By Sir Clare Roberts KC
The new Cabinet restores the checks and balance between executive and legislature, there being 8 elected members in Cabinet and 17 in the House of Rep. So, there is now a majority of non-Cabinet members in the House.
This article is a follow up on my observation of the position of the Cabinet and the House of Representative where for the first time in many governments, there are less elected members in the Cabinet than the 17 in the House. This may have been coincidental or a conscious effort on the part of the Prime Minister to improve our democracy. Be that as it may, I suggest that maintenance of the checks and balance between the executive and the legislative branches of government should not be left to the whim of the Prime Minister of the day.
We have witnessed where a measure is approved in a Cabinet consisting, say, of 13 elected members, then sent to the House of Representatives where the same 13 elected members change their executive hats to legislative hats. So, there is an absence of checks and balance as the Cabinet members elected the House will not criticise in the House what they have approved in the Cabinet. This is so even where a member or members may have opposed the measure in Cabinet as the principle of collective responsibility will kick in.
My suggested Reform
To solve the problem, I am suggesting constitutional reform to ensure that the Cabinet does not consist of a majority of elected Members of the House.
I suggest that the number of elected members of the House be increased from 17 to 21; and that Cabinet consist of no more than 10 elected members.
The expansion of the House should come as the Constituencies Boundaries Commission determines. However it seems to me that at this time one of the cardinal principles that should guide the Constituencies Boundaries Commission is being breached: that is that “all constituencies shall contain nearly equal numbers of inhabitants taking into account the need to achieve voter’s parity as appears to the Commission to be practicable” (The Constituencies Boundaries Commission Guidance Act, 2012) The anomaly of mini constituencies of St Philips North, St Phillip’s South and St John’s City East contrasted with the bloated St George’s and St John’s Rural West constituencies must be addressed early. I am sure that the Constituencies Boundaries Commission will find that splitting 4 of these bloated constituencies would be the smoothest way of arriving at 21 constituencies rather than 17.
Next, I will look at the position of opposition senators where there is no elected opposition.