By Jennifer Menzies
This piece features on The Conversation
Crises pose particular challenges for democratic leaders. They are expected to make critical decisions in times of uncertainty and rapidly develop effective plans to lead us out of the crisis. Normally, we are more interested in constraining our leaders through the checks and balances of accountability. But in times of crisis, we look to our leaders to lead. Finding the right balance between accountability and rapid decision-making remains a challenge during an era of reduced trust in political leaders.
In Australia, the establishment of the national cabinet has undertaken this crisis leadership role.
The national cabinet comprises the prime minister and all state and territory premiers and chief ministers. Basically, it is COAG by another name.
Though called a cabinet, the national cabinet is technically an intergovernmental forum. The conventions and rules of cabinet, such as cabinet solidarity and the secrecy provisions, do not apply to the national cabinet.
Its power is that which the leaders of all Australian jurisdictions bring to negotiate on behalf of their people, and to implement the decisions reached. This model is called executive federalism.
Advantages of executive federalism in a time of crisis
In a crisis, decision-making automatically shifts upwards with the expectation that leaders will work together to find a way through the crisis. The National Cabinet meets these expectations in several ways.
Timeliness and risk
Response time is critical, and with the national cabinet meeting multiple times a week, issues can be addressed as they emerge. Risk is reduced by bringing together technical and political experts.
The national cabinet is supported by the chief medical officers, who meet as the Australian Health Protection and Principles Committee (AHPPC). They pull together the modelling, research and data that form the basis of decisions made by the national cabinet.
Clarity and coherence
Is it anti-democratic?
About the Author
Is a Principal Research Fellow in the Policy Innovation Hub at Griffith University. She has over 25 years experience in policy and public administration in both the State and Commonwealth Governments.
As a senior executive within the Queensland Department of the Premier and Cabinet she developed the government’s strategic policy agenda including the Smart State Policy.
Jenny was also Cabinet Secretary from 2001 to 2004 and the inaugural Secretary for the Council for the Australian Federation from 2007 to 2009 and a member of the Commonwealth Grants Commission 2011 -2016. She publishes in the fields of caretaker conventions, federalism and intergovernmental relations.
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