Representative democracy and responsible government: two Australian constitutional myths

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Two fundamental assumptions about the Australian Constitution are that it embodies a system of representative democracy, and that the executive is subject to oversight by the legislature in accordance with the doctrine of responsible government. Such statements have become truisms, but they conceal the fact that concepts such as democracy and legislative control over the executive are matters of degree. The argument presented in this paper isthat an analysis of our constitutional arrangements reveals that we live in a duopoly, rather than a democracy, and that legislative control over the executive has become so attenuated as to become almost meaningless. The paper argues that Australia should adopt proportional representation in the form of the Single Transferrable Vote system for electing the House of Representatives, and that members of parliamentary committees should be able to approach the courts to obtain a remedy for contempt where members of the executive refuse to give information to legislative committees, subject to a public immunity defence.The article concludes by arguing that despite the view that voters are unreceptive to constitutional change, the unfairness of the electoral system and the contempt with which ministers treat parliamentary committees would, if adequately ventilated in public debate,create sufficient voter outrage as to create an opportunity for reform.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-15
Number of pages13
JournalCanberra Law Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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