart card was likely to
become a de facto identity card, and critics have rung alarm bells
about the privacy implications.
30 August 2007
Prisoner voting ban overturned
The High Court today (30 August 2007) overturned last year's amendment
to the Commonwealth Electoral Act taking the vote away from all prisoners.
Prisoner Vicky Lee Roach successfully appealed against the ban. The
Court has reaffirmed the previous ban applying to prisoners serving
a sentence of three or more years.
29 August 2007
The accessibility of administrative justice
The Queensland parliament’s Legal, Constitutional and Administrative
Review Committee has picked up the inquiry on the accessibility of
administrative justice initiated but not completed in the last parliament,
broadening the original terms of reference. The deadline for submissions
is 28 September 2007. Full details of the inquiry can be found here.
Due process in Queensland local government mergers?
In the wake of the Northern Territory Emergency Bill, it seems it
is not just the federal government that is keen to push legislation
through without due process. The Queensland government has pushed
through legislation dramatically reducing the number of local authorities
and councillors with only one day of parliamentary debate. An amendment
sacking any council that held a local ballot on the proposed mergers
was also introduced. The State government subsequently backed down
on the amendment after the Federal government threatened to
intervene and fund the plebiscites; a Senate committee inquiry has
been launched to investigate the matter.
The details of the Senate inquiry are here.
Read more in The
Government questions polling integrity
The federal government has responded to continued poor opinion polling
by questioning the integrity of the one of the polling companies.
This emerged as a result of the involvement of a senior member of
polling firm IPSOS in fundraising for ALP candidate for Bennelong,
Maxine McKew. Whilst the integrity of opinion polling is important,
it should be noted that the government has been getting poor results
in polls by companies where no ALP connection has been found!
Read more in the
Be honest, Minister!’ Restoring faith in government in Australia
At the request of the authors, we are making the report of the Australasian
Study of Parliament (ASPG) Accountability Working, ‘Be honest,
Minister!’ Restoring faith in government in Australia,
available on the Audit website. The report recommends strengthening
the code of ministerial responsibility, strengthening FOI, regulating
lobbying, establishing a Parliamentary Standards Commissioner and
moving towards the independence of Presiding Officers.
Read it here
16 August 2007
Peter Andren, the Independent MP for Calare, has
announced that cancer has forced him to withdraw from his campaign
for a Senate seat. He has been a strong campaigner for democratic
integrity as well as a supporter of the Audit. We send him our very
best wishes for his recovery.
Victorian premier resigns
After eight years in office, Victorian premier
Steve Bracks stepped down on 30 July 2007. His contribution to restoring
democratic practice in the State, including entrenching the independence
of the Auditor-general and of the Director of Public Prosecutions,
is discussed in this
article by Joseph O'Reilly in New Matilda:
Open government in Victoria
The new premier of Victoria, John Brumby, has
announced measures to increase government transparency. They include:
- Prioritising new legislation to reform the
- Releasing an annual Statement of Legislative
Intent from 2008;
- Funding live web-casting of all sessions of
the Legislative Assembly and Council—including question time;
- Releasing quarterly reports that detail the
costs and benefits of all Ministerial overseas travel;
- Publicising the remuneration band and identity
of members of Government boards and advisory committees; and
- Posting transcripts of the Premier’s
media conferences on his website www.premier.vic.gov.au
as soon as they become available.
The media release is
Lack of good process over NT
The federal government introduced the legislation
covering its intervention in NT Aboriginal communities (Northern
Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 &
Related Bills) on 7 August 2007. The Bills amounted to over 500
pages but were only made available the day before debate began in
the House of Representatives. They were swiftly passed, despite numerous
concerns being identified, and were sent on to the Senate. The Senate
Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee was able to hold one day
of public hearings on Friday before being required to report on Monday
13 August. This hardly amounts to proper legislative scrutiny and
Launch of Right to Know Campaign
A coalition of media organisations has launched
Australia's Right To Know campaign in response to a tightening of
the operating environment for media organisations and journalists.
The coalition includes News Limited, the ABC, Fairfax, the SBS, and
The campaign's aim is to draw public attention
to the growing restrictions on journalists and free speech in Australia.
First priority of the campaign is to commission an independent
study of threats to free speech and expression in this country.
The campaign’s joint statement is
New Sex Discrimination Commissioner named
The Federal Government has announced a senior lawyer will take on
the role of Sex Discrimination Commissioner, which has been vacant
since Pru Goward was elected to the NSW parliament. Elizabeth Broderick
is a businesswoman and partner at the law firm Blake Dawson Waldron
and will take up the five-year appointment next month. The Attorney-General
says Ms Broderick has been an advocate for women and championed flexible
Save the Senate
Two hundred and fifty people turned up for the
'Save the Senate' forum hosted by GetUp! in Canberra on 9 August 2007.
Clerk of the Senate Harry Evans said that proper legislative scrutiny
was in the interests of government as well as the people and helped
save governments from policy failures.
ALP to cut incumbency perks
In his National Press Club Address on 8 August
2007, Shadow Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner said that a Labor government
will reduce the amount of public money being diverted to electioneering.
Labor will cut MPs’ printing allowances by one third and ministerial
staff numbers by 30 per cent, as well as abolishing the Government
Read the full speech here
The Australian Democrats have been maintaining
a watch over the government’s use of the Senate since it gained
its narrow majority. They have published data covering the period
before and since the government gained control, showing: the reduction
in sitting days; the fall in amendments accepted (from 42 per cent
to 1 per cent); the failure to agree to any orders for the production
of documents; the increased rejection of references to committees;
and the increased use of the guillotine to curtail debate.
US Senate tightens lobbying rules
The US Senate has voted to tighten the rules governing
lobbying. The bill, which still has to be signed by the President
(who, reportedly, has serious concerns about it), requires disclosure
of ‘earmarks’ (special funds for specific projects slipped
into spending bills), outlaws pensions to politicians convicted of
bribery, requires disclosure of campaign donations that have been
raised by lobbyists, and bars former Senators from lobbying Congress
for two years after leaving office.
e-voting concerns in the UK
The UK Electoral Commission has called for an
end to trials of e-voting and phone voting until security measures
have been improved. Thirteen pilots were held during the May 2007
local government elections, which revealed a number of technical problems.
Kiefel appointed to the High Court
The number of women serving as High Court judges
has risen to two with the appointment of Susan Kiefel. She becomes
only the third woman Justice on the High Court since it was established
in 1903. Women constitute four of the nine justices on the Canadian
Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.
Multiculturalism, human rights and democracy
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities (HREOC)
and the Sydney Democracy Forum are hosting a forum to examine the
state of multiculturalism in Australia.
The event will be between 2.30 and 5.00 on Friday
17 August 2007, in the Metcalfe Auditorium, State Library of NSW,
Macquarie Street, Sydney.
RSVP to email@example.com
Public Policy Network annual conference
The annual National Public Policy Network Conference
will be held on the Sunshine Coast on 31 January – 1 February
2008. The conference is being jointly organised by the University
of the Sunshine Coast and the University of Southern Queensland, and
will involve academics from around Australia and internationally.
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:
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.
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.
Parliamentary administration compared
June Verrier, currently a visiting fellow at the Audit has an interesting
paper on parliamentary administration in the Australasian Parliamentary
Review Vol.22(1), Autumn. 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.
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.
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.
27 July 2007
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.
20 June 2007
Human rights for WA
The Western Australian Government has released a draft Human Rights
Bill that draws on both the Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT) and the Victorian
Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities 2006. A consultative
committee chaired by former Fraser Government Minister Fred Chaney
has called for submissions by 31 August 2007. Australia remains the
only western democracy without a national Bill of Rights but action
is at least proceeding at the sub-national level.
- Click here
for more information, including a discussion paper and the draft
The Roach Constitutional challenge to prisoner disenfranchisement
(Roach v Electoral Commissioner & Anor) is being heard in the
High Court in Canberra.
Brian Costar, Professor at Swinburne University, spoke for five minutes
on an episode of Perspective
on Radio National on 4 June 2007 about it.
Fundraising at Kirribilli
Revelations that Prime Minister John Howard has been using official
residences, Kirribilli House and The Lodge, to host Liberal Party
events has sparked controversy. The Australian Electoral Commission
has ruled that the rent-free use of Kirribilli House by the Liberal
Party did not constitute a 'gift' that should have been disclosed
under electoral rules.
Tightening the rules for voters
The Audit’s Norm Kelly and Audit adviser Colin Hughes (Emeritus
Professor of Politics, University of Queensland and former federal
Electoral Commissioner) were both interviewed for Radio National’s
Law Report on 12 June 2007 on the changes to federal enrolment requirements.
The Government has claimed that the changes are necessary to ensure
the integrity of the electoral roll. But that integrity was not seriously
in question before the changes and the new provisions are likely to
deny the vote to tens of thousands of otherwise eligible Australians.
Offices of profit?
Audit contributor Peter van Onselen has published an opinion piece
on the lack of rules in Australia governing the employment of ministers
once they leave office. The latest example is Ian Campbell who has
been appointed to the board of a company expected to tender for the
smart card contract he had carriage of as minister. Canada, the UK
and the US all have rules governing post-separation employment to
prevent such conflicts of interest.
Independent Electoral Commission for Ireland
Following the Irish election Fianna Fail has negotiated an agreement
with the Greens to enter a coalition government led by Fianna Fail
and also including the Progressive Democrats. Apart from provisions
for new climate change initiatives, the agreement includes the creation
of a new independent electoral commission with responsibility for
electoral administration and the creation of a new electoral register.
The electoral commission will also take over responsibilities in relation
to electoral expenditure from the Commission on Standards in Public
Sydney Democratic Deficit event
The Sydney Democracy Forum is holding an event on the Democratic
Deficit and Australia. The event will explore Australia's democratic
deficit and some novel ways for strengthening our democracy. Its three
presenters are Dr Lyn Carson (University of Sydney), Dr Phil Larkin
(Democratic Audit of Australia, Australian National University) and
Professor Murray Print (University of Sydney).
This is a free event, which is open to SDF members and all other
interested persons. For catering purposes RSVPs are required and should
be sent to the SDF Program Coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org
or (02) 9036 5248) by Friday 22 June.
More information on the Forum and on this even can be found here.
29 May 2007
Amnesty International's 2007 report critical of Australia
Amnesty International(AI) has published its report on the state of
the world's human rights in 2007. The Australian government is one
of the ones singled out for criticism for adopting ‘the politics
of fear’ in relation to asylum seekers. In addition to its refugee
policies, violence against women and the counter-terrorism measures
were areas highlighted as concerns.
Freedom of the Australian press
The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance has published its 2007
Report on Press Freedom. Disturbingly, the report finds that: ‘A
creeping authoritarianism has been the hallmark of the past 12 months
in the Australian press. Government and the courts continue to restrict
what journalists can report and where they can go, criminalising the
media’s professional obligations and wielding ever-greater unchecked
New Matilda has an article on the way in which governments
around the world are using their websites to rewrite history—or
‘webscrubbing’. Whilst the internet has allowed instant
access to a vast amount of information, it also allows governments
(and companies) retrospectively to edit embarrassing information from
their websites and out of public view.
Investigation of public service and ministerial staff
The Canadian Public Service Commission has launched
an inquiry into the movement of public servants between departments
and ministerial offices and, in particular, the possible impact
on the impartiality—both real and perceived—of the public
service. The inquiry follows the Commission’s investigations
into two incidents where ministerial offices tried to influence the
public service appointments process. Writing in the Public Sector
Informant (May 2007), Jack Waterford highlights the relevance
of the inquiry to Australia. Here restrictions on the post-separation
employment of public officeholders are less stringent than in Canada,
with the onus placed squarely on the individual to avoid conflicts
of interest or the taking of ‘improper advantage’ of their
Prisoner challenges disenfranchisement
Vickie Lee Roach, an inmate of the Dame Phyllis Frost Women’s
Prison in Victoria has mounted a legal challenge to the government’s
2006 decision to remove prisoners’ right to vote. The challenge
is on the basis that, under the Constitution, a citizen can only be
disenfranchised on the grounds of mental capacity.
Following the controversy over the publicly-funded advertising campaign
in support of its WorkChoices proposals, the federal government has
launched another campaign—this time for its ‘fairness
test—that can be criticised for the same sort of abuse of public
funds for party-political ends. With a Bill still some time off, full-page
advertisements have already begun to appear in the press in the context
of the forthcoming federal election.
- Graeme Orr and Joo-Cheong Tham have a piece in
the Age on it
US electoral administration
Eight US States are allowing electoral registration up to, and including,
election day itself. The move has seen turn out rise, and no apparent
problems with fraudulent registration. The latter was the justification
for the 2006 changes to electoral registration in Australia, which
will, it has been predicted, disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters.
Less encouragingly, the six-member Federal Election Commission, the
body responsible for overseeing US campaign finance laws, is entering
the presidential election season with three temporary members whose
appointments have not been ratified, two members whose terms have
expired but who have not been replaced, and one vacancy. The appointments
process is likely to bog down in controversy, both partisan and across
party lines, on issues like restrictions on campaign expenditure.
Charter of rights for Australia
George Williams, Professor of Law at UNSW and a member of the Audit’s
Academic Advisory Committee, has published an updated version of his
book, A Charter of Rights for Australia. Australia is alone
amongst democracies in having no national bill of rights: Williams
argues that the matter has become more urgent in recent years.
Law and liberty in the war on terror
The Gilbert and Tobin Centre of Public Law at UNSW is hosting a symposium
on Law & Liberty in the War on Terror. The event is on the 4,
5, and 6 July 2007 at UNSW. Speakers include the Attorney-General
Philip Ruddock MP.
Human rights conference
The Law School at the University of Melbourne is hosting a conference
‘Protecting Human Rights’ on 25 September 2007.
29 March 2007
NSW election 24 March
The Iemma Labor government was returned in the NSW State election,
but in an interesting development almost a third of the Legislative
Council vote was for minor parties or Independents.
The Democratic Audit snapped photos at two polling booths
An Independent Speaker for NSW Parliament
An interesting development of the election is that Premier Morris
Iemma has reportedly given the post of Speaker of the Legislative
Assembly to the Independent member for Northern Tablelands, Richard
Torbay. The Speaker is supposed to be impartial in overseeing
the conduct of parliamentary business and so appointing an Independent
should bolster this impartiality.
Commonwealth whistleblower found guilty
On 27 March a former Customs officer was found guilty of leaking
information about flaws in security at Sydney airport and faces up
to two years in prison. The leaked information was published in the
Australian and led to a major upgrade in security. The Australian
has commented that public servants who leak information about flawed
public administration deserve medals not criminal convictions. The
Commonwealth provides least protection to whistleblowers of all Australian
FOI legislation ‘woeful’
FOI expert Ric Snell has said that the Commonwealth Freedom of Information
Act ‘performs woefully’ in important respects. Whilst
requests for access to personal information are generally being responded
to swiftly and positively, requests for information relating to policy
are systematically failing and the situation appears to be worsening:
46.3 per cent of requests for non-personal information were rejected
in full or in part.
Disclosure failure forces minister’s
Queensland Senator and Minister for Ageing Santo Santoro has been
forced to resign his post and his seat, following revelations of undisclosed
share deals. When he was initially pulled up for his failure to disclose
a share trade in a biotechnology firm, he blamed an oversight. But
he has subsequently been revealed to have had some 72 other such ‘oversights’.
The issue of whether ministers should be able to hold and trade shares
is a contentious one: even outside their portfolio, they can have
access to information that can directly benefit them and can participate
in cabinet discussions that can affect their value. Putting shares
out of reach in ‘blind trust’ for the duration is one
option. Transparency through disclosure is a minimum safeguard against
such potential conflicts of interest, and Santoro’s commercial
dealings should have been disclosed on the Register of Members’
The accessibility of the Register of Members’ Interests is
also an issue. At the moment, the registers are held by the Parliamentary
Clerks’ departments, available for inspection in person. But
in Westminster and the Scottish parliaments and in New Zealand, a
version of the register is available on the webpage. This one of the
measures recommended by ICAC in the wake of revelations that the then-Leader
of the Opposition in NSW, John Brogden, had asked parliamentary questions
whilst working as a public affairs consultant for PwC, and which was
apparently disclosed reluctantly (and partially) following media probing.
However it appears to have been kicked into the long grass for the
Proof of ID
The proof of identity (POI) requirements introduced as a result of
last year's amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act have come
into force. From 16 April 2007, people wishing to enroll or to amend
their enrolment details will be required to prove their identity by
providing a driving licence number or, in the absence of driving licence,
to prove their identity in other prescribed ways.
War on allowances
An article in the Canberra Times drawing on Democratic Audit
data has highlighted the 'mutually assured incumbency' resulting from
increased federal parliamentary allowances and lax rules governing
their use. MPs are now permitted to use the resources received for
electorate work for party political purposes and to roll over unspent
allowances for use in an election year. Independent MP Peter Andren
and Democrat Senator Andrew Murray have been leading critics of this
Parliamentary privilege blocking WA
The WA Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) has been forced to suspend
its inquiry into possible misconduct by members of the Legislative
Council's Standing Committee on Estimates and Financial Operations.
Evidence suggested that two members of the committee were being manipulated
to hold an inquiry to benefit clients of Brian Burke and Noel Crichton-Browne.
The Labor President of the Legislative Council has refused to hand
over documents to the CCC on the grounds of parliamentary privilege.
The parliament is instead holding its own inquiry, which will not
have access to the CCC's phone tap and other material.
Read more in The
An elected House of Lords?
British MPs have voted in favour of an entirely elected
House of Lords. Though the vote was not binding, the strength of the
backing for an entirely (or almost entirely) elected upper house has
sent a clear message to government. The proposals were subsequently
strongly rejected by the House of Lords.
UK party funding
The report of Sir Hayden Phillips’ review of party funding
in the UK was published in March 2007. The report calls for caps on
donations and greater transparency about party income. However, many
of the recommendations are tentative, reflecting disagreements between
the main parties about the nature of the problem and the preferred
Coinciding with the Phillips report, Audit contributor Keith Ewing,
professor of law at Kings College, London, has published his own investigation
into the subject, The Cost of Democracy, in
which he argues that spending caps are a more effective means than
donation caps for reducing the British parties’ reliance on
It is published by Hart.
2 March 2007
Senate votes against accountability measures
Australian Democrats Senator Andrew Murray recently moved a motion
in the Senate, noting last year’s Canadian reforms in the area
of accountability. The Canadian reforms cover the issues of political
donations, whistleblower protection and restrictions on Ministers
and staffers engaging in lobbying work after they have left office.
Senator Murray’s motion called for the government to consider
whether Australian legislation sufficiently addresses these issues
of transparency and accountability. The motion was defeated on government
To see how your Senators voted, look at Hansard, p.13, here
Crime and Corruption Commission transcripts
The hearings of the Western Australian Crime and Corruption Commission
inquiry into former WA premier Brian Burke and his associates are
coming to an end, with two State ministers being sacked in three days
as a result of evidence from phone taps. Three ministers in all have
been sacked as a result of the inquiry.
The transcripts of the hearings are available from the CCC
The independence of electoral administration
Audit contributor and former Australian Electoral Commissioner, Professor
Colin Hughes, is giving a Senate Occasional Lecture on 'The independence
of electoral administration'. The lecture will cover the development
of the Australian system of electoral administration and consider
the level of independence achieved.
Admission is free, inquiries to the Senate Procedure Office (Tel.
02 6277 3074; Email. Research.email@example.com)
When: Friday 23rd March 2007, 12.15 - 1.15
Where: Main Committee Room, Parliament House, Canberra
ACT electoral compendium
The ACT Electoral Commission has published an Electoral Compendium,
full of information about the electoral process for the Territory.
It is available from their
14 February 2007
Party funding figures revealed
The Australian Electoral Commission has disclosed the donations from
companies to the political parties for 2005-06, the financial year
during which the threshold for disclosure was raised.
The full returns can be found on the AEC’s
website, but some of the largest donors to the federal
parties are as follows:
Pratt Holdings Pty Ltd – $200 000
Westfield Holdings Ltd – $160 000
ANZ Banking Group limited – $100 000
Inghams Enterprises Pty Ltd – $100 000
Kingold Group Companies Ltd – $100 000
Walker Corporation Limited – $100 000
Westpac Banking Corporation – $65 000
Paul Ramsay Holdings Pty Ltd – $53 000
Goldman Sachs JBWere – $50 000
Gunns Ltd – $50 000
Leighton Holdings – $50 000
Resmed – $50 000
True James Erskine – $50 000
Phillip Morris – $35 000
Coca-Cola Amatil – $32 500
British American Tobacco Australia – $25 000
Adsteam Marine Services Ltd – $20 000
Wesfarmers – $10 000
Total Receipts (includes other receipts): $4 212 557
CFMEU Mining & Energy Division – $100 000
Westfield Capital Corporation Ltd – $100 000
ANZ Banking Group limited – $50 000
Leighton Holdings Ltd – $50 000
Westpac Banking Corporation – $40 000
Coca Cola Amatil – $40 000
Adsteam Marine Ltd – $20 000
Profile Ray & Berndston – $15 000
Wesfarmers Limited – $10 000
Total Receipts (includes other receipts): $3 785 737
Manildra Group of Companies - $31 000
Adsteam Marine Ltd– $20 000.00
Philip Morris Limited – $20 000.00
British American Tobacco Australia – $16 600
Wesfarmers Limited – $10 000
Leighton Holdings Limited – $10 000
Westpac Banking Corporation – $10 000
Total receipts (includes other receipts): $900 177.00
Under official AEC definitions, the Democrats received no
donations this year.
Total receipts (includes other receipts): $144 642
a review of the disclosures that also lists the details from the States
and Territories (subscription required)
A new book, Silencing Dissent, edited by Clive Hamilton
and Sarah Maddison, and featuring a number of Audit contributors,
claims the Howard Government has sought to undermine and discredit,
not only independent and dissenting opinion, but also the dissenters
themselves. It provides evidence of bullying, intimidation, personal
attacks, withdrawal of funding, and manipulation of the rules in order
to limit public debate. The victims have included charities, academics,
researchers, journalists, judges, the public service, and even parliament
- The SMH’s review
- and The
Freedom of information?
The Sydney Morning Herald carried a bizarre story illustrating
the shortcomings of the current FOI framework. Herald journalists
were faced with a prospective bill for $13 000 from the Department
of Employment and Workplace Relations for making a decision on whether
various papers relating to the welfare-to-work might be released.
They went to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a discount on
public interest grounds but were denied it on the grounds that FOI
requests were part of the newspapers’ normal commercial activities.
- The full saga can be found here:
House of Lords reform proposals
The UK government has published a White Paper outlining proposals
for a partially elected House of Lords. Reforms eliminating the right
of almost all hereditary peers to sit in the second chamber were introduced
in 1999, and were generally expected to be the first step in the introduction
of an elected Lords. But in 2003, all the options for introducing
an elected component were rejected. The government currently favours
50 per cent elected, with 50 per cent remaining appointed, though
the Lords are expected to reject this. However, it has been reported
that Gordon Brown, the favourite to succeed Tony Blair, will force
through reform making the Lords entirely elected, once leader, if
these proposals are blocked.
The Audit's Norman Abjorensen spoke on ABC Radio National's Perspective
program on 31January 2007, on the South Australian Rann government's
rewriting the Westminister system of government by appointing non-Labor
members to his cabinet.
Several minutes in duration, you can read
the transcript, listen
online or download
the MP3 (right-click and 'save as') and listen later.
Going backwards? Women in federal politics
In the run up to International Women's Day, women's presence in the
federal Cabinet has been reduced from three to two (Senator Helen
Coonan and Julie Bishop). Women now make up 11 per cent of the federal
Cabinet (2 out of 18) and 13 per cent of the ministry as a whole (4
out of 30). This compares poorly with countries such as Sweden, Norway,
Spain and Chilé where women make up half of Cabinet.
Australia has also slid to its lowest-ever place in the league table
of representation of women in national parliaments compiled by the
Inter-Parliamentary Union. The latest figures (30 November 2006) show
Australia to have dropped to 33rd place internationally, down from
15th in 1999. The ranking is based on representation in the lower
house of the national parliament.
Women are somewhat more evident on the federal Labor front bench,
making up 7 out of 31 shadow ministers (23 per cent), and with Julia
Gillard as Deputy Leader. On the other hand, women's presence in the
Victorian Labor Cabinet dropped from seven to four (35 per cent to
20 per cent) after the election in late 2006.
The Audit will be publishing a major new report, How Well Does Australian
democracy Serve Women? in advance of International Women's Day. The
report, prepared by Sarah Maddison and Emma Partridge, finds that
while Australia was once a leader in the global struggle for gender
equality, many of the achievements have been undone in recent years.
Inquiries about advance copies should be made to the Audit project
manager on firstname.lastname@example.org.
End of year deregistration of 19 political parties
On 27 December 2006 19 political parties were de-registered when
Schedule 3 of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity
and Other Measures) Act 2006 came into effect.
The purpose of the deregistration was to eliminate liberals for forests.
In the JSCEM inquiry into the 2004 federal election it was alleged
that voters were misled into believing liberals for forests had some
connection to the Liberal Party. In particular, liberals for forests
were blamed for the Coalition's narrow loss of the seat of Richmond.
The Commonwealth Electoral Act was promptly amended in 2004 to prevent
the registration of new parties with names that might lead a reasonable
person to assume a connection to an already registered party. However,
liberals for forests were already registered—so the new provision
for deregistration was included in the 2006 Electoral Act amendments.
The deregistration of 19 parties to achieve the deregistration of
one seems somewhat extreme and contrary to the encouragement of pluralistic
party competition and access to the ballot paper. At least reregistration
without fee can be achieved within the next six months as long as
the parties still satisfy the requirement of having 500 members and
comply with the new naming provisions.
The parties de-registered were:
Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group)
Citizens Electoral Council of Australia
Citizens Electoral Council of Australia (NSW Division)
Help End Marijuana Prohibition
Hope Party – ethics equality ecology
liberals for forests
New Country Party
No Goods and Services Tax Party
Non-Custodial Parents Party
One Nation Queensland Division
One Nation Western Australia
Progressive Labour Party
Republican Party of Australia
The Australian Shooters Party
The Fishing Party
The Great Australians
* Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, Parliament of Australia.
The Australian Electoral Commission had initially refused the registration
of liberals for forests but the decision was overturned by the Administrative
Appeals Tribunal in 2001.
Skewing electoral competition
The Special Minister of State, Gary Nairn, announced on 11 January
that all federal members of parliament would be entitled to one extra
staff member -ie four instead of three for party backbenchers and
five instead of four for Independents.
Federal members of parliament serve very large numbers of constituents
by international standards. At the 2004 election the average enrolment
in federal electorates was 87 323 - far higher than the number that
triggered an increase in the number of seats in 1984. By contrast,
the average number of registered voters in the 2005 New Zealand general
election was under 43 000 and in the UK under 68 000. At the 2004
Canadian election the average number of electors was under 73 000.
All of this adds up to an argument for more politicians or perhaps
more staff to assist the existing ones to service their electorates.
However, in the absence of guidelines restricting the activities of
parliamentary staff, the increase of staff further skews electoral
competition in favour of incumbents. There cannot be political equality
and fair competition where the balance is weighted so much against
The increase in staff, taken together with the increase in allowances
that can be used for campaigning, such as last year's increase in
the printing allowance to $150 000 (plus allowable carryover) creates
an immediate and unfair advantage for incumbent politicians in an
election year. Other parliaments explicitly prevent the use of parliamentary
allowances such as these for campaigning purposes. In Westminster,
as well as in the Scottish Parliament, there are guidelines whereby
staffers paid for out of the public purse are not allowed to canvass
or campaign during working hours - they may take leave or campaign
out of hours, or their salaries should be reimbursed by the parties
for the relevant period.
Independent MP Peter Andren has announced his refusal of the extra
staff allocation. Australia needs to start clearly distinguishing
between the use of staff and parliamentary allowances for constituency
and legislative work and their use to give incumbent politicians more
than a head-start in electoral competition.
19 December 2006
Victorian Election, November 2006
Photos below were taken outside the Melbourne Town Hall and Brunswick
Street, Fitzroy polling booths on election day by Peter Brent. Click
any for enlarged popup.
The Age reported that the covert advertising
campaign against the Greens by the conservative Christian group, the
Exclusive Brethren, had continued in the Victorian election. This
had aroused concern in the Tasmanian State election earlier in the
PM’s Chief of Staff leaves takes
post with investment bank
Arthur Sinodinos, John Howard’s longstanding Chief of Staff,
has left to take up a senior post with the investment bank Goldman
Sachs JBWere. Sinodinos’ move has proved controversial because
the company was involved with the most recent Telstra share floatation.
Former public servants and politicians are prevented from moving straight
into related private sector posts by ‘cooling off’ periods
in many democracies, including Canada, the UK and the USA. This move,
as well as former NSW Premier Bob Carr’s move to Macquarie Bank
in 2005, has highlighted the absence of codes governing post-separation
employment in a number of Australian jurisdictions.
The Cole inquiry reports
The Cole Inquiry into the AWB bribery scandal reported on 24 November
2006. The voluminous report (the summary and recommendations alone
run to nearly 350 pages) concludes that responsibility lay entirely
within the AWB and not with members of the government or the public
service. Senior figures within the AWB had paid bribes to Iraq to
secure wheat export contracts, and had consistently lied to cover
The report is, however, critical of the lack of adequate procedures
for responding to suspicions of corrupt practice, a point taken up
by Prof Pat Weller who argues, in a piece in The Australian,
that even if ministers and senior public servants had not deliberately
turned a blind eye to AWB’s dealings, they should have known
what was going on:
Queensland corruption inquiry
The Queensland premier Peter Beattie has forbidden all Labor members
from any dealings with the former Industrial Relations and Health
Minister Gordon Nuttall. Nuttall stepped down in September 2006, after
it was revealed by the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission
that he had received a large undisclosed loan from the CEO of a coal
firm lobbying for a road and rail diversion to one of its mines. He
is currently facing a ‘fast-track’ expulsion from the
- Read more in the Courier Mail,
here and here
UK party loans
The controversy surrounding party finance in the UK has continued,
as the full extent of the major parties’ reliance on loans has
emerged. Labour and the Conservatives owe around £59 million
(more than AU$147 million at the current rate of exchange). These
private loans have come to light since a change to the Electoral Commission’s
disclosure regulations: loans were previously hidden as the disclosure
rules only covered donations. Many of the loans were effectively donations
as they were never intended to be repaid.
Canada strengthens accountability
The Canadian Federal Accountability Act received Royal Assent on
12 December 2006. Under the Act. Under it:
• All corporate and union donations to political parties and
candidates are banned;
• The amount an individual can donate to a party or candidate
is reduced to $1000 p.a., as is the contribution an individual can
make to their own campaign;
• A new Commissioner of Lobbying is created, as an Agent of
• Ministers, ministerial staffers and senior public servants
are prohibited from lobbying the Canadian Government for five years
after leaving office;
• The role of the Ethics Commissioner and the Auditor General
• Transparency of the commissioning of public opinion research
and advertising is increased;
• An independent Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal
is created, to increase protection for whistleblowers.
November 17 2006
State corruption inquiries
The WA Corruption and Crime Commission’s investigation into
the activities of lobbyists acting for developer Canal Rocks has now
seen a minister sacked and forced to resign from parliament. Norm
Marlborough, Labor Minister for Small Business is the latest victim.
Undisclosed donations to various local government candidates by former
Liberal power broker Noel Crichton-Browne were mentioned in the last
Much of the new controversy focuses on the activities of Brian Burke,
the former WA premier, who like Crichton-Browne, was lobbying on behalf
of Canal Rocks. Marlborough kept a separate mobile phone for talking
to Burke and was taped apparently taking instruction on the appointment
to a government board of a councillor thought to be sympathetic to
the developer’s proposals.
Burke was gaoled for corruption in 1994 over fraudulent travel claims.
Current WA Premier, Alan Carpenter, has warned his ministers against
any dealings with Burke or his associates and a register of lobbyists
is now being considered.
In Queensland, the state’s Crime and Misconduct Commission
is investigating a government decision to bankroll a $20 million road
and rail deviation to Macarthur Coal’s Coppabella Mine, after
it was revealed that the company’s Chief Executive had loaned
the then Industrial Relations Minister Gordon Nuttall $300 000. The
loan was not disclosed in the official parliamentary register, and
Nuttall had not abstained from any votes on the matter, nor had he
declared a conflict of interest.
In Tasmania former Deputy Premier Bryan Green has been charged with
criminal conspiracy (in Hobart Magistrates Court, 25 October) over
giving a company run by former Tasmanian and Queensland Labor ministers
a monopoly over accreditation of building professionals in the State.
Labor debates over developer donation ban
Senior Labor figures are divided over a ban on developer donations.
NSW premier Morris Iemma has called for a ban, but Queensland premier
Peter Beattie rejects the idea, arguing that transparency rather than
source of donation is the issue. Former PM Paul Keating is critical
of NSW Labor’s record on developer donations and planning decisions.
NSW Labor has collected over $5 million in developer donations since
its re-election in 2003, and, along with the Liberals and Nationals,
voted down a Greens private members bill aiming to ban developer donations
to political parties.
More in the Sydney
The issue of political donations was discussed by Janet
Albrechtsen in The
How to do US elections
Electoral expert Professor Richard Hasen writes in the New York Times
on the problems with electronic voting machines in the US mid-term
elections. He argues that the problem lies less with technology than
with the people administering elections. Instead of party hacks, the
US needs nonpartisan professionals such as those that administer Australian
and Canadian elections.
More in the New
York Times (free registration may be necessary)
Go to Rick Hasen's Election
Law blog .
6 November 2006
Government advertising campaigns controversy
In last week's Senate estimates hearings, it emerged that the Department
of Prime Minister and Cabinet had omitted from its Annual Report any
figure for expenditure on government advertising campaigns. There
had in fact been an increase of nearly 50 per cent in such expenditure.
The Government dismissed the omission as a mere oversight. The Opposition,
however, were unconvinced, accusing the Government of concocting a
'pathetic “dog ate my homework” excuse'.
- Read the transcript from Hansard here
Electoral numbers drop
It also emerged in Senate Estimates that the number of Australians
enrolled to vote has fallen for the first time in ten years. The Australian
Electoral Commission was unable to provide a definitive explanation
for the fall. It is too early for the recent restrictions on enrolment
to have had an effect, though they are likely to exacerbate any existing
- Read the transcript from Hansard here
Secret ballot for the blind in Victorian election
Blind and vision-impaired voters will have the opportunity for the
first time to cast a secret ballot in the Victorian State election
on 25 November. Electronic voting will be introduced at six polling
places on a trial basis, following the successful experiment at the
last two ACT elections. Information on where to vote is being disseminated
by Vision Australia.
Debate resumes on Citizenship Bill
Debate resumed in the House of Representatives on 31 October and
for the next two days on the Australian Citizenship Bill 2005. Inter
alia the Bill lengthens the waiting time for Australian citizenship
from two to four years. The Bill is not expect to complete its passage
through parliament before the Autumn session 2007.
Full details of the Bill, including text, explanatory note, proposed
amendments, and the speeches from the second reading are available
NSW Local Government Association supports a national summit on political
The NSW Local Government Association has supported the call for a
national summit to review political finance legislation at federal,
State and local levels of government. The national summit is being
promoted by the Deputy Mayor of Manly and Convenor of Democracy Watch,
For the reasons why the role of money in Australian electoral politics
needs to be reviewed see Democracy
WA Public Funding Bill receives Royal Assent
Western Australia has now joined the Commonwealth, NSW, Victoria,
Queensland and the ACT in having public funding for parties and Independents
who achieve at least 4 per cent of the vote. The amount is indexed
and set to reach $1.50 per vote by the time the next election is due,
in 2009. It is not tied to any restrictions on private political donations.
Developer involvement in WA local elections
A former Liberal Party powerbroker operating on behalf of a property
developer has admitted involvement in the election campaign for Busselton
council in WA. Appearing before the Corruption and Crime Commission,
Noel Crichton-Browne admitted attempting to keep payments to various
candidates secret by paying them in instalments less than the $200
disclosure threshold, as part of a campaign to win planning approval
for a $300 million development.
US election chaos?
Ahead of the US mid-term elections on 7 November 2006, and in the
wake of the controversies over the result of the last two presidential
elections, Jonah Goldman of the National Campaign for Fair Elections
has written a highly critical essay on the state of electoral administration
in America, which he labels ‘third rate’ and could result
in nationwide ‘chaos’ at the polls.
This prediction is supported by the findings of a report by electionline.org,
an election-monitoring body based at the University of Richmond. Issues
relating to voting technology and its security, new ID requirements,
and the objectivity of voting officials are identified as potential
sources of problems and ten States identified as the most likely locations
The New York Times reports that the parties are preparing themselves
for the impending controversy by recruiting teams of lawyers to monitor
polling in potential ‘flash points’.
- Read New York Times article
(free registration required)
26 October 2006
Electoral Amendment Act 2006
The AEC has published a short explanatory paper on the recent changes
to the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The controversial changes have,
amongst other things, introduced the earlier closing of the electoral
roll, stricter proof of identity (ID) requirements for registering
and voting, and significantly raised the threshold for disclosure
of political donations.
The AEC’s annual report for 2005-06 is also now available here.
Former Victorian premier, John Cain, has a review of Brian Costar
and Colin Hughes’ book on the changes to the Commonwealth Electoral
Act of June 2006. Australia is one of the only democracies where the
rules governing political finance are being weakened rather than strengthened.
Cain focuses on the changes to the rules governing disclosure of political
donations, which, like the authors, he sees as a straightforward attempt
to limit the transparency of the process.
The Audit’s Marian Sawer’s review of the book is available
New media laws and investigative journalism
There has been much discussion in the press about the likely impact
of the changes to Australian media ownership laws on the diversity
of information sources. The media editor of The
Age suggests that the changes also threaten the existence
of investigative journalism.
October 6 2006
Liberal Senator calls for ban on corporate donations
to political parties
Senator Gary Humphries has called for a ban on corporate and union
donations to political parties, as in Canada, on the grounds they
are undermining confidence in politics. Humphries argues in the Liberal
Party journal The Party Room that the current system of public funding
should be extended and bring an end to private attempts to buy influence
in the decisions of government.
The Audit on ABC
ABC Radio National's 'Perspective'
program will broadcast this Friday, 6 October, at 5.55pm a shortened
version of the Audit discussion paper by the Norman Abjorensen on
the recent banning of two Islamic books in Australia. (Update: Listen
to the MP3 here.)
WA introduces proportional representation but retains
property votes in local government
The West Australian government has introduced legislation to parliament
that changes the voting system in local government elections from
‘first past the post’ to ‘proportional preferential’.
US voter ID/registration conference
The Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project's two-day Voter Identification/Registration
Conference began on 5 October at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
It explores the ‘current state of knowledge about the effects
of voter identification and registration procedures on election administration
and voting behaviour'.
While United States electoral administration is very different to
Australia's (and Australia, like New Zealand, has compulsory registration,
while in America and Canada it is voluntary), many of the issues are
History of the Indigenous vote
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has published a short History
of the Indigenous Vote. It outlines Indigenous Australians’
achievement of the right to vote, its loss at federation, their regaining
of the franchise in the 1960s and the more active engagement in the
- It can be downloaded from the AEC here
Irish PM in loan controversy
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has been forced to apologise over
loans he received whilst finance minister in the early 1990s. Whilst
maintaining he has breached no rules, he admitted errors of judgement
and was forced to apologise to parliament. The loans came to light
following an investigation into corruption in the planning process
in Dublin in the 1990s.
The erosion of electoral rights
Limiting Democracy: The Erosion of Electoral Rights in Australia
by Audit contributors Colin Hughes and Brian Costar has been published
by UNSW Press. More details at publisher's
- Read review of the book by the Audit leader, Marian Sawer
September 22 2006
Public funding comes to WA, also prisoner disenfranchisement
In Western Australia, the Labor government’s electoral reform
legislation has passed the lower house. The original Bill has been
split into three, to deal with the three main aspects of the reforms.
Public funding is being introduced for WA State elections, with the
amount currently set at $1.39 per vote (with a threshold vote of 4
per cent required). This amount is set to increase to more than $1.50
by the time of the next election, due in 2009. The government is obviously
serious about this—the funding rate is calculated to six decimal
places (i.e. one millionth of a cent per vote). The legislation differs
from the federal funding scheme in that parties will not be able to
receive more than they actually spend in election campaigns. This
isn’t a problem for the major parties, given they receive substantial
corporate donations in addition to public funding, but can be a problem
for minor parties who underestimate their likely vote and hence spend
less than their entitlement.
At the WA Parliament website the legislation—Electoral Reform
(Electoral Funding) Bill 2006—can be downloaded by PDF here.
To find debates use the Hansard
In associated legislation (Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2006
and Parliamentary Legislation Amendment Bill 2006), the Labor government
is disenfranchising all prisoners (previously prisoners serving terms
less than one year could vote), and broadening the definition of parliamentary
party status. Party status provides additional resources, such as
staffing, to those parties that qualify, and was previously available
to any parties with five members in the Assembly. This is now being
broadened to the Assembly and/or the Council. Labor resisted this
last change during its previous term—when the Greens had five
Council members. The Greens only have two now.
September 19, 2006
Australian polling day - always a Saturday
The Queensland State election 9 September 2006, photos
taken outside the Brisbane Town Hall polling booth by Peter Brent.
Click any for enlarged popup.
September 15 2006
Disallowance power damages ACT democracy
A Bill introduced by Senator Bob Brown to remove the
Commonwealth's power to disallow ACT legislation was debated in the
Senate on 14 September 2006. Section 5 (2) of the Australian Capital
Territory (Self-Government) Act, 1988 provides that the Governor-General
can disallow any law passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly within
six months. There are no conditions that need to be satisfied before
this power is exercised and the disallowance instrument merely has
to be tabled in both houses of the federal parliament.
The Commonwealth has already disallowed the ACT's Civil Unions Act
2006 and is now threatening to over-ride the ACT's anti-terrorism
legislation on the grounds that it is not tough enough (for example,
not allowing children to be subject to preventive detention). With
the government controlling the Senate, such disallowance of an elected
government's legislation cannot be prevented. By contrast, when the
Commonwealth did away with the Northern Territory's euthanasia legislation
in 1998 it did so by use of its Territories power (section 122 of
the Constitution), requiring a Bill to pass through both houses of
- For more detail on the desirability of removing the disallowance
power from the ACT (Self-Government) Act see Cheyne Bester and Shawn
Lambert in the Canberra Times 15
Erosion of Electoral Rights
Limiting Democracy: The Erosion of Electoral Rights
in Australia has just been released by UNSW Press. Australia's
electoral system is distinctive, independent and widely respected.
For years, parties across the political spectrum have supported its
main features - compulsory voting, an independent electoral commission,
uniform rules across the nation. Yet, in 2006, all that began to change.
Because Australians have no explicit constitutional
right to vote, parliament has wide discretion over how its members
are elected. Having won control of both houses of parliament, the
Howard government introduced legislation that erodes the right to
vote and relaxes controls over political donations, all in the name
of "electoral integrity." Forced through parliament in mid-2006,
these measures are dangerous for democracy.
In this book, Colin A. Hughes - Australia's first electoral commissioner
- and Brian Costar reveal the dangers of the government's legislation,
and of other potential changes flagged by government MPs. They trace
the history of Australia's admired electoral system, revealing the
carefully crafted rules that have ensured a fair and transparent system
- a system now endangered by a set of poorly considered changes.
UK Government Backs FOI Effectiveness Study
The UK government has helped fund an independent study
by the Constitution Unit at University College London of whether the
UK FOI Act has been effective in making government more accountable.
UCL claim this is the first large-scale study of the consequences
of FOI anywhere in the world.
September 7, 2006
High Court FOI ruling endorses government
Fresh doubts have been cast on the effectiveness of
the Commonwealth’s freedom of information laws after the High
Court, in a 3-2 decision, rejected an appeal by a journalist at The
Australian newspaper against a decision to block access to Treasury
documents. The documents sought by FOI editor Michael McKinnon, related
to revenue projections from tax bracket creep, as well as fraud in
the First Home Owner Grant.
Despite a dissenting judgement from Chief Justice Murray Gleeson
and Justice Michael Kirby, a majority upheld a ruling by the Administrative
Appeals Tribunal that it did not have the power to decide whether
the release of the documents sought by McKinnon was in the public
August 31 2006
Reform of the Senate committee system
Studies Centre and the Centre
for International and Public Law, both at ANU, are holding a workshop
to consider the Senate committee system on Friday 15 September in
the Studio Theatre at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.
The timetable is:
- 9.30-10.30 Views from the Senate: including Harry Evans, Clerk
of the Senate; Senator Marise Payne; Senator Joe Ludwig; Senator
- 11am-12noon Views from ‘users’ of the committee system:
Including Professor Jon Altman, ANU Centre for Aboriginal Economic
Policy Research; Professor John Warhurst, School of Social Sciences,
Faculty of Arts, ANU
August 30 2006
Political finance reform
New Matilda has an article
by Greens NSW Legislative Council member Lee Rhiannon, and Norman
Thompson, who runs her project on political donations, calling for
a significant overhaul of the regulations governing political party
funding. They argue that foreign donations and corporate and union
donations should be banned, and caps on individual donations and campaign
Also on party funding reform, the Greens (WA) have produced this
paper on electoral funding reform, as part of the debate about
the introduction of public funding for parties in the State.
Greens (WA) discussion paper
UK party funding controversy continues
The UK Electoral Commission has criticised both the Labour and Conservative
parties for being overly secretive about their private funding. The
Conservatives’ reluctance to make more detailed disclosures
about their loans has been a particular source of concern for the
Parliamentary inquiry into civics and electoral education
A team from the Democratic Audit appeared before the Joint Standing
Committee on Electoral Matters on 11 August 2006, as part the ongoing
inquiry into civics and electoral education. The transcript and the
written submission are available from the Committee’s webpage:
to committee webpage
Appointments to public boards
Meredith Edwards, Emeritus Professor at the University of Canberra,
has written a comprehensive analysis of the appointments process to
public boards in Australia. Australia has yet to embark on the significant
reform of the process seen in countries such as the UK and Canada,
where change was seen as vital to maintain any confidence in the integrity
of the system.
August 10 2006
Human rights charter for Victoria
Victoria has become only the second jurisdiction (after the ACT)
to enact a human rights charter. The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities
Act 2006 was passed on July 25th 2006, and comes into force in January
A group of former senior MPs from both major parties have released
a discussion paper calling for a strengthening of the capacity of
parliament in Australia to hold government to account. Various measures
are being taken in other Westminster parliaments with the aim of improving
the accountability process but Australia is lagging. Amongst the steps
they call for are the appointment of a Parliamentary Standards Commissioner,
and special legislation clarifying government accountability to parliament.
- A piece in The
Age summarises the main findings.
- In the same paper, Michelle Grattan has an
article discussing the report and its recommendations.
Ministerial resignation in Tasmania
Bryan Green, Tasmanian Deputy Premier, has resigned from all frontbench
and leadership roles following a scandal involving his relationship
with a company run by his former colleagues. Mr Green granted a three
year monopoly to the Tasmanian Compliance Corporation, a building
accreditation company run by two former Labor ministers. The Director
of Public Prosecutions and the Auditor General are investigating the
matter. Mr Green had initially resisted resigning and maintained that
his apology to parliament was sufficient.
Queensland electoral law changes
The Queensland government is planning major changes to its electoral
law in the wake of the Federal changes and claims of bribery of local
councillors. The detail of the changes has yet to be decided though
it has been confirmed that, in line with Federal law, prisoners will
lose the right to vote.
July 26 2006
The Senate under government control
Australian Democrat Senator Andrew Murray has compiled figures on
the scrutiny and legislative review process in the Senate since 1
July 2005 and compared it with previous periods where no party had
overall Senate control. On every measure considered – length
of time for committees to consider bills, acceptance of non-government
amendments, use of the guillotine to curtail debate; rejection of
references to committees – there has been a weakening of legislative
Internal party democracy?
After the furore surrounding the role of factions in Labor’s
preselection process in Victoria earlier this year, now it is the
Liberals’ turn. ABC’s Four Corners program on 17 July
2006 focussed on attempts by the far right to dominate internal processes
in the New South Wales Liberal Party, and the nefarious tactics used
by both major factions in the party in their internecine battles.
- The transcript of the broadcast is available here:
The program has produced considerable comment, such as this
piece by Anne Davies in The Sydney Morning Herald.
John Keane on democracy and political parties
Australian-born, UK-based political theorist John
Keane considered the shortcomings of political parties in a piece
in The Sydney Morning Herald on 24 July 2006. He argues that
the stranglehold that parties have on the representative process is
the central cause of modern disillusionment with the political process:
The State of Democracy at IPSA
The Democratic Audit of Australia organised two panels on State of
Democracy methodology in July at the International Political Science
Association Congress in Fukuoka, Japan. The papers, by those involved
in Democratic Audits in different parts of the world, are all available
Axing of Senate committees to limit scrutiny
In the last sitting week before the winter recess the Government
proposed controversial changes to the committee system in the Senate.
Under these changes the number of committees will be reduced and the
opposition-chaired references committees abolished. This will leave
all the committee chairs in government hands. The government has claimed
that the references committees are under-utilised, which has been
a reality since the government achieved its majority in the Senate.
Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce has suggested that removing the part
of the committee system under opposition control might lessen the
reluctance to refer controversial issues for committee scrutiny. However,
the opposition parties, and Harry Evans, Clerk of the Senate, have
said that there is a serious danger of undermining the Senate’s
capacity to hold the government to account; any inquiries with the
potential to embarrass the Government are likely to be vetoed.
The Democratic Audit of Australia is hosting two
panels at the International Political Science Association
in Fukuoka on 11 July. The papers include the following:
June 26 2006
JSCEM civics inquiry
The submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’
inquiry into Civics and Electoral Education can now be viewed on their
website. Naturally, we would draw your attention to the Democratic
Audit’s contribution, amongst the numerous interesting submissions
from a wide variety of individuals and groups.
June 15 2006
Draft Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill
The Draft Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act is being debated
again in the Senate this week and is still attracting controversy
Writing in The Age, George Williams of
the Gilbert & Tobin Centre of Public Law at UNSW calls it a ‘major
step backwards for our electoral system’.
Also in The Age, Human Rights Solicitor Waleed Aly attacks
the measures contained in it that strip prisoners of their right to
Harder to vote, easier to donate
Australian Policy Online has published an article by Marian Sawer,
Director of the Audit, that criticises the trajectory of electoral
reform in Australia. The Government is simultaneously making the process
of political donations less transparent, whilst making it harder for
people to exercise their right to vote.
Dirty tricks in US electoral administration?
An article in Rolling Stone magazine Robert F. Kennedy
Jnr has caused much comment in the US and beyond. He alleges that
George W. Bush’s victory in the 2004 Presidential election was
the result, in part, of dirty tricks by partisan electoral officials
in Ohio. These range from: voter registrations mysteriously lost,
or even shredded; late or missing ballots for US voters overseas;
maldistribution of voting machines and ‘suspiciously’
malfunctioning voting equipment.
At least some of the claims in the article have been dismissed. However,
it does draw attention to the problems created by partisan electoral
administration. Even after the controversy surrounding the 2000 Presidential
Election it seems lessons have either not been learnt or are being
Read the Kennedy article here
And a couple of the many responses to it here
Federalism undermined on ACT civil unions
The Federal Government has used its power to disallow Territory
legislation to over-rule the ACT's Civil Unions Act 2006. The disallowance
took effect from midnight 13 June. Moves in the Senate by the Democrats,
Greens and Labor to block the disallowance were unsuccessful, despite
Liberal Senator and former ACT Chief Minister Gary Humphries crossing
the floor. The use of administrative action to overturn legislation,
for which the ACT government had an election mandate and which was
within its powers, has been highly controversial. Critics see it as
another attack on the principles of federalism.
Electronic voting in Victoria
Following an inquiry into Electronic Democracy, the Victorian Government
has introduced measure to facilitate electronic voting in State elections.
Peter Chen, the co-author of the forthcoming Audit report on Electronic
Democracy, was a consultant on the inquiry.
Votes at 16 in the ACT?
The ACT Legislative Assembly's Standing Committee on Education,
Training, and Young People is holding an inquiry into the desirability
and possible consequences of allowing 16 and 17 year old ACT residents
to vote in Territory elections. Amongst the issues under consideration
national conformity and consistency with other jurisdictions;
the legal implications of compulsory enrolment and voting for young
eligibility for election to the ACT Legislative Assembly;
resource implications of extending and maintaining the ACT electoral
issues affecting the electoral awareness of young people;
different electoral models; and
other factors that influence the democratic participation of young
The deadline for written submissions to the inquiry is 28 July 2006.
Victoria FoI Review
The Victorian Ombudsman has produced the final report of a review
of implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982. The review
found that FOI requests were, for the most part, being answered in
full and within the official 45 day period. However, delays in processing
were still an issue, with some 30 per cent of requests not responded
to within the statutory time frame in February 2006. This was, however
an improvement over the 44 per cent in 2003-04. The lack of quality
in reasons for decisions was also an issue, as was the poor level
of assistance to applicants.
Overall, the review found that, of the 22 500 FOI requests made
in 2004-05, full access was given to 77 per cent, partial access to
20 per cent, leaving only 3 per cent refused.
Public funding for parties
With public funding of political parties proposed in
Western Australia, Senator Andrew Murray (Democrats) argues, in this
Audit discussion paper, that a quid pro quo is required in the form
of higher standards of governance, transparency, and accountability,
from the parties that receive it.
Read the paper
Party funding remains a controversial issue in the UK, where the
Committee on Standards in Public Life is conducting an inquiry into
the integrity of democratic processes, through a review of the mandate
of the Electoral Commission. The Committee’s inquiry has, in
particular, highlighted the extent of the ignorance surrounding the
huge loans which the Labour and Conservative Parties have been using
to circumvent party funding regulations.
to the Committee’s webpage
More general concerns about party funding in the UK have led to the
establishment of an inquiry into the possible introduction of public
May 26 2006
Are our politicians for sale?
Richard Baker in The Age reports on the increasing trend
for the parties to sell access to their leaders to stock the party
coffers. The current Electoral Amendment Bill will make this, and
other sorts of corporate donations far less visible, raising serious
concerns about the potential for corruption.
The Democratic Audit’s focused Audit on Political Finance and
Government Advertising, By Joo-Cheong Tham and Sally Young, which
is cited in The
article, will be published later this winter.
Public funding for parties in WA?
The issue of party funding is also current in Western Australia,
where the introduction of public funding for parties contesting State
elections is again being considered. Public funding should reduce
the reliance of parties on private donations and allow smaller parties
to compete more effectively. However, the concern is that this move
will simply add to, rather than replace, the current system of donations,
whilst its efficacy in levelling the playing field for smaller parties
is dependent on the thresholds that are set.
Australian Bills of Rights: The ACT and Beyond
The ACT Human Rights Research Project, at the Regulatory Institutions
Network at the ANU and the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law at
UNSW are holding a one-day event in Canberra that will assess recent
developments in Australian Bills of Rights. The conference will survey
the impact of the ACT Human Rights Act over the last year in the courts,
legislature and the bureaucracy. It will also look at the proposed
Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities in Victoria, at developments
in other States and at the national level, and the comparative perspective
from New Zealand. The day is aimed at both a legal and non-legal audience.
When: Wednesday 21 June 2006
Where: Law Theatre, Faculty of Law, Australian National
Cost: $150 (including lunch), $60 for concessions
Registration forms and program are available at http://acthra.anu.edu.au/,
or ph Gabrielle McKinnon on 6125 7103.
New Version of the Australian Government and Politics
The new version of the Australian
Government and Politics website is now on line and includes
the final results for the March South Australian and Tasmanian elections.
As well as a new server and updated software, the website is undergoing
a major overhaul and has enhanced information on NSW politics and
government thanks to a grant from the NSW Sesquicentenary Committee.
It is hoped to add similar additional information to entries for the
other States and the Commonwealth.
May 16 2006
Electoral changes pushed through House of Representatives
After minimal debate on 10 and 11 May, and three gag motions, the
government's changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act were pushed
through the House of Representatives on 11 May 2006. The Democratic
Audit has expressed serious concern over the impact of these changes,
which include early closure of the electoral roll and raising the
threshold for disclosure of political donations.
Independent Peter Andren moved two sets of amendments, the first
of which were supported by the ALP and related to early closure of
the roll and prisoner franchise. The second set proposed eliminating
the above-the-line option on Senate tickets in favour of partial preferential
voting below the line. This change would require preferences to be
expressed by voters for as many seats as to be filled, rather than
for preferences to flow in accordance with party deals few voters
know about. The current above-the-line option of party ticket voting
is chosen by about 95 per cent of voters, because otherwise they have
to mark preferences for all candidates below the line-a very laborious
process. In NSW in the 2004 federal election, voters would have had
to mark 78 sequential preferences to register a formal Senate vote
below the line. It is not surprising that 97 per cent decided not
to do this, even if it meant their preferences then flowed in directions
they might not have approved of.
Andren also proposed introducing an expenditure cap of $50 000 for
federal candidates, with an exception for those standing in the largest
electorates ($72 000). Such expenditure caps would do much towards
creating a level playing field for electoral competition. Andren also
proposed lowering the disclosure threshold for political donations,
rather than raising it, and requiring the written authority of the
candidate for any gifts or expenditure on their behalf. This set of
amendments was supported only by the three Independents in the House.
The government's Bill is due to be debated in the Senate when parliament
resumes on 13 June.
While the Australian government may be making it 'harder to vote
but easier to make secret donations to political parties', the new
Conservative government in Canada is moving in the opposite direction.
It has introduced amendments to the Canada Elections Act that will
introduce a limit of $1000 (previously $5000) on the amount an individual
may contribute to a party or candidate in a given year and totally
banning contributions by corporations, trade unions or associations
(previously a limit of $1000). The changes are to be found in Bill
C-2, which had its First Reading on 11 April 2006: ‘An Act providing
for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing
and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and
accountability’ (short title: Federal Accountability Act).
Government cuts Senate estimates
The Senate has voted to weaken its ability to scrutinise the government
after it passed government measures to axe the Senate Estimates spillover
days. The Estimates hearings could previously continue onto Fridays
if business demanded it. The government used its narrow Senate majority
to push through the changes. Both Labor and the Democrats have condemned
the move, claiming that the government is reneging on its promise
not to abuse its majority in the Senate to curtail the scrutiny process.
The government defended its move by claiming that the time available
for scrutiny was broadly comparable with other countries.
Following the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matter's recommendation
that compulsory voting be scrapped, the Australian Electoral Commission
has published this review of the arguments and includes some information
Ironically, the influential British think tank, the Institute for
Public Policy Reform, has recently recommended that compulsory voting
is the best solution for the ongoing problem of poor turnout.
Less freedom more violence for media workers
A report just published by the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance
(MEAA) complains of an anti-media environment which it blames on the
growing legislated controls on media freedom. It also expresses concern
that media workers are increasingly the targets of violence. The issues
are raised in the MEAA's second report into the state of press freedom
in Australia launched on 28 April 2006 at the Australian Press Freedom
Dinner in Sydney.
Unfairness in asylum decision
In a piece for New Matilda,
Julian Burnside QC criticises the Government's decision to process
asylum applications from ‘boatpeople’ off-shore. Not only
is the move massively more expensive, but also infringes basic human
rights in order to appease the Indonesian government. He goes on to
criticise the Government's industrial relations and national security
UK civil liberties ‘rebalance’
In the, Prime Minister Tony Blair has called for a ‘profound
rebalancing’ of the civil liberties debate in the UK. ‘Despite
our attempts - and we have made many of them - to toughen and reform
the criminal justice system ... the criminal justice system is the
public service most distant from what reasonable people want’,
A brief history of sedition
This e-brief from the Parliamentary Library provides an overview
of the development of sedition law in Australia, including the recent
changes made under the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005.
Promoting democracy - a review
The Dutch Government has published a study of efforts to promote
democracy and to bridge the gap between voters and elected representatives
that they say has emerged throughout the established democracies of
the developed world. The study reviews the programs of 18 OECD countries,
including Australia, and, whilst the conclusions drawn are aimed at
the Netherlands, they will have resonance in all the countries studied.
Conference on legislatures and human rights
The University of Melbourne's Centre for Comparative Constitutional
Studies is hosting an international conference exploring the role
of legislatures in protecting human rights 20-22 July 2006.
April 13 2006
Italian ex-pats vote
Ousted Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is contesting the
result of the Italian election in part because so many Australian-based
voters tried to vote preferentially, spoiling their ballots.
The general election held on 9–10 April 2006 has produced a
change of government with Romani Prodi’s centre-left coalition
evidently triumphing in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
Prodi’s coalition was the plurality winner for the Chamber
of Deputies by the smallest of margins—some 25 000 votes out
of an electorate of 47 million. This translates, however, into 55
per cent of the seats in the lower house thanks to the bonus arrangement
whereby a plurality winner is allocated no less than 340 seats.
The controversy that has prompted the Berlusconi challenge relates
to the result in the Senate, where Prodi’s coalition has won
a narrow, two-seat majority by winning four of the six newly created
seats for expatriate voters. Melbourne's Nino Randazzo, long-time
Editor of Il Globo, was one of the newly-elected Senators
who decided the outcome.
The global campaign manager for Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia has
pointed to the 10 698 spoiled ballot papers cast in Australia, 27
per cent of the total, as a possible ground for a recount. Some voters
spoiled their ballots by numbering the candidates as they would in
an Australian election, rather than putting a cross against a single,
New Italian electoral law provides 3.5 million expatriate Italians
with their own representatives—12 seats in the Chamber of Deputies
and six seats in the Senate. Expatriate Italians have four geographical
constituencies, Europe outside Italy, South America, North and Central
America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. Italo-Australians dominate the
latter electorate, with 120 000 out of the 200 000 voters.
Apart from Senator Randazzo, Melbourne-based Marco Fedi was elected
to the Chamber of Deputies. Both are committed to pursuing issues
relating to pensions and reacquisition of Italian citizenship. Their
electorate stretches from the west coast of Africa to the Pacific
Islands and north to Mongolia.
Observers will have been watching the innovations in expatriate representation
carefully, not least in Australia where expatriates can only enrol
on the overseas voters' register if they intend to return to Australia
within six years. In 2004 the Audit published a paper by Andrew Leigh,
arguing for a Senator for Expat Australians.
Electoral Commission shifts position
Audit contributor Brian Costar and Peter Browne, both of Swinburne
Institute for Social Research, consider the role of the Australian
Electoral Commission in the current passage of the Electoral and Referendum
Amendment Act. They criticise the Commission’s apparent shift
in position over the current Electoral Amendment Bill, that will see
early closure of the electoral roll. Previously the Commission had
provided evidence that early closure of the roll would not improve
its accuracy, because less time would be available for voters to got
on the roll or correct their enrolment details. Now the new Commissioner
says it will make their life easier.
- Norm Kelly, former Audit manager, and former Democrat
member of the WA Parliament, reviewed the draft Bill and its implication
The Senate's Finance and Public Administration Committee published
its report on the draft Electoral and Referendum Bill on 29 March
2006. The Committee finds little to disagree with in the Bill, in
spite of a considerable volume of evidence critical of it (including
submissions from several Audit contributors). However, both the Labor
and Democrat members of the Committee were sufficiently dissatisfied
with the Report to produce more critical dissenting reports.
Former Democratic Audit project manager, Norm Kelly, has provided
and commentary on the Bill
In a recent Canberra
article, he criticises the provisions relating to the
disclosure of political donations and their tax deductibility status.
And a new research report by the Parliamentary Library suggests major
parties would, based on average for the past seven financial years,
disclose the details of about two-thirds (64.1 per cent) of their
total declared receipts if the threshold were increased to 'more than
$10 000', as the draft bill proposes. Under the current threshold,
they disclose the details for three-quarters of their total receipts
(74.7 per cent). However, past figures may not be a useful guide to
disclosure under the higher threshold. A higher threshold may encourage
existing donors to change their behaviour; they may choose to split
their current contributions, thereby negating the need to lodge a
Report on disclosure of political donations
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) published
the report on its inquiry into the disclosure of donations to political
parties and candidates. Despite running for two years, the report
is a short one, and in agreement with the thrust of the draft Electoral
and Referendum Bill, towards more generous disclosure thresholds.
But, as with the Senate Committee's report on the draft Bill, the
ALP members and the Democrat member submitted dissenting reports.
ACT Civil Union Bill
The ACT Chief Minister (and Attorney General) Jon Stanhope has introduced
the Civil Union Bill, which would give gay and lesbian couples the
same rights under ACT law as married partners. The day after its introduction
on 28 March, the federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, wrote to
the Chief Minister saying the federal government would overturn the
legislation unless it was redrafted to distinguish civil unions from
marriage. The federal Attorney-General objected to the use of federally
registered marriage celebrants to officiate over civil unions. The
Commonwealth has previously overturned the Northern Territory's euthanasia
legislation in 1997. This was the subject of a conscience vote in
federal parliament and the ACT Chief Minister is insisting that the
Civil Union legislation be treated in the same way.
ACT Anti-Terrorism Bill
The ACT government is also on a collision course with the federal
government over anti-terrorism legislation. The ACT legislation introduced
this week differs from laws in other States and Territories in refusing
to permit 16-year-olds to be detained without charge and in forcing
police to meet a higher threshold before preventively detaining suspects.
The ACT Chief Minister has insisted that the anti-terrorism legislation
must comply with the ACT Human Rights Act and with international obligations
such as those under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The AFP Commissioner and the federal Attorney-General have claimed
that the legislative differences would expose the Territory to a terrorist
The 'quiet revolution' in Indigenous Affairs
Bill Gray and Will Sanders of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic
Policy Research, ANU, have released a discussion paper entitled Views
from the top of the 'quiet revolution': Secretarial perspectives on
the new arrangements in Indigenous Affairs. It is based on interviews
with 11 members of the Commonwealth government's Secretaries Group
on Indigenous Affairs about the new arrangements dating from July
2004. It concludes that whether the new arrangements work will ultimately
depend on relationships between government and Indigenous communities
built over extended periods of time.
the discussion paper
Tasmania and South Australia vote
State elections were held in both Tasmania and South Australia with
the sitting ALP governments both retaining control. We'll be publishing
a paper on the South Australian election by Haydon Manning and Geoff
Anderson of Flinders University next month.
The most controversial development to emerge from the Tasmanian election
was the alleged involvement of the secretive Christian group, the
Exclusive Brethren. They are accused of being behind a smear campaign
targeting the Greens, though the negligible disclosure rules regarding
funding of political campaigns in Tasmania mean that it is hard to
be sure about the extent of their involvement.
The issue is discussed in The
International Women's Day
To mark this year's International Women's Day (8 March 2006) International
IDEA has launched a new edition of its well-known handbook: Women
in Parliament: Beyond Numbers. The focus is on giving women elected
to parliament the means to make a greater impact on politics. It includes
a case study on the Inter-Parliamentary Union co-authored by Australian
Sonia Palmieri. There is also a review of new trends in gender quotas
by Drude Dahlerup.
Chapters can be down loaded from the IDEA
How the UK brought human rights home
In an article for New Matilda, Kate Beattie examines the experience
of the United Kingdom with its Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and the
lessons for Australia. She finds that one of the most important aspects
has been the requirement that Ministers issue a statement concerning
the compatibility of Bills with the HRA and the subsequent scrutiny
by the well-resourced Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.
The reports issued by the Joint Committee have had a significant influence
the New Matilda article
Upper House for Queensland?
The University of Queensland's Centre for Public, International,
and Comparative Law, and the Faculty of Business at the University
of the Sunshine Coast are hosting a conference considering whether
accountability in Queensland would be better served by re-establishing
an upper house. The conference, which has an impressive range of speakers
from politics, the public service, and academia, takes place on April
21, and, ironically, comes in the wake of the Mike Rann's successful
election campaign in South Australia which, amongst other things,
promised to abolish the State's upper house.
Clerk of the Senate defends estimates process
Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, addressed the National Press Club
on 11 April 2006 on ‘Senate estimates and the Government Majority
in the Senate’. In it, he warned against any neutering of the
Senate estimates process, which plays a central part in the government's
accountability to parliament.
Democrat Senator Andrew Murray has established a new website monitoring
donations to political parties. Senator Murray was one of the participants
in an Audit workshop on Political Finance and Government Advertising
held in February 2006.
March 8 2006
Gary Nairn, Special Minister for State, has defended the Government’s
proposed reforms of the Commonwealth Electoral Act in a piece in The
||posted 8 March 2006
The Power inquiry into the health of UK democracy reported on 27
February 2006. Whilst addressing the UK, the findings will have resonance
elsewhere, including Australia.
The report concludes that, contrary to much opinion, the British
public is not politically apathetic, in spite of falling voter turn-out
and party membership. However, the public does feel excluded from
the policy process, and poorly served by party politics, with the
electoral system perceived as unequal.
Amongst the 30 recommendations are concordats redistributing power
away from ministers to Parliament and local government; 70 per cent
of the House of Lords to be elected; public funding and caps for individual
donations to parties; electoral reform (away from first-past-the-post)
to encourage small parties and Independents; the right for citizens
to initiate new laws and public inquiries; and the requirement for
MPs to produce annual reports and hold AGMs with their constituents.
The full report and the executive summary can be found at Power webpage:
||UK postal voting
||posted 8 March 2006
The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives has reignited the
debate about postal voting in the UK, with warnings that the forthcoming
local elections risk being marred by a further postal voting controversy,
after several councillors were found guilty of electoral fraud in
the 2004 elections. The problems arise because of the way local party
activists collect postal votes and place them on the voters’
behalf. Whilst the aim may be to boost turn-out, the fear is that
votes not cast in favour of the party handling them may be ‘lost’.
[The government has introduced new legislation to deal with postal
voting fraud that will come into effect before the May 2006 local
||Women in parliament:
||posted 6 March 2006
The Treasurer, Peter Costello, has called for Australia to create
the most 'female-friendly environment in the world'. Marian Sawer
finds, however, that Australia has just slid to its lowest place ever
in the league table of women's representation in national parliaments
and a major factor has been the Liberal Party's failure to preselect
Independent Candidate Advisory
In October 2005, the three independents in the House of Representatives
- Peter Andren, Tony Windsor and Bob Katter - founded the Independent
Candidate Advisory Network (ICAN) to encourage and assist independents
to get elected to state and federal parliaments. The website
was launched this month. Among the ICAN website's features is an '
Independent's Tool-Box', a guide to everything from getting nominated
to managing the campaign budget and handling the media. Two weeks
ago, the organisation featured in a Senate Committee question from
Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce to the Australian Electoral Commissioner.
Visit the ICAN website
Nice work, if you can get it
Anne Davies, Damien Murphy and Elisabeth Sexton report in the SMH
on the lack of codes for post-ministerial employment in Commonwealth
and NSW jurisdictions. They describe a number of recent cases where
Ministers have gone immediately into private sector jobs close to
their ministerial portfolios, despite warnings from corruption bodies
about the practice. Canada and the United Kingdom, and other Australian
jurisdictions such as Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia
and the ACT, have recognised the problem and adopted such codes. In
2004 the Democratic Audit (Report No 3) recommended that codes governing
post-separation employment of ministers be adopted in all Australian
Political donations revealed
The Australian Electoral Commission's latest
political donations disclosures have generated a lot of comment:
The single largest donation, $1,000,000 from Lord Ashcroft to the
Liberals, was also the most controversial: Ashcroft is a former treasurer,
and current Deputy Chairman of the British Conservative Party but
also, controversially, holds dual nationality from Britain and the
tax haven of Belize, for which he was the permanent representative
at the UN. Concern was expressed in Britain about his role in politics
there, given his continuing close relationship with a foreign government.
Despite claims by the Liberals that Lord Ashcroft has a close affinity
with Australia, it seems that he has no particular association with
it beyond that of keen visitor. His contribution has naturally raised
questions about the role of foreign donations to political parties
in Australia. Read more in The
Australian. (Last checked Feb 10 2006.)
has carried a more detailed analysis of the disclosures, including
a list of the largest ten donors to Labor and the Liberals:
10 Largest Donors to Liberals
Lord Michael Ashcroft KCMG - $1,000,000.00
Inghams Enterprises Pty Ltd - $200,000.00
Pratt Holdings Pty Ltd - $200,000.00
Village Roadshow Limited - $200,000.00
Croissy Pty Limited - $175,000.00
ANZ Banking Group Ltd - $100,000.00
Mistral International Pty Ltd - $100,000.00
Walker Corporation Pty Ltd - $100,000.00
Wesfarmers Ltd - $100,000.00
JP Morgan Administrative Services Pty Ltd - $82,500.00
Total Receipts: $29,477,988.00
10 Largest Donors to Labor
CFMEU Mining & Energy Division - $470,000.00
Shop Distributive & Allied Employees' Association - $300,000.00
CFMEU Construction & General Division, National Office - $200,000.00
Village Roadshow Limited - $200,000.00
Westfield Capital Corporation Ltd - $175,000.00
Canberra Tradesmen's Union Club - $120,000.00
AMWU - $100,000.00
Inghams Enterprises Pty Ltd - $100,000.00
Pratt Holdings Pty Ltd - $100,000.00
Network Ten Pty Limited - $75,000.00
Total receipts: $29,989,686.00
In The Age, Joo-Cheong Tham, of Melbourne University's Law
School and the co-author of the Democratic Audit of Australia's forthcoming
report on Political Finance, criticises the role of corporate funding
of political parties. He argues that at both State and Federal level,
the parties are becoming dangerously reliant on corporate funding,
and calls for tighter regulations around disclosure. Read
In the Sydney Morning Herald, Elisabeth Sexton argues that,
in spite of the deluge of information from the AEC, the disclosures
are still opaque and important information can remain hidden. Read
Last month's cabinet reshuffle has seen Hon Sen Eric Abetz replaced
as Special Minister of State (covering electoral matters) with Hon
Gary Nairn MP.
High Court appeal allowed in important
On 3 February 2006 three judges of the High Court (Gummow, Kirby
& Hayne JJ) granted special leave to appeal to the High Court
against the majority decision of the Full Federal Court in McKinnon
v Secretary, Department of Treasury (2005) 220 ALR 587.
The FOI appeal has been financed by News Limited in conjunction with
a number of other media organisations. The case concerns the powers
of the Administrative Appeal Tribunal to review decisions when a minister
has issued a conclusive certificate, claiming the release of documents
would be contrary to the public interest. The transcript of the hearing
can be found here.
Blair defeated over religious hatred
The British Government was defeated in its attempt to introduce
laws on religious hatred. The laws were designed to tighten a loophole
that protects against discrimination and abuse against racial minorities,
and covers Sikhs and Jews, but not Muslims. However, there were concerns
that the laws would make legitimate criticism of faith, including
much satire, illegal. A high profile campaign, which included high
profile comedians such as Rowan Atkinson was waged against it. Ultimately
though, despite a significant backbench revolt, the bill was defeated
due to a miscalculation by the Labour Party Whips Office, who had
thought it unnecessary to bring back a by-election campaign team for
the vote. Ironically, the Government was defeated on one of the votes
by just one, after the Prime Minister missed it.
The first defeat, by 288 votes to 278, was aimed at ensuring the
new laws would not affect the current racial hatred laws. The second
vote, which the government lost by 283 votes to 282, said the law
should only criminalise "threatening" behaviour, not things
which were just "abusive and insulting". It also means people
can only be prosecuted if they intend to stir up hatred - not if they
are merely "reckless".
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