Relationship of the Legislative and Executive Branches

Relationship of the Legislative and Executive Branches

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BRIAN COSTAR: The term accountable government
is in a sense a relatively modern version of the old term responsible government which
again is a feature of our system. It means that the executive arm of government, the
cabinet if you want to call it that, is located within the legislature, the parliament that
is, nobody can be a minister of the Crown unless they are a member of parliament, quite
unlike the American system where they are not allowed to be members of congress. The responsibility part, the idea there was
is that a particular ministry continued in office because it enjoyed the confidence of
at least the Lower House of Parliament and in most of our systems in Australia, both
Houses. Now the idea is that the ministry must answer for its actions to parliament
and parliament has a capacity or should have a capacity to control the behaviour of a ministry.
Now in some states, Victoria notably, there was a time in our history where ministries
were too accountable to the parliament, that the parliaments were too powerful. The party
system wasn’t as well developed, there were a number of reasons why ministries did not
last for very long, they avoided controversial decisions because they were uncertain of their
majority support. Now that doesn’t necessarily make for good government, in other words ministries
or government can be too accountable. I think the problem today that most people would agree
with is that it’s gone a bit too the other way, that governments can avoid accountability
to parliaments except in certain circumstances and it usually relates to a system where,
a situation where the government of the day does not control the second chamber or the
Upper House which of course is the situation here in Victoria and that creates a tension
between parliament and ministry and there’s nothing in particular wrong with that. That’s
part of our system, it is after all an adversarial political system.

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