Skip to content
Home » Responsible and Representative Government Assignment

Responsible and Representative Government Assignment

  • by
  1. The principle of Responsible and Representative Government and its mandate in Australia.

            The Australian government structure is consisted of three arms, the executive, the legislative and the judicial arm. The executive arm is consisted of the Prime Minister and a Cabinet of Ministers who are appointed by the Prime minister[1]. The Ministers are responsible for driving the government agenda through formulating policies, strategies and action-plans which have to get approval from the legislature for them to be implemented. The Prime minister comes from the political party with the largest number of representatives in parliament and is by default the leader of that party.[2]

            The Legislature is comprised of members of the lower house (House of Representatives) and the higher house (senate). These members are usually elected by the people from all areas of representation (constituencies). Their primary mandate is to legislate and pass laws that govern the people they represent and to check on the executive so that it doesn’t partake on irresponsible actions. The Judiciaries mandate is to prosecute, arbitrate and on matters of law and law breaking.[3]

            The phrase “responsible and representative government” is derived from the very structure of the government. The executive is accountable to the legislature. Any policies, appointments and agenda that the executive wants to formulate have to be scrutinized and approved by the legislature who in practice represents the interests of the people who elected them. The executive been responsible to the legislature represents of the people sums up the phrase.[4] It means that ultimately, the executive’s decisions are the decisions of the people because they have been approved by the people’s representatives. The legislature can cast a vote of no confidence on a particular minister which will prompts the Prime minister to appoint a replacement who has to be vetted by parliament before taking oath of office. It can also pass a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister which would trigger him to dissolve the parliament and call for fresh general election.

            By continually checking and scrutinizing the executive, the legislature ensures that the principle of responsible and representative government whose aim is to ensure that the people’s voice and opinion is heard and considered at the highest level is upheld at all times.[5]

2.         How the National Cabinet was established and how it operates

On March 29th 2020, the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morison announced the formation of the National Cabinet which consists of Premiers and Chief Ministers of all States and Territories.         This was prompted by the commonwealth government’s desire to have a coordinated, structured and all-encompassing approach towards fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. The cabinet which meets monthly has replaced the Council of Governors which used to hold biennial meetings.  It is the same level with the federal commonwealth cabinet in terms of powers and strength of mandate in law.[6]

            Its primary mandate is to endorsing covid-19 policies brought forward by the relevant government health bodies and coordinating actions all states and territories in Australia towards fighting the Corona-Virus pandemic. Meetings are held via secure video conferencing and the resolutions reached in the meetings form the basis of policies that the country is implementing in the fight against the global pandemic.[7] By agreement, members of the National Cabinet must support decisions made in the cabinet meetings even when they don’t agree with them and can only disassociate themselves from those decisions if they resign.

            Most of the decisions made at the cabinet meetings are arrived as a result of negotiations between the minsters from different states. The premiers and chief ministers act as the representatives of the people of their respective states and territories. This form of arrangement is geared more towards negotiations and reaching compromise rather than democratic representation.[8]

3.         Critical evaluation of how accountability and transparency in decision making of the Executive have been maintained during the Covid-19 period.

            As a liberal democracy, Australia’s government is anchored on the principle of democracy, representation and responsibility. As explained earlier, the executive is responsible for running the affairs of all government departments through the ministries. To ensure responsibility, the legislature checks and admonishes the executive for any actions it deems are irresponsible. It is responsible for scrutinizing and approving all actions that the executive undertakes. That way, the actions taken at the top are deemed to be what the people in the grassroots want.[9]

            The forming of the National cabinet was informed by the need to have an all-encompassing coordinated approach towards tackling Covid-19, a pandemic which has completely disrupted the way of life of every citizen.[10] The Prime minister’s intention is to ensure policies which would ordinarily go through parliamentary scrutiny and vetting (and therefore take time to pass) are agreed through a method that involves negotiation and compromise as opposed to legislation. That way, policies can be enforced quickly saving time which is a very important factor in tackling Covid-19 before it spreads further or its effects continue hurting the country’s economy and its people’s lifestyles. 

            However, since the national cabinet’s decisions do-not go through parliament, the question of the cabinet decision’s democratic credibility comes to mind. One can argue that members of the cabinet are comprised of top officials from each state and territory who are elected by the people of their respective areas of jurisdiction and therefore they (decisions) still reflect the will of the people. But this line of thinking is overruled by the fact that the normal processes taken for commonwealth cabinet decisions to be approved like scrutinizing them to ensure they follow the law and voting them to get approval are not been followed. This leaves some of these decisions open to be challenged in a court of law.[11]

            Even though the prime minister has clearly indicated that once suspension of parliament comes to an end, all decisions made in the National Cabinet will still be taken to parliament for scrutiny and the normal democratic process, if any of them is found to have gone against the law, any actions made at that time will be a matter of too little too late as denying approval or deeming them as against the law will have been overtaken by events.[12]

4.         Critical analysis of whether accountability and transparency reforms are needed in the National Cabinet.

            The letter and spirit of the national cabinet is a good concept since it ensures the coming together of top leaders from all corners of the country to deliberate and make urgent decisions critical to handling a pandemic which has greatly affected all economies around the world. A National Cabinet formed for this express purpose has helped Australia’s fight to keep the Covid-19 infection numbers and deaths low as compared to countries with similar economic and demographic features. The Prime Minister has already indicated that the National Cabinet will permanently replace the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) which used to meet biannually.   

            To avoid vagueness in the legality of the decisions made, some form of accountability and transparency should be included in the decision making and implementation process in order to ensure that the decisions have legal backing and that their implementation is above board and accountable. Some of the measures includes: –

  • Cabinet members should ensure that any decision they propose to the cabinet should have been scrutinized by the state legal officers to ensure they follow the law.
  • After decisions are agreed in cabinet meetings, a legal subcommittee should be in place to take the decisions through further legal scrutiny before implementation commences.
  •  Once the pandemic subsides and parliament resumes its sittings, decisions made in the National Cabinet can be taken through the normal parliament process before they are passed for implementation. To cut the red tape and lobbying that forms parliamentary process, parliament can arrange to be convening emergency sessions to deliberate and vote on any urgent measure. Alternatively, it can decide to take a vote of only members of the sub-committee that is handling that decision. This way, voting can be quick and devoid of lobbying and other parliamentary bottleneck.


            The National Cabinet is a great idea which was formed to handle the Covid-19 crisis in an effective and fast way. Its deviation from the normal parliamentary process has seen decisions made in the cabinet and implemented been very effective in making Australia one of the success stories with regard to handling the Covid-19 pandemic. The success has made the Prime Minister to opt to making the National Cabinet a permanent body which has replaced the COAG.

            In order to fully become effective, the cabinet needs to put in structures that ensure that decisions made are accountable and transparent. This will make the national cabinet a robust and effective body of handling crucial matters of national importance.  As it has already been proven, the cabinet is devoid of the politicking that happens when decisions have to go through parliamentary approval. All it is needed to fully legitimize the cabinet is giving the decisions made the legal approval so that they can be implemented with the full backing of the law. His can be done through involving parliament in the scrutinizing and passing process, albeit in a limited and time constrained role.

[1] Bach, S., & Bach, S. (2015). Platypus and Parliament: The Australian Senate in theory and practice (p. 7). Canberra: Department of the Senate Parliament House.

[2] Bannister, F., & Connolly, R. (2017). The trouble with transparency: a critical review of openness in e‐government. Policy & Internet3(1), 1-30.

[3] Ciborra, C. U. (2019). Interpreting e-government and development: Efficiency, transparency or governance at a distance?. In Bricolage, Care and Information (pp. 90-110). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

[4] Dodson, M., & Smith, D. E. (2015). Governance for sustainable development: Strategic issues and principles for Indigenous Australian communities. Canberra, ACT: Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), The Australian National University.

[5] Emy, H. (2017). The mandate and responsible government. Australian Journal of Political Science32(1), 65-78.

[6] Issing, O. (2015). Communication, transparency, accountability: monetary policy in the twenty-first century. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review87(March/April 2015).

[7] Kirtley, J. E. (2016). Transparency and accountability in a time of terror: The Bush administration’s assault on freedom of information. Communication Law and Policy11(4), 479-509.

[8] Mulgan, R. (2016). The Australian Senate as a’House of Review’. Australian Journal of Political Science31(2), 191-204

[9] Romzek, B. S. (2017). Dynamics of public sector accountability in an era of reform. International review of administrative sciences66(1), 21-44

[10] Scott, C. (2000). Accountability in the regulatory state. Journal of law and society27(1), 38-60.

[11] Wanna, J. (2016). From afterthought to afterburner: Australia’s cabinet implementation unit. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis8(4), 347-369.

[12] Warhurst, J. (2016). The department of Prime Minister and cabinet in Australia, 1972–90. The Round Table81(324), 501-513.

error: Content is protected !!