Australia

   

Executive Accountability

#6
Key Findings
Despite declining citizen engagement with the political system, a well-developed legislative-oversight capability helps Australia receive high rankings (rank 7) for executive accountability. Its score in this area is unchanged relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have substantial resources and powers at their disposal to monitor the executive. Long-established audit and ombuds offices act capably and independently. State-level and issue-specific ombuds offices also exist.

Citizens have shown a falling interest in political issues, and the rate of citizens casting invalid votes is rising despite compulsory voting. The lack of media diversity hinders the development of policy knowledge, though online news providers are reinvigorating the sector to some extent.

Internal political-party decisions are primarily made by elected officials, although ordinary members have gained a stronger voice in recent years. Major economic organizations are sophisticated and work closely with the government. Many other interest groups also offer high-quality proposals.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#6

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of government policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual government policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of government policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy Knowledge
6
Opinion surveys indicate Australians have a moderate level of understanding of government policies, and that their level of knowledge increases substantially during election campaigns when they pay greater attention to policy matters. Media coverage tends to be limited due to the lack of diversity in Australian media, which is potentially a contributing factor hindering citizens’ policy knowledge. On the other hand, voting in elections of all levels of government is compulsory in Australia, which on balance is likely to increase the general level of awareness of government and opposition policies. Furthermore, media coverage of policy platforms during election campaigns is substantial.

Australian citizens have shown a declining interest in political issues in recent years. During the 2013 federal election, 20% of adults did not vote, because they were not enrolled or failed to cast a valid vote. However, in recent years, the Australian Electoral Commission has made a concerted effort to increase enrollment, which has increased enrollment of the adult population from 92% in 2013 to 96% in 2017. That said, 9% of enrolled voters did not cast a valid vote at the 2016 election, a record high since voting became compulsory in 1925.

Citations:
http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/election-2016-voter-turnout-lowest-since-compulsory-voting-began-in-1925-20160808-gqnij2.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-07/why-do-we-have-compulsory-voting/7484390

https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/one-nation-immigrants-in-inner-west-and-south-west-shift-support-to-pauline-hansons-party/news-story/78152502617feb5659ac54ca6313dc97

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#2

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
9
Members of the parliament have considerable resources at their disposal for monitoring government activity and obtaining relevant information to advance policymaking. The parliamentary library is well-resourced with many skilled researchers and is able to respond to requests rapidly, putting together reports on policy issues at the request of members. In addition, each senator or member may hire employees in four full-time electorate officer positions. In addition, members who have a second electorate office at Commonwealth expense may hire employees in an additional full-time electorate officer position. However, individual members of parliament do not receive allowances to fund independent research.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not ask for government documents.
Obtaining Documents
9
The legislature has strong powers, deriving from both Section 49 of the constitution and the Parliamentary Privileges Act, that require the executive arm of government to provide parliament with information. As parliamentary bodies, these powers are vested in parliamentary committees. There are only a very few acceptable reasons for refusal. A minister or other member of the executive who refuses to turn over requested documents can be held in contempt of parliament.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
10
Committees have the legal right to summon ministers to appear before committee inquiries, but in practice compulsion to appear is uncommon. Under the principle of comity, a house of parliament does not seek to compel the attendance of members of that house or another house. It is common, however, for members, including ministers, to appear by invitation or by request before committees, to assist with committee inquiries.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
Parliamentary committees conduct inquiries, to which experts are always invited to give evidence. Experts are also sometimes compelled to appear before committee inquiries.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
The number of parliamentary committees exceeds the number of government departments (ministries). Partially this is because there are a number of committees concerned with internal matters of parliament, such as parliamentary privileges, procedure and publications. In general, the task area of each “externally oriented” parliamentary committee is confined to one government department, but some government departments have more than one committee monitoring their activities. Usually, the demarcation between task areas of committees that oversee the same department is clear and does not create problems of non-cohesive action by parliament.

Citations:
https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=comm_list.htm#joint

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
10
Under the Auditor-General Act 1997, the Auditor-General is responsible for providing auditing services to parliament and other public-sector entities. The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) supports the Auditor-General, which is an independent officer of parliament. The ANAO’s purpose is to provide parliament with an independent assessment of selected areas of the public administration, and to provide assurance regarding public-sector financial reporting, administration and accountability. This task is done primarily by conducting performance and financial-statement audits.

Citations:
https://www.anao.gov.au/about/auditor-general-and-office

https://www.aph.gov.au/~/~/link.aspx?_id=387AD00794BD41C39579392068D56CF9&_z=z

Does the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
9
A Commonwealth Ombudsman was established in 1977. Its services are available to anyone who has a complaint about an Australian government agency that they have been unable to resolve. Its charter states that it will investigate complaints where appropriate, deal with complaints in an impartial and effective way, achieve fair outcomes, seek appropriate remedies and promote improved administration by Australian government agencies. Its services are free of charge. There are also ombudsmen in all six states and the Northern Territory, which operate on similar principles, as well as a variety of issue-specific ombudsmen.

Citations:
http://www.ombudsman.gov.au/

http://www.smh.com.au/business/consumer-affairs/private-health-insurance-ombudsman-turned-aggrieved-customers-back-to-medibank-20160622-gpovtk.html

Media

#34

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
5
Television and radio stations vary in the time they devote to substantive information on policy issues and government decisions. Commercial broadcasters devote relatively little time to such matters, but the state-owned broadcaster, which has one national television station and a number of radio stations, as well as a website, devotes a considerable amount of time to high-quality analysis of government decisions. Newspaper coverage is likewise variable, with the popular newspapers providing superficial coverage and the quality “broadsheets” providing more in-depth coverage and discussion. While Australia used to have more high-quality newspapers, market concentration has contributed to a decline in print-media diversity and quality. To some extent, countering this decline has been the emergence of a number of online-only news providers. While the impact of these news outlets is difficult to assess, it is clear that at least several of them have risen to the status of mass-media outlets that are widely read by members of the Australian community.

Citations:
https://theconversation.com/the-death-of-newspapers-have-we-reached-the-tipping-point-54728

https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/july/1372600800/eric-beecher/death-fairfax-and-end-newspapers

Parties and Interest Associations

#12

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
4
Elected members and senators, but no other party members, are responsible for decision-making in both the major parties. Decisions regarding who should hold positions within the party, such as ministerial positions for the party in government, have largely been at the discretion of the elected leader in coalition governments. Labor prime ministers cannot choose their ministers freely, but instead have to allocate portfolios among a set of candidates selected by the factions.

The Liberal-National coalition has traditionally had a more open and inclusive process for determining leadership than the Labor Party, which is dominated by factions to which most members are beholden. These factions are regularly criticized for making opaque decisions and for contributing to a lack of decision-making transparency. In response, the process for selecting the Labor Party leader was altered in 2013, giving 50% of the votes to the wider party membership, with the remaining 50% staying with elected members and senators.

With regard to the development of policy agendas, both parties have inclusive forums for developing policy platforms. However, in practice, a small leadership group in each party tightly controls decisions on major policies.

Citations:
http://www.smh.com.au/comment/malcolm-turnbulls-downfall-was-that-he-wasnt-allowed-to-lead-20160705-gpyrmc.html

To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Business)
9
The major interest associations, which are run by the employers and business groups and the trade unions, have a history of proposing practical, plausible policies. The main explanation for this is that the government has a long history of involvement and policy consultation with most of the groups (for example, business groups are closely allied with the Liberal Party, farmers’ and rural groups are allied with the National Party, and trade unions are allied with the Labor Party). Many elected representatives have at some point in their career been a member of one of these groups, further cementing relations with the interest groups. There are also considerable formal and informal networks linking the various groups to the major political parties, further consolidating the development of practical and coherent policies.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
8
A number of social interest groups, environmental groups and religious groups take responsible and well-considered positions and are, therefore, taken very seriously by government, although there are also groups that take extreme positions. The extent to which the proposals are well thought-out and feasible varies considerably. In general, the proposals from mainstream interest groups are of high quality in part because many elected representatives are drawn from these groups, or have had considerable contact with them prior to their election. The proposals also tend to be of high quality because of the expertise of the groups themselves and their narrow (often single-issue) interest, which means the groups can focus exclusively on a single problem and the ways in which it can be resolved.
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