Ministerial Careers and Accountability in the Australian Commonwealth Government

Ministerial Careers and Accountability in the Australian Commonwealth Government

Keith Dowding
Chris Lewis
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Ministerial Careers and Accountability in the Australian Commonwealth Government
    Book Description:

    This book examines the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of Australian cabinet ministers. It examines the sorts of jobs ministers do, what is expected of them, what they expect of the job and how they (are supposed to) work together as a team. It considers aspects of how they are chosen to become ministers; how they are scrutinised by parliament and the media; and how ministers themselves view accountability. It also looks at the causes of calls for ministers to resign, examines scandals around ministers and assesses ministerial accountability.

    eISBN: 978-1-922144-01-0
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. 1. Hiring, Firing, Roles and Responsibilities
    (pp. 1-14)
    Keith Dowding and Chris Lewis

    Accountability for government action and inaction has always been central to the study of government in political science and public administration. In Westminster systems such as Australia’s, the heart of academic and media discussion lies in the issue of ministerial accountability. Traditionally the idea behind the Westminster system is that whilst civil servants advise and administer policy, their public face is their minister, who promotes policy and defends department action in parliament and in public. Naturally this directs public attention to ministers and to the processes by which ministers and, through them, public servants are held to account. The manner...

  4. 2. Ministers as Ministries and the Logic of their Collective Action
    (pp. 15-34)
    John Wanna

    As recounted in the opening chapter, ministerial responsibility is primarily understood and studied as a formal accountability process with the emphasis largely on individual ministerial accountability and the occasional resignation. This preoccupation with individual responsibility reflects a British obsession with the behaviour of the particular minister (Dowding and Kang 1998; Woodhouse 1994) or a scepticism of the observance of collective responsibility, especially when governments disintegrate—the so-called ‘myth/fallacy’ argument (see Dell 1980; Weller 1985). There is generally less attention paid to the dimensions of collective ministerial responsibility and the politics of maintaining cohesion, other than the seminal acknowledgment by...

  5. 3. Predicting Cabinet Ministers: A psychological approach
    (pp. 35-66)
    Michael Dalvean

    Why did Barry Jones not become a cabinet minister while Gareth Evans did? Was it a difference in ability, social skill or political judgment? Was it inevitable that Peter McGauran, Martin Ferguson and David Kemp would become cabinet ministers while their brothers, Julian, Laurie and Rod respectively, would not? This chapter contends that there are reasons some individuals make it to cabinet and some do not, and these differences are detectable at an early stage of an individual’s career and are far more important in determining who will be a cabinet minister than the often cited ‘representational’ factors such as...

  6. 4. Democratic Ambivalence? Ministerial attitudes to party and parliamentary scrutiny
    (pp. 67-94)
    James Walter

    This chapter draws upon research into the working lives of a particular cohort of Australian federal politicians—those elected on 10 December 1977.¹ They were interviewed twice in 1978—on arrival in Canberra and again at the end of that year—for a monograph on their experience of acculturation to parliament and to representative politics (Walter 1979). All but two were interviewed again between 2005 and 2009 when their parliamentary careers were over. The sequence provides an unusual opportunity for longitudinal comparison of attitudes, aspirations and beliefs of a cohort at the beginning of their political careers, and again in...

  7. 5. Ministerial Accountability to Parliament
    (pp. 95-114)
    Phil Larkin

    For many commentators, parliament’s role in holding governments to account is the subject of laments for a better past and a central element in claims of a decline of parliament and of a democratic deficit (for a recent review, see the discussion in Flinders and Kelso 2011). The claim that parliament’s role has been undermined has a number of dimensions. The primary one centres on the rise of organised and disciplined parties. In the parliamentary ‘golden age’ of the nineteenth century, with little in the way of disciplined parties, the executive could only maintain parliament’s confidence by being constantly accountable...

  8. 6. The Pattern of Forced Exits from the Ministry
    (pp. 115-134)
    Keith Dowding, Chris Lewis and Adam Packer

    Ministers leave office for all sorts of reasons. The most dramatic exits are those that are forced. We define a forced exit as one that happens at a time not of the prime minister’s choosing. The prime minister might demand a resignation because of some scandal, but she did not want that scandal to emerge and compel her to ask for the minister’s resignation. A forced resignation can also occur when a minister resigns because they disagree with government policy, because of a personality clash or simply as part of a strategic ploy to enhance his or her own leadership...

  9. 7. Ministers and Scandals
    (pp. 135-152)
    Scott Brenton

    Typifying the media commentary surrounding ministerial resignations, politics is often reported like a sporting contest. During Liberal Prime Minister John Howard’s first term of office, the use and misuse of politicians’ travel entitlements—which the media quickly dubbed ‘travel rorts’—became the theme of a series of scandals. Transport Minister, John Sharp, voluntarily amended his travel claims and repaid almost $9000, but did not publicly disclose this information; neither did the Administrative Services Minister, David Jull, who oversaw the amendment and repayment. The Coalition initially closedranks, emphasising Sharp’s ‘good bloke factor’ and the voluntary nature of the rectifications, as they...

  10. 8. A Recent Scandal: The Home Insulation Program
    (pp. 153-176)
    Chris Lewis

    The policy debacle that was the Rudd Labor Government’s Home Insulation Program (HIP) cannot be disputed.¹ First, four young Australians died installing insulation in homes before the program was cancelled on 22 April 2010. Further, about $1 billion (approximately 40 per cent) of the $2.45 billion cancelled scheme was, in the end, used to cover its costs, including safety and quality inspections for about 200 000 homes fitted with ceiling batts or foil (Berkovic 2010f). As of 10 December 2010, the number of fire incidents attributed to the HIP since May 2009 had reached 202, including 165 attended by fire...

  11. 9. Assessing Ministerial Responsibility in Australia
    (pp. 177-194)
    Richard Mulgan

    Ministerial responsibility remains a key constitutional convention in Australia, as in all Westminster-derived systems. But its role continues to be contentious and disputed. Is it effective as an instrument of public accountability? Is it an outmoded principle that promises accountability but, in practice, allows both ministers and their officials to evade public scrutiny? Answers to these questions are elusive, in part because the actual requirements of the conventions of ministerial responsibility are a matter of dispute. Without agreement on what ministerial responsibility requires of ministers, one cannot expect to reach any straight forward conclusions about whether ministerial responsibility is doing...