Functions of Parliament
Responsibility in parliament relates to the accountability of parliamentarians, ensuring that their actions and the views they represent are an accurate reflection of their constituency.
Responsibility Function in Theory
In theory, accountability in the pariament is achieved through the Westminster conventions of responsible government. These include:
Collective Ministerial Responsibility (CMR): A government must maintain confidence of the lower house, and if a vote of no confidence is successful then they must resign
Individual Ministerial Responsibility (IMR): Individual ministers may be dismissed by parliament through a censure motion
Cabinet operates in secret (cabinet secrecy) and speaks as one (cabinet solidarity). Failure by cabinet members to uphold these conventions means they must resign from cabinet
There are also other ways to keep ministers accountable:
Ministers can also be held accountable through question time, where they must not mislead the parliament. Questions with and without notice provides answers to actions of government.
Parliamentary committees also provide an accountability procedure. Ministers cannot be part of committees, as a separation of power convention. Parliamentary committees have strong investigative powers relating to the government.
Responsibility Function in Practice
The processes designed in theory to ensure responsibility of the government are ineffective as long as the government mantains a commanding majority of the lower house, especially in the age of executive dominance and strong party discipline, which is especially clear in the House of Representatives.
For example, in the case of censuring an individual minister, 76 of the 151 members of the house must vote against the minister in order for the motion to succeed. Governments with party discipline and a majroty prevent this from happening, rendering the process itself rather ineffective.
However, government ministers within the Senate can be held accountable as there is rarely a government majority in the upper house. This means that minister and government actions can be effectively scrutinized as there is no protection of a commanding majority to limit such accountability.
A closer examination of accountability in parliament is done in Unit 4 of this course.