Tuesday, January 07, 2003

So let's get stuck into the oligarchs. Want an Australian republic? Let's get rid of the oligarchs first. from The Age 19 December.

The failings of our "Washminster" system with a strong executive embedded in the legislature have been getting a bit of a run lately. (see below). Moore here is having a crack at the appointment to government Boards and proposing some direct elections as occurs for some US officials.

While he is right to identify the rejection of the oligarchy - inflicting us with multiple NRMAs might not be quite the way to go.

The US Republic has a lot of features we might consider. Not least is an enduring and robust federalism. But more important is the full separation of the executive from the legislature - a separation that empowers rather than diminishes the legislature. This same
separation is used to scrutinise the far wider collection of official posts that are filled by the executive than are filled by election.

In the US they do not elect the judges to their highest court, nor do they acquiese behind a second stage of appointing a panel - but they do make scrutiny by the parliament (congress) of appointments part of the process.

Those of us still interested in matters constitutional might need to re-evaluate the benefits of an Executive Presidency. Only 6% of respondants to an ARM survey favoured Executive Presidency. More recent US experience shows some of the same excess of executive power - so we need to improve on not copy the model. We have to remember that democracy is a precious flower - not many of them have been kept alive for long.

Note - some references to recent similar items in the AFR.

Ian Marsh has suggested that ministers cease to be drawn from the Senate as a partial attempt to revitalise the operation of at least one chamber of our legislature ("Debate inhibited by structure of politics" AFR 1o Dec). It is possible to go further and suggest that ministers cease to be drawn from either House.

The AFR editorial "High risk in Williams way" (AFR 12 Dec) described the current Australian arrangements as "Washminster" democracy. This term summarises our current malaise in many ways. Three specific issues are the inadequacy of the arrangements for appointments to quite powerful offices, the underutilisation of the legislature as a forum for policy debate and the inadequate supervision for semi-autonomous administrative agencies.

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