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PM & Cabinet. The Prime Minister. Traditionally a “first among equals” Not mentioned in the Constitution YET… Has grown to become the powerful office in the Australian political system WHY?. Not directly elected No “personal mandate” No legal role in Westminster System. Directly elected

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PM & Cabinet

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Pm cabinet

PM & Cabinet


The prime minister

The Prime Minister

Traditionally a “first among equals”

Not mentioned in the Constitution

YET…

Has grown to become the powerful office in the Australian political system

WHY?


Prime minister v president

Not directly elected

No “personal mandate”

No legal role in Westminster System

Directly elected

“personal mandate”

Constitutionally legal role

Prime Minister v President

The power of the Prime Minister has evolved with the increase in the power of the executive – especially the rise of the Cabinet.

A PM can never – no matter how personally dominant – be completely independent of the Cabinet (it is the one of the sources of the PM’s power)


Cabinet

Cabinet

  • A recent institution grafted onto the Westminster System – in the 18th Century the practice of regular meeting between the monarch and his ministers (all members of the Privy Council) emerged

  • Until 1717 the King chaired the meetings

  • George I decided not to be involved.

  • Ministers now “withdrew” from the Council Chamber to a small room – the cabinet – to agree on policy. They returned to the Chamber to present the agreed policy decision (Cabinet Solidarity)


Cabinet1

Cabinet

This change greatly increased the importance of the PM (but gave him no formal Constitutional role) as the chairman of the “executive committee”

This modification to the Westminster System persisted to the present day

NB: Cabinet was not created by the Parliament but by the executive

“Cabinet is not based on a constitution but on precedent & practice firmed into custom & convention” (Madgwick)


Cabinet2

Cabinet*

Because cabinet is only an “executive committee” without constitutional (legal) standing its decisions have no legal basis

Yet few challenge its right to govern – though that right is no more than custom and convention. It derives its “right” to govern from the party system and control of the lower house - & convention

It is as chair of cabinet that the PM derives his great power not through any formal legal position in the system of government


What does cabinet do

What does Cabinet Do?

  • A clearing house for government business, making authoritative choices

  • An information exchange letting Ministers know what is happening across government

  • An arbiter resolving disputes between agencies & Ministers

  • A political decision-maker

  • A coordinator preventing overlap, duplication & inconsistencies

  • A keeper of the big picture – keeping the government focussed on the big picture

  • An allocator of resources – developing budget strategy

  • A crisis manager handling emerging situations from internal political disputes to international crises

  • A watchdog controlling Ministers and departments


Cabinet as a source of pm power

Cabinet as a Source of PM Power

The PM is the chair of this powerful body with power to…

  • Select & dismiss Ministers

  • Determine the processes of cabinet (set the agenda, allow Ministers to speak)

  • Access the best information from a dedicated PS Dep’t – the Dep’t of PM & Cabinet


Other sources of pm power

Other Sources of PM Power

  • Control over the administration of government – esp. the power to call early elections

  • Party discipline – as leader of the party he controls the “party machine”

  • Media focus is on the PM – every word he utters on any topic is reported

  • Power of patronage (loyalty of followers)


Alp liberal pms

ALP

More tied to the extra-parliamentary party

Recent right to select Cabinet

In the past severely limited in the right to appoint Cabinet

Liberal

No dependence on the party outside parliament

Always had the right to choose Cabinet

Constrained by “coalition” – the National Party leader is always Deputy PM and National Party members must fill certain portfolios

ALP & Liberal PMs

In the modern era there is little practical difference between the two parties


Cabinet procedures

Cabinet Procedures

Students are advised to read…

“How Cabinet Works” Summers pp 52-58

“Controlling Cabinet” Willmott & Dowse pp 258-259

Things to note:

  • The 10-day rule (Summers says 5-days)

  • Use of Cabinet committees – esp. the ERC

  • The Cabinet Secretariat (controls the “paperwork”)

  • Rules for Cabinet submissions (cost/benefit, how it fits with gov’t strategy, environmental, administrative impacts etc)

  • Issues raised by the division of the Ministry into Inner & Outer


Limitations to pm power

Limitations to PM Power

  • No direct personal mandate

  • Office has no legal constitutional standing

  • Cabinet can place boundaries around a PM’s authority

  • Cabinet can be a source of jealousies & rivalries

  • No guarantee of tenure (time in office)

  • PMs serve at the pleasure of the parliament (theory) & their party (practice) – there’s an understanding between the leader and the led. If the understanding is broken the PM is fatally damaged

  • The Senate (because of legislative veto & scrutiny)

  • The High Court (power to declare Acts ultra vires)

  • The Governor General (who may dismiss a PM)

  • The States (because of Federalism)


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