Can Responsible Government Survive In Australia?

Can responsible Government survive in Australia? deals with the powers and procedures of twenty legislatures in Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

David Hamer writes from a practitioner’s perspective, having served as a member of both the Australian Senate and House of Representatives.

Topics covered include: the role and powers of upper and lower houses and heads of state; accountability and responsible government; parliamentary committees; the legislative process and the scrutiny of delegated legislation; conflicts between the houses; voting and electoral systems.

Views expressed in this work are those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Department of the Senate.

First published 1994 by the Centre for Research in Public Sector Management, University of Canberra

This edition, revised by the author in 2001, published 2004

© Barbara Hamer

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Table of Contents

Foreword to the second edition
Foreword to the first edition

Part 1 - The beginnings of the Westminster system

1 - The origins of responsible government

  • United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

2 - The development of the Westminster system

  • United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • The Canadian provinces
  • Australia
  • The Australian states
  • New Zealand

Part 2 - The performance of the Westminster system parliaments in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, 1970-2000

3 - Choosing a government—lower houses as electoral colleges

  • The US model
  • A fair and decisive result?
  • Distribution of electorates
  • Voting systems
  • Minority governments
  • Public financial support to political parties for election campaigns
  • Recall members of parliament
  • The power of parliament to 'dismiss a ruler'
  • Changes of prime minister
  • How long a term
  • Fixed terms for lower houses
  • Upper houses forcing elections
  • The role of the head of state
  • Conclusions

4 - The executive government

  • Executive councils
  • Power of the prime minister
  • Size of the ministry
  • Selection of the ministry
  • Ministerial membership of parliament
  • Cabinet committees
  • Ministerial administration
  • The executive government by-passing the parliament
  • Obligations of ministers
  • Dismissals of ministers
  • Resignations of ministers
  • Extra-parliamentary political bodies
  • Appointment of judges
  • Conclusions

5 - Curiously ill-defined—the role of the Head of State

  • Approval of legislation
  • Dissolution of parliament
  • Appointment of a Prime Minister
  • Dismissal of a Prime Minister
  • Summoning of parliament
  • Codification of the Head of State's power
  • Appointment and dismissal of the Head of State
  • Conclusions

6 - Passing laws—lower houses as legislatures

  • The ideal legislature
  • Legislative procedures
  • Handling of public bills originated by the government
  • Minority governments
  • The effectiveness of parliamentary deliberations on bills
  • Public bills moved by private members
  • Private bills
  • Other type of bills
  • Government failure to proclaim bills passed by the parliament
  • Legislation by press release
  • Adequate sitting days for consideration of bills
  • Limiting debate on legislation
  • Improving the standard of second reading debates
  • By-passing the legislature
  • Policy statements made outside the parliament
  • Conclusions

7 - The other roles of lower houses

  • Committees of inquiry
  • 'Departmental' or 'subject' committees
  • Question time
  • The speaker
  • Questions requiring written answers
  • Debates initiated by the government
  • Debates initiated by the opposition
  • Censure motions
  • Private member's bills and motions
  • Petitions
  • Research assistance for members
  • Broadcasting parliamentary proceedings
  • Conclusions

8 - Upper houses

  • Composition of upper house membership
  • Representation of community opinion
  • The possibility of abolition
  • Ministers in upper houses
  • Upper houses as legislatures
  • Deadlocks between the two houses over legislation
  • Monitoring of government administration
  • Question times
  • Questions asking for written answers
  • Orders for ministers to produce government documents
  • Debates
  • An upper house forcing an election
  • Conclusions

9 - Parliamentary control of delegated legislation

  • The ideal legislature
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • The Canadian Provinces
  • Australia
  • The Australian states
  • New Zealand
  • Conclusions

10 - What parliaments cannot do

  • Freedom of information legislation
  • Royal commissions and commissions of inquiry
  • Ombudsmen
  • The audit function
  • A bill of rights

Part 3: The future of the Westminster system

11 - What is wrong with an elective dictatorship?

  • Responsibility to the electorate
  • Answerability to parliament
  • Appointments
  • Foreign policy and defence
  • Control over the legislative process

12 - Where do we go from here?

  • The House of Representatives
  • The Senate
  • The executive government
  • The Governor-General
  • The result of the changes
  • How could the reforms be achieved?

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