Political Constitutionalism: Individual Responsibility and Collective Restraint

Date01 December 2020
Published date01 December 2020
AuthorYee-Fui Ng
Subject MatterArticles
Political Constitutionalism:
Individual Responsibility and
Collective Restraint
Yee-Fui Ng*
Australia’s Constitution has been shaped by a blend of legal and political constitutionalism; yet
there is limited attention given to political mechanisms of control in Australia. With the recent
developments in the United Kingdom and the turmoil of Brexit that shifted the balance between
legal and political constitutionalism, it is timely to examine how political constitutionalism has
evolved in Australia. This article argues that Australian political constitutionalism is distinct from
the United Kingdom as it is shaped not by internal conflict about the nature of the constitution but
rather by the significant evolutionary development of fundamental institutions. In particular, it is
argued that there are three critical junctures for political constitutionalism in Australia: the
foundations of the Commonwealth, the formation of disciplined political parties and the rise of
oversight bodies. It is contended that Australia may be reaching a new critical juncture due to the
fragmentation of responsible government from privatisation and outsourcing and the rise of
ministerial advisers.
I Introduction
From the theorisation of the debate in J A G Griffith’s expressive articulation in his Chorley lecture
of 1978,
political constitutionalism has developed as a fundamental concept that underpins the
unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom. Political constitutionalism is associated with ‘hold-
ing those who exercise political power to account ...through political processes and in political
such as the structuring of political decision-making through parliamentary processes.
This is often contrasted with legal constitutionalism, that is, leg al mechanisms for delimiting
governmental power through the empowerment of the judiciary to enforce legal obligations via
* Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University. The author would like to thank the guest editors, participants of a
UNSW workshop, Patrick Emerton and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on drafts of this article.
The author may be contacted at yeefui.ng@monash.edu.
1. See J A G Griffith, ‘The Political Constitution’ (1979) 42(1) Modern Law Review 1.
2. Graham Gee and Gr ´egoire C N Webber, ‘What is a Political Constitution?’ (2010) 30(2) Oxford Journal of Legal Studies
273, 273.
Federal Law Review
2020, Vol. 48(4) 455–468
ªThe Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0067205X20955100

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