The main role of parliaments in Australia is to pass legislation. Parliaments have structural weaknesses and practical difficulties, as well as strengths, in their roles as a supreme law-maker, a representative body, and a body with the ability to enact legislation. The following table explains how the clear strengths of a parliamentary system in Australia have corresponding weaknesses.
|Parliament is the supreme law making body, with law making being its primary role. Therefore, it is the best resourced and equipped body to make law.||Parliament does not have total power. It is restricted by its constitutional jurisdiction (e.g. cannot amend the Constitution without a referendum), however many people construe this as a positive as it prevents parliament from abusing its power.|
|Parliament can investigate a whole area of law (e.g. the Crimes Act 1958).||Statutes are worded broadly, which can lead to a need for interpretation and possibly leaves loopholes in the law.|
|Parliament is a representative body. Elected members represent the majority of people. Therefore, laws are reflective of the majority’s values. For instance, legislation relating to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) passed easily because it had bipartisan support resulting from overwhelming public support for the scheme1||Parliament may not always represent the majority of people. Governments and MPs can be unduly influenced by pressure groups, therefore, they may legislate or block proposed legislation to appease a minority. For instance, of the $433,327 that the mining industry gave to political parties from 2011-2012, approximately 98% of that money was given to the Liberal and National parties.2 Additionally, as a representative body, politicians may simply make popular decisions in order to get re-elected, rather than towing their party line or doing what is needed. For instance, many commentators interpreted Kevin Rudd’s departure from Labor’s traditional asylum seeker policy to a ‘Papua New Guinea solution’ to be an attempt to win votes in the most marginal seats of Western Sydney.3|
|Parliament can delegate its law-making powers to subordinate authorities, whom often have the time and expertise to create law, and are more accessible to the public.||Subordinate authorities are not as well-resourced as parliament, and are mostly comprised of unelected officials. Therefore, many laws are made by people who were appointed, rather than elected.|
|Issues before parliament are publically aired and allow for public debate on issues. The passage of a Bill is extensive, which aims to ensure that society’s views are debated and represented clearly. This structure allows for government to fulfill its roles as representative and responsible.||However, debate may not lead to any legislation being passed. Parliaments are often unwilling to legislate on controversial areas where opinions are divided and strong. For instance, state parliaments are generally unwilling to pass legislation legalizing voluntary euthanasia, despite widespread community support for such legislation.4|
|Parliament can act quickly if needed. For example, in response to the Global Financial Crisis, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd passed legislation for his Economic Stimulus Package a mere ten days after he announced the plan to the public.5||Parliament cannot always act quickly, as it only sits on a limited number of days in the year. In 2014, the House of Representatives only sat for 72 days6|
|Parliament can make laws in futuro (in anticipation of a future event)||Legislation can easily become outdated|
Abbott backs national disability scheme, Cortlan Bennett, April 30 2012, http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/abbott-backs-national-disability-scheme-20120430-1xumn.html ↩
Australia’s political donations: who gives and gets the most?, the Guardian Australia, Simon Rogers, 28 May 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/may/28/australia-political-donations-parties ↩
Kevin Rudd takes hard right stance on asylum seeker policy with PNG, Tory Shepherd, July 19 2013, http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/opinion/kevin-rudd-takes-hard-right-stance-on-asylum-seeker-policy-with-png/story-fni6unxq-1226682243440 ↩
Voluntary euthanasia bill defeated by two votes, Stephen Smiley, 26 Nov 2013, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-17/voluntary-euthanasia-law-defeated-by-one-vote/5029876 ↩
Senate passes stimulus plan, Phillip Hudson, Feb 13 2009, http://www.smh.com.au/business/senate-passes-stimulus-plan-20090213-86mp.html ↩
Parliament of Australia, 2014 Sitting Calendar, 25 Nov 2013, http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Sitting_Calendar/2014_Sitting_Calendar ↩
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