Accountability of the Executive
- The administrative arm of government that executes the Acts of the legislative and the decisions of the judiciary (civil service)
- Also, however, it is also the policy making centre of government, and seems to control and formulate all legislation (PM and Cabinet)
- Ministers show a lack of enthusiasm for resigning
- IMR and CMR (somewhat effective) – Accountable to parliament
- Parliamentary procedures such as QT (not effective)
- Elections and Parliament (effective and not effective)
- Committees such as Estimates and Public Accounts and Audits (effective)
- Westminster Chain of Responsibility (not effective)
- Judicial review (effective, but rare, costly and slow)
- Royal Commissions (mostly not effective)
- Australian National Audit Office (somewhat effective)
- GG – but only in reserve
- Their own party
- Other integrity agencies (AAT, Ombud, corruption agencies)
Summary: See Parliament pages for more details.
- A significant role of Parliament, in theory, is to hold the Executive to account
- Through no confidence motions, censure motions, Question Time, Estimates etc.
- Convention that PM must have the confidence of the HoR
- However, in reality, Parliament rarely holds the Exec to account due to party dominance
- The governing party is hardly going to censure their own, but many discipline them
- This role is revived in the Senate, due to minor parties, and during hung parliaments: 43rd.
- Committees, especially Estimates, are very effective in scrutiny of the Exec and spending
Westminster Chain of Responsibility
A system which should hold the Executive to account.
- Public Servants are accountable to:
- Ministers are accountable to:
- Prime Minister is accountable to:
- Parliament is accountable to:
- Public through elections
- However, as the Departments grow in numbers, it is impossible to expect that the Minister in charge is able to know about every single thing that occurs in the Department – they can no longer be personally accountable
- Hence, the Ministers are able to deflect blame if his department makes a mistake
- IMR, with respect to Ministers being accountable to the actions of their department, has never resulted in the Minister resigning.
The public service
- The public service should be able to give frank and fearless advice to the Minister.
- However, as the Department Head’s (called Secretary) jobs are now in 4-year contract (changed by John Howard) rather than having tenure, they became more political appointments.
- Reason: The Government is able to work with the Departments, instead of undermining policies and hence hold senior public servants to account
- E.g. 1999 John Moore (Defence Minister) sacked Paul Barratt over a dispute with the Collins Class Submarines
- The civil service is accountable to the Minister, and can be sacked by the PM and Cabinet with little notice
Relations between politicians and public servants
- Thousands of people are responsible to a single Minister, who are not necessarily expert in that portfolio
- Ministers are assisted by their advisory staff, who act as their eyes and ears, and also as the go between.
- They often exercise a significant, if variable, influence over policy
- High degree of frustration on both parties (senior public servants and Ministers)
- Apparent lack of competence on the part of Ministers, and unresponsive to Government policy on the part of the public servants
- Now on limited term contracts, which means Gov’t can finally get full cooperation from the Department, at the expense of frank/fearless advice, apolitical advice and impartiality
- The Public Service Act 1997 effectively placed the final nail in the coffin of a career service, replacing the previous 1922 Act.
Note: political advisors are exercising a lot of influence, yet are accountable only to the person who employed them
- E.g. many backbenchers are concerned about the influence of Peta Credlin, Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff
- They inhabit a grey area – they cannot be held to account by Parliament (re: Fiona Nash (Assistant Health Minister) and her Chief of Staff, Alistair Furnivall, apparent conflict of interest
- Also, act as shields for Ministers (children overboard affair)
A black hole of the core executive into which responsibility disappears
– Harry Evans, former Clerk of the Senate
Collective Ministerial Responsibility
- The convention that members of Cabinet must all publicly support all Cabinet decision, even if they privately disagree.
- They must stay silent, accept the decision and publicly defend it, if needed
- If they are unable to do so, they must resign
- Unity, solidarity, secrecy
- All Cabinet meetings are to be kept confidential, and all Ministers must agree publicly.
- This is important to ensure that the Cabinet can make their decisions in secret, and show a united face to Parliament
- Not representing their electorate
- Not holding up their views
- Promotional prospects
- Executive dominance of Parl
Stuart West, 1984
- Resigned from the Hawke Cabinet over disagreements with uranium mining
Gary Punch, 1988
- Resigned from Hawke Cabinet over building a 3rd runway at Sydney Airport.
- However, he was reinstated as a Minister almost immediately (but not the same portfolio- from Telecommunications and Aviation, to Defence Support and Research)
- This could be an example of how CMR does not work, as Punch still upheld his resistance to the runway
- Seems to be effective, as only 2 Ministers have publicly resigned
- However, Cabinet leaks seem to point otherwise
- Low number of resignations could also point out that CMR is not doing its job properly: Cabinet Ministers are disagreeing, but not resigning
Individual Ministerial Responsibility
A Westminster convention: Ministers are personally accountable to Parliament for their probity and propriety.
- Ethical, moral behaviour
- Not mislead Parliament
- Not be corrupt – use their position for personal gain
- Avoid conflict of interest
- Good management of government departments
- Responsibility for the actions of their departments
- In current times, Ministers are no longer resigning. This is because they are no longer accountable to Parliament: censure and no confidence motions rarely pass (except during hung parliaments).
- Instead, they are more accountable to the Prime Minister and their party, who can force the resignation of the Minister
- This rarely happens: Ministers often withstand calls from Opp’n and the media. See Gillard and Garrett on their schemes during the Rudd government.
- It only occurs when the PM thinks that the scandal is too politically damaging
- Most Ministers have resigned due to allegations of improbity:
- Joel Fitzgibbon (Defence Minister) misleading Parliament in 2009
- Arthur Sinodinos (Assistant Treasurer) 2014 through his connections to Australian Water Holdings
- Note that no allegations of corruption/misconduct have been made against him; could be an example of how IMR is misused
- Very few (none) have resigned due to impropriety and departmental errors:
- Bronwyn Bishop (2000) kerosene bathing (Minister for Aged Care)
- Peter Garrett – 2009 pink batts/home insulation scheme (Minister for Environment)
- Neither resigned over the scandals etc. even after calls from media and opp’n
It is widely accepted that these crucial doctrines have never operated as a means of ensuring that Ministers are held responsible for their actions
– Richard Mulgan on IMR and CMR
Ministerial codes of conduct:
- Focus on personal honesty
- Specific rules dealing with corruption and declaring interests
- Financial accountability
- Howard lost many Ministers due to strict rules
- Judiciary can hold Exec to account when what they have done is ultra vires
- Pape v Tax Commissioner 2009
- Williams v Commonwealth 2012
- Exec tried to fund programs without going through Parliament
- HC rejected it
- However, complexity and cost of court proceedings limits the effectiveness