News archive 2008
Donations inquiry: Members of the Democratic Audit gave evidence to the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters’ inquiry into the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008 in Canberra on 22 September 2008. The committee endorsed the Bill with minor amendments.
Green paper delays: Geoffrey Barker reports on the progress of the federal government’s two electoral reform green papers on Australian Policy Online.
- Read the article here
Lessons from the United States: Audit member Brian Costar compared the US and Australian political donation regimes and found that theirs is much more transparent than ours in an article for the new website, Inside Story, published by the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University of Technology.
- Read the article here
Lessons from Australia: Journalist Jill Lepore provided a lively history of the evolution of ballot voting in the United States – with appropriate references to the ‘Australian Ballot’ – in the New Yorker on 13 October 2008.
- Read the article here
Gender and democracy: A new website to be launched in November will provide resources for those interested in feminist thought at its intersection with democracy, and a place for debate about these issues. According to the founders of the site, Jasmine Westendorf and Ruby Murray, “By examining the way in which gender interacts with democratic processes and debates, The Democracy Project seeks to collapse areas that are currently considered ‘women’s issues’ into broader societal discourse and research, and show that a healthy, functioning democracy requires that we re-negotiate the way in which the boundaries between gender and society are drawn.”
- Visit The Democracy Project here
Reforming question time: In An Opportunity for Revitalization, Senator Alan Ferguson recommends replacing the current system, of one question without notice and one supplementary question from the questioner, with a system of one primary question on notice and multiple supplementary questions not confined to the questioner, and a stricter requirement for relevance of answers.
- Read the discussion paper here
Queensland government welcomes FOI report: The Queensland government has expressed full support for 116 of the recommendations in The Right to Information, David Solomon’s review of Queensland’s Freedom of Information laws. The government either partially or in principle supports another 23 recommendations, with only two recommendations not accepted.
- The Queensland government’s response to the Solomon report, and the report itself, are available here
Local government in New South Wales: This Briefing Paper by Jason Arditi of the Research Service, Parliament of New South Wales, looks at the operation of local government in NSW, examining the history and constitutional foundation of local government, together with the salient features of the Local Government Act 1993 and the service and regulatory functions set out by the Act.
- Read the paper here
Indigenous governance: In Contested Governance: Culture, Power and Institutions in Indigenous Australia, a collection of papers from the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, contributors examine the dilemmas and challenges involved in the Indigenous struggle for the development and recognition of systems of governance that they recognise as both legitimate and effective.
- Read this eBook here
Auditing handbook: The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) has released Assessing the Quality of Democracy: An Overview of the International IDEA Framework, which presents the organisation’s State of Democracy (SoD) Assessment Framework. Developed for public use around the world, the SoD Framework has to date been applied in some 20 countries worldwide since its first launch in 2000.
- The report is available here
New Zealand electoral review: In September the NZ government announced the terms of reference and membership of an expert panel to review electoral administration and political party funding. A question mark hangs over the future of the committee, however, with the National Party indicating that it would abandon the plan if it wins government.
- Details of the panel’s work and composition are available here
Green paper: The first of the federal government’s electoral law green papers, due in July, has been delayed. Reports suggest that the paper has encountered opposition among government MPs over proposals to tighten controls over disclosure, funding and expenditure.
- The background to the green paper is here
Citizenship test: Also running late is the report of the federal government’s inquiry into the citizenship test, chaired by Richard Woolcott, which was presented to the government some time ago but has not been yet made public. The report is expected to recommend abandoning the current test in favour of a test that concentrates on questions relating to Australia’s system of government and legal arrangements.
Commissioner returns to Veterans Affairs: Having served just over three years of his five year term the Australian Electoral Commissioner, Ian Campbell, has been appointed head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is the first time a serving Commissioner has been appointed to another public service position.
- Read John Faulkner’s media release here
2007 election inquiry: Hearings of the inquiry into the 2007 federal election by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters are almost complete.
- Submissions to the inquiry and Hansard transcripts of the hearings are available here
Queensland electoral inquiry: The Queensland Parliament’s Legal, Constitutional and Administrative Review Committee is conducting an Inquiry into Certain Contemporary Electoral Matters. Submissions are due by 31 October 2008.
- Read the issues paper here
New boundaries in Queensland: Also in Queensland, the state’s electoral redistribution has been completed.
- Read the report and view the maps here
Indigenous rights: In Indigenous Rights and the Constitution: Making the Case for Constitutional Reform, Megan Davis from the Indigenous Law Centre argues that we need to emphasise the connection between dealing with disadvantage, an urgent and immediate priority, and the ‘big picture’ in terms of addressing unfinished business between Indigenous peoples and the state.
- The full text is available here (PDF)
Executive scrutiny improved: Drawing on figures compiled by the Department of the Senate, the Australian Financial Review reported on 26 August that the Rudd government has a better record of responding to written parliamentary questions than its predecessor. Comparing two periods, February–May 2007 and February–May 2008, the figures show that the current government answered 97 per cent of written questions lodged during additional Estimates sessions compared to 58 per cent answered by its predecessor, and 78 per cent of questions on notice compared to 55 per cent.
Senate and accountability: The 48th edition of Papers on Parliament, published in January but only just having appeared on the Audit radar, is on the theme of ‘The Senate and Accountability’. The topics and authors in this volume are: The Selection of Judges for Commonwealth Courts (Sir Gerard Brennan); The States, the Commonwealth and the Crown – the Battle for Sovereignty (Anne Twomey); What Did the ‘Yes’ Vote Achieve? Forty Years After the 1967 Referendum, (Larissa Behrendt); Mandates, Consensus, Compromise, and the Senate (Stanley Bach); The Senate, Accountability and Government Control (Harry Evans); Parliamentary Privilege and Search Warrants: Will the US Supreme Court Legislate for Australia? (Harry Evans).
- The full volume is available here (PDF)
Review of the NSW Freedom of Information Act 1989: Bruce Barbour, the NSW Ombudsman, has released a discussion paper as part of a broader investigation by the office into the processes and procedures surrounding freedom of information in New South Wales. This investigation will also involve reviewing documents and auditing randomly selected files from 18 different government agencies, as well as interviewing agency staff who deal with FOI applications.
- Read the paper here
Approval for lobbyist code: In Knock, knock… Who’s There? The Lobbying Code of Conduct, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration reports that it received evidence from a variety of organisations and individuals generally welcoming the Lobbying Code of Conduct. Some concerns were expressed, however, and the committee proposes to review the operation of the Code towards the end of 2009.
- Read the full report here
Whistleblowing under the microscope: Edited by A. J. Brown, Whistleblowing in the Australian Public Sector, published by ANU E Press, draws on one of the world’s most comprehensive research projects on the phenomenon. Evidence from over 8,000 public servants in over 100 federal, state and local government agencies shows that whistleblowers can and do survive, and that often their role is highly valued.
- The full text is available here
Not so fearless? Also new from ANU E Press is Whatever Happened to Frank and Fearless? The Impact of New Public Management on the Australian Public Service, by Kathy MacDermott. Changes in the culture of the Australian Public Service have led many contemporary commentators to lament the purported loss of traditional public service values. MacDermott argues that structural and cultural change compromising the integrity of the public service reached its apogee towards the end of the eleven years of the Howard government.
- The full text is available here
The role of NGOs: Agreeing to disagree: Maintaining dissent in the NGO sector, a new report by The Australia Institute’s Gemma Edgar, considers whether a formal agreement between government and NGOs, foreshadowed by the Rudd Government, is the right way for the government and the community sector to go about building an on-going positive and constructive relationship.
- The full report is available here (PDF)
Privacy report released: The Australian Law Reform Commission has released a major report, For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice. Among other things, the report calls for: simplification and streamlining of the Privacy Act and related laws and regulations; uniform privacy principles and national consistency; regulation of cross-border data flows; rationalisation of exemptions and exceptions; improved complaint handling and stronger penalties; and more comprehensive credit reporting.
- The report is available here
Bicameralism compared: A free conference, Bicameralism: Australia in Comparative Context, will be held at Parliament House on 9-10 October 2008. The conference will locate the Australian Senate, and selected aspects of Australian state parliamentary arrangements, in an international context of bicameral parliamentary systems. The conference is sponsored by the Parliamentary Studies Centre and the Crawford School of Economics and Government at ANU in conjunction with the Departments of the Senate and House of Representatives.
- Full details are available here
Auditing campaigns: The Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner, and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, have issued new guidelines for federal government advertising under which all ad campaigns costing over $250,000 will be scrutinised by the Auditor-General.
- Read the 2 July media release
JSCEM 2007 election inquiry: The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) has advertised a series of public hearings relating to its inquiry into the conduct of the 2007federal election.
- Further information is available here
Whistleblower inquiry: The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is inquiring into whistleblowing protections within the Australian Government public sector to develop a preferred model. Interested organisations and individuals are invited to make submissions by Friday 8 August 2008.
- More information is available here
A new Indigenous representative body: Tom Calma, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, has released Building a Sustainable National Indigenous Representative Body: Issues for Consideration, an issues paper examining the issues that need to be considered in the formulation of a new representative body. The report does not propose a model for the body itself.
- Read the report here
Constitutional consequences: Reforming our Constitution, a new report from the House of Representatives Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, examines the consequences of the lack of reform to the Constitution in recent decades. It recommends that all intergovernmental agreements are referred to a parliamentary committee for scrutiny, and advocates greater public debate on constitutional reform – particularly on issues such as whether the Constitution should be revised to “acknowledge where we as Australians have come from”; set out rights and protections as well as practical national governance structures; and articulate aspirations for a nation.
- Read the full report here
The business of the House: The House of Representatives Procedure Committee is inquiring into the conduct of the business of the House of Representatives. The inquiry will focus on options for sitting hour reform, speaking times for legislation and other debates, the length of time allocated to items of business, and options for managing the competing demands on members’ time posed by chamber duties, party meetings and parliamentary committee meetings.
- Further information available here
Parliamentary remuneration: Parliamentary Allowances, Benefits and Salaries of Office is a new report by the Parliamentary Library’s Leanne Manthorpe. It looks briefly at benefits and focuses on allowances and salaries, explaining the legislative basis and fixing and linking mechanisms.
- The report is available here
Also released by the Parliamentary Library is The Annual Allowance for Senators and Members, also written by Leanne Manthorpe, which explains the legislative basis, fixing and linking mechanisms for the allowance.
- This report available here
Federalism: Australia is the subject of the cover featurein the latest edition of Federations magazine, published by the Forum of Federations: The Global Network on Federalism. The article was written by Anne Twomey, associate professor of law at the University of Sydney.
- Download the full June–July 2008 edition of Federations here
Citizenship: the Audit view…: The Democratic Audit of Australia has made a submission to the Woolcott committee reviewing the Citizenship Test. The Audit submission argues that if a test is to be retained it should be an oral one, dealing solely with the rights and responsibilities of being an Australian citizen.
- Read the Audit submissio
… and the Woolcott view: On ABC Radio’s Sunday Profile program on 15 June the chair of the committee reviewing the Citizenship Test, Richard Woolcott, was asked “Do you personally think that there should be a citizenship test?” to which he replied, “No I don’t…”
- Read a transcript of the interview, including Mr Woolcott’s criticism of the Becoming an Australian Citizen booklet here
Deductibility inquiry reports: The federal parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has released its report on Schedule 1 of the Tax Laws Amendment (2008 Measures No1) Bill 2008. The committee, which heard evidence from the Audit’s Graeme Orr, recommends removing the tax deductibility of political donations.
- Read the report
Queensland FOI committee reports: Queensland’s FOI Independent Review Panel has released its final report, The Right to Information: Reviewing Queensland’s Freedom of Information Act. The panel, chaired by barrister, author and former journalist, David Solomon, has made 141 recommendations to Premier Anna Bligh. These amount to “not merely an upgrade of the legislation, but a new model … a radically different but more effective legislative architecture for FOI”.
Government information should be released “routinely and proactively” without the need for individual requests. A Right to Information Act should replace the existing legislation. Cabinet material should be accessible unless it compromises collective ministerial responsibility, and released completely after ten years instead of thirty. The Queensland review could be a model for changes in other states and the Commonwealth.
- Read the report
NSW funding committee reports: New South Wales Legislative Council has released its report on Electoral and Political Party Funding in NSW. Among other things, the committee recommends a $1,000 cap on private donations and a ban on corporate donations. “Political donations and election spending would be disclosed in a timely, transparent and accessible manner,” says the report. “There would be greater policing of the electoral funding scheme, and tougher penalties for non-compliance.”
- Read the report
NSW legislation introduced: Meanwhile, the Electoral Funding Amendment (Political Donations and Expenditure) Bill 2008 and the Local Government and Planning Legislation Amendment (Political Donations) Bill 2008 were introduced into the NSW Parliament on 19 June 2008.
- Read the minister’s second reading speech here
Canada sets a “radical” example: In an article for the Canberra Times, the Audit’s Marian Sawer reports on Canada’s electoral funding reforms and suggests that they have lessons for Australia. The first wave of reform, in 2004, was prompted by the “sponsorship” scandals under the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien. The Conservative government of Stephen Harper went even further in 2006 to remove the influence of corporate money from the electoral process. Still more legislation is currently before the Canadian parliament, designed to close loopholes regarding “loans” to parties and candidates.
- Read the article here
Participation inquiry: Victoria’s Electoral Matters Committee has commenced an Inquiry Into Voter Participation and Informal Voting. Submissions close on 27 June 2008, and public hearings will be conducted at Parliament House Melbourne on 23 and 24 July 2008.
- More details here
Regulating lobbying: In this paper Gareth Griffith from the NSW Parliamentary Library discusses the regulation of political lobbyists as at 2 June 2008. Taking a comparative approach, he looks at current and proposed schemes in Australia and in selected overseas jurisdictions and asks: what is the best and most effective regulatory scheme to safeguard and nurture confidence in the democratic system?
- Read the paper here
Electoral changes go to the Senate: The federal government has today introduced changes to the Electoral Act, covering political donations and election funding, into the Senate.
- Senator Faulkner’s media release is here.
Lobbyist register goes live: As well, the federal government’s lobbyist register website is now up and running, and can be viewed here. The lobbyist register will be fully operational from 1 July. Crikey’s Bernard Keane reports today that Senator Andrew Murray “has referred the register to the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration to consider ways that it could be improved, including the key issue of whether in-house lobbyists should be included, and whether it should be extended to all members of Parliament. However, as a ministerial code rather than a regulation or legislation, the Register requirements are in force, and lobbyists have until 30 June to register themselves.”
Reviewing the 2007 federal election: The Parliamentary Library has released its research paper on the 2007 federal election, written by Scott Bennett and Stephen Barber, which includes a narrative discussion of the election campaign and its outcome and a comprehensive set of statistics.
- The report is available here.
Young democratists: The Institute for Social Research at Swinburne is holding the third of its Emerging Scholars’ Workshops on the theme of Democracy.
- Find out more here.
Donations, disclosure: The Electoral Matters Committee of the Parliament of Victoria is conducting an Inquiry into Political Donations and Disclosure. Submissions close on Friday 27 June 2008.
… disputation: The case of the disputed election in the Division of McEwen is set down for hearing in the Federal Court of Australia, Melbourne, in courtroom 8D on 21 and 22 May at 10.15 am
… and more donations: The Australian Electoral Commission has released details of electoral donations from the 2007 federal election. They can be found here.
Undeclared donations…: The NSW Election Funding Authority has asked the Crown Solicitor to prosecute 800 donors who failed to declare $8 million in donations to parties and candidates at the 2006 state election, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on 3 & 4 May 2008.
- More details here.
… and deductible donations: The Democratic Audit of Australia supported limited tax deductibility on small political donations in its submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters Inquiry on Tax Deductibility of Political Donations.
- Read the submission here and the transcript of the public hearing held in Canberra on 29 April 2008 here.
No four-year terms for Queensland: “Talks have again broken down between the Bligh Government and the Queensland Opposition over a referendum on fixed four-year terms,” reported The Australian on 1 May.
- The full item is here
Electoral green papers: A few days earlier, on 28 March 2008, Senator Faulkner, who is also Special Minister of State, had announced that the government would prepare two Green Papers on electoral reform and will seek the cooperation of the State and Territory Premiers and Chief Ministers in the drafting process. The first paper, to be released in July 2008, will look at disclosure, funding and expenditure issues; the second, to be released in October, will examine a broader range of options aimed at strengthening a range of other elements of electoral law.
- Read the transcript of Senator Faulkner’s media conference here
Funding and disclosure reforms: At the same media conference, Senator Faulkner announced five immediate measures: reducing the campaign donation disclosure threshold level to $1,000, banning donations from overseas or from non-Australian companies, tying election funding to reported and verified electoral expenditure, removing the loophole whereby separate divisions of a political party are treated as separate entities, and increasing public scrutiny of donations by setting six-monthly disclosure timeframes. In an article for the Canberra Times on 7 April, the Audit’s Norm Kelly broadly supported the proposals but took issue with the requirement that candidates must verify campaign expenditure in order to trigger public funding.
- Read Norm Kelly’s article here
Federal electoral inquiries underway: The Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters is currently conducting two inquiries: an inquiry into Schedule 1 of the Tax Laws Amendment (2008 Measures No.1) Bill 2008 – the schedule applying to political contributions and gifts – with a closing date for submissions of 18 April 2008, and an inquiry into the 2007 federal election, with a closing date for submissions of 16 May 2008. The Democratic Audit is making submissions to the both of these inquiries; these will be available soon.
- More details of the inquiries are available at the JSCEM’s website
NSW inquiry: The Legislative Council Select Committee on Electoral and Political Party Funding Inquiry has held public hearings and a public forum. Submission 107A outlines the Labor Party’s recently announced proposal to ban all private donations to political parties.
- Submission can be found here
Audit members at the 2020 Summit: Three people associated with the Audit – Marian Sawer, who headed the Audit from 2002-2007 and is now Director, Democratic Audit ANU, and Audit contributors Sarah Maddison, Sally Young and George Williams – will attend the federal government’s Australia 2020 Summit late this month. Marian Sawer will chair a session on parliamentary democracy.
- Summit background papers, prepared by the Summit steering committee in consultation with ministerial co-chairs and their departments, are available here
- A short Audit paper on political financing prepared for the Summit, is available here
Major parties looking after themselves: In the Sydney Morning Herald on 5 April 2008 Alan Ramsey reported on changed arrangements for federal budget night which will enable the major parties to use Parliament House facilities for fund raising.
- Read the article here
North American electoral reforms: On 11 April 2008 on ABC Radio National’s The National Interest, Peter Mares interviewed Amy Loprest, Executive Director of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, on its regime of in-time disclosure of political donations and to Professor Fred Fletcher of York University on Canada’s new political donation and expenditure laws.
- Listen here
UK looks to Australia (among others): In January Britain’s Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt Hon Jack Straw, issued the report, Review of Voting Systems, which considers the various voting systems used in the UK and a selection of those of other countries, including Australia’s system of preferential voting. The Guardian reported that Michael Wills, the constitutional affairs minister, praised the alternative vote system – what Australian call preferential voting – at a meeting on electoral reform last month. “The alternative vote has many attractions,” he said, “including the fact that you have to get 50% plus one in that constituency, therefore you have a greater legitimacy.”
- Read the report here
Election timetable updated: The Parliamentary Library’s occasional publication Australian Elections Timetable has been updated. The paper lists the dates of the next Commonwealth, state and territory elections, where they are fixed, or gives the earliest and latest possible dates on which they may occur.
- Read Australian Elections Timetable here
Democratic Audit submission to NSW inquiry: The Audit has made a submission to the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into Electoral and Political Party Funding, highlighting three issues: the relationship between funding regimes; the timeliness of donation disclosures; and the structure of the Election Funding Authority.
- Read the full submission here
Colin Hughes on political funding: The former Electoral Commissioner, Professor Colin A. Hughes, has told the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into Electoral and Political Party Funding that “[t]he essential components for an election finance system without which the system must be suspect are, first, machinery to enforce, monitor and recommend, and second, continuous, comprehensive and total disclosure of both income and outgo. All else is bells and whistles.”
- Read the full Hughes submission here
- Visit the inquiry’s webpage here
JSCEM members announced: The membership of the federal parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) has been finalised: the chair is Labor’s Daryl Melham MP and the deputy chair is Liberal MP Scott Morrison.
- A full membership list is here
McEwen goes to the Federal Court: The contested result in the federal division of McEwen is set down for a directions hearing in the Federal Court of Australia (Melbourne) on 28 March 2008, before Justice Tracey.
Foreign political donations: In this briefing note Senator Andrew Murray argues that Australia – like countries including the United States, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom – should ban foreign donations to domestic political parties to stop foreign influence in domestic political affairs.
- Read this paper here
Dear Minister, ignore public service experience at your peril: Writing in the Public Sector Informant supplement to the Canberra Times, Patrick Weller argues that the public service prospers when it is well led by ministers who know what they want and how to use the skills of the public servants who work with them.
Politics/Media Conference proceedings: Convened by the Media and Communications Program, University of Melbourne, on 12–13 February 2008, this conference brought together researchers and practitioners in Australian politics, media and political communication. Conference papers covered political reporting from both a research and practitioner point of view, with a number focusing on the 2007 federal election campaign and others taking a broader view of political communications in both theory and practice. The full text of most papers in available at The Soapbox, an elections database established by the Media and Communications Program.
- Find the papers here
Will the latest aNiMaLS be CUTSies or go CaCTUS?: In 1996 the infamous National Media Liaison Service (known as “aNiMaLS”) became the equally infamous Government Members’ Secretariat. Will the Rudd government’s Caucus Committee Support and Training Unit perform the same role, asks Mark Davis in the Sydney Morning Herald on 25 February 2008. Not so, says Senator Robert Ray: there will be “no media monitoring; no research on the Opposition; no direct campaigning in elections and the like…”
- Read Mark Davis’s article here
Branch stacks and smokestacks: Linton Besser, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on 8 March 2008, reveals branch stacking to influence candidate pre-selection has played a roll in the troubles besetting the Wollongong City Council.
- Read the full article here
The Everyday Democracy Index: Demos in the UK has developed this index as “a tool for assessing the democratic health of European countries across many different dimensions”. According to a paper launched on 31 January, everryday democracy “includes not just formal dimensions of democracy but also more everyday features of democracy – how important democratic principles and practices are to the cultures of workplaces, to people’s community life, to the way they interact with public services, and even to the way they talk to their friends and family.”
- Read the full report here
NSW elections database: Antony Green has produced an excellent database of NSW Legislative Assembly election results dating back to 1856 (the first general election under responsible government). Produced for the NSW parliament, the information includes seat by seat results for every election and by-election, an alphabetical listing of every candidate that has ever stood in NSW (listing all contests each candidate has stood in). Very easy to navigate around, this is not only a valuable research tool for election nerds, but a useful reference point for anyone with an interest in the history of NSW politics.
- Access the database here.
NSW 2007 election inquiry: The NSW parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is currently conducting an inquiry into the conduct of the 2007 general election. The deadline for submissions is 29 February.
- For information on making a submission, visit the Committee’s web site here.
Political finance – Call for restrictions on donations: In a recent opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, David Humphries argues that Australia should follow the Canadian example by putting limits on the size of political donations, and prohibiting foreign donations. It should be pointed out that there is a small error in the piece – Canada now prohibits all donations from corporations and trade unions. Only donations of less than $1 000 from individuals are now allowed.
- Read David Humphries’ article here.
Pace-setting FOI Discussion Paper from Queensland: One of the first actions of the new Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, was to commission Dr David Solomon to head a review of Queensland’s Freedom of Information Act. Its Discussion Paper has now been released (30 January 2008) and suggests fundamental changes. These are relevant beyond Queensland and, for example, would help repair the notoriously weak Commonwealth FOI Act. The Queensland discussion paper refers approvingly to the principle underlying the New Zealand approach to FOI, where the default position is to release even Cabinet documents unless it can be shown this would damage the public interest. It suggests all FOI exemptions in the Queensland Act be subject to an over-riding public interest test. At the federal level the Rudd Government is so far only committed to removal of conclusive certificates and the setting up of a FOI Commissioner, not to reducing currently exempt areas or introducing an over-riding public interest test.
- For the Discussion Paper (Enhancing Open and Accountable Government) click here. Submissions to the review close on Friday 7 March.
- For Jack Waterford’s analysis in The Public Sector Informant (February 2008) [scanned 300kb PDF] click here.
Civil unions – Self-government for the ACT? The ACT Attorney-General, Simon Corbell, has called for the removal of the provision in the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 that gives the Governor General (i.e., the Commonwealth government) the power to disallow laws passed by the Territory Assembly. This is what happened to the Civil Unions Act 2006. The Howard Government objected to the Civil Unions Act on the grounds that it equated civil unions with marriage and would have authorised marriage celebrants to conduct civil union ceremonies. Following the Governor-General’s disallowance of the 2006 ACT legislation, Labor, Green and Democrat Senators (Ludwig, Nettle and Stott Despoja) moved a motion in the Senate to disallow the Governor-General’s action and were joined by ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries. The motion was defeated, however, when the Family First Senator sided with the Government.After the change of federal government a new Civil Partnership Bill was presented to the ACT Legislative Assembly in December 2007. The Bill creates ‘civil partnership notaries’ to witness the declarations of those entering into formal domestic partnerships and provides the opportunity for this to be a public ceremony. This change of language, from the celebrants referred to in the 2006 Act, was intended to underline that a civil partnership was different from marriage. The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said that his government would not over-ride the legislation as it was a matter for States and Territories.
In 2008, however, the Commonwealth Attorney-General, Robert McLelland, has repeatedly claimed the public ceremony aspects of the ACT Bill are ‘unacceptable’. His preference is for relationships registers that do not involve a ceremony before an official. Hence the ACT Attorney-General’s statement that existing provisions allowing the Commonwealth to over-ride Territory legislation are undemocratic and should be abolished. Unfortunately the ACT seems to have little pull in the federal parliament, having no representation in the Cabinet or Ministry and ACT votes being worth less than votes in any other jurisdiction in House of Representatives elections.
- For a comprehensive assessment on the proposal for civil unions in the ACT, including the various political forces at play, read this article from Carol Johnson (University of Adelaide) at On Line Opinion.
2007 federal election – public funding payments: The AEC has released details of public funding payments for the 2007 election, made to all parties and candidates who received at least 4 per cent of the vote. Funding is currently paid at $2.10 per vote. Of the total $46.5m payments, Labor received $20.9m, the Coalition parties $20.5m, and the Greens $4.1m.
NSW political funding – submissions called: The NSW Select Committee on Electoral and Political Party Funding is calling for submissions to its inquiry. Issues include public funding, donation limits and disclosure, and the Election Funding Authority. Submissions close Friday, 15th February 2008.
- Information on making a submission
- Discussion Paper
- Articles by Lee Rhiannon and Norman Thompson on political donations – On Line Opinion – CPD
Senate practices – Calls for change: In the lead-up to the federal election, Civil Liberties Australia called for reforms to Senate practices, on matters such as timeframes for committee inquiry processes, the balance of committee membership, the use of the gag for debates, and question time.
The Australian Democrats have also put forward an agenda of procedural and institutional reforms of Senate practice. Procedural reforms include – committees being able to initiate legislation; a minimum 21 days for committees to consider Bills; and for there to be at least 28 questions during question time. Institutional reforms proposed include – judicial appointments to be based on publicly-disclosed consultation and merit selection processes; international treaties only to be ratified after parliamentary scrutiny; and development grants schemes (such as the Regional Partnerships Program) to be administered by impartial authorities.