CAVAN HOGUE. President or Prime Minister? 

May 17, 2019

The current political cult of personality obscures the fact that Australian prime ministers are not American presidents. The Prime Minister told voters that they had a clear choice between him and Bill Shorten. No they don’t Scomo! They have a choice between two parties and cabinets that take decisions.  

The present campaign has made it very clear that the politicians and probably most of the voters choose not to understand how the Australian political system works. The Prime Minister put it very clearly when he told voters they should decide who they could trust and that they had a simple choice between him or Bill Shorten. No they don’t Scomo! They have a choice between a Coalition Government and a Labor Party Government. The Australian Prime Minister is simply a primus inter pares and the position does not exist in the |Constitution. They are not like American presidents whose cabinet members are chosen by them and can be changed at any time as they see fit. In Australia, Cabinet members are elected members of parliament and important decisions are taken by the Cabinet, not by the Prime Minister.

As any public servant or politician can tell you, prime ministers can be and have been rolled in cabinet. Prime ministers do not always get what they want but have to persuade cabinet members of the worthiness of their submissions just like any other cabinet member. A strong prime minister can have considerable influence but that is all.

The current cult of personality extends to the media as well as politics but it is the political scene where it is misleading. Australians are saturated with US TV and other media so that they are probably more familiar with US politics than Australian. Young people do not watch TV or read newspapers but get their information from social media most of which is American and therefore reflects that system. So voters are more familiar with the Presidential system. Many voters get confused when faced with a ballot paper that does not contain the name of the party leaders and requires them to vote for someone they have never heard of.

I suppose it is too much to ask that ego infested prime ministerial candidates explain how the system works. The simple answer to Scomo’s question about who do you trust is none of you.

Cavan Hogue is a former public servant who has prepared cabinet submissions.

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