The Parliaments Project bring the established expertise of the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law to bear on parliament as a legal institution. Particular attention will be paid to the functions of parliament in: legislating and scrutinising legislation; and holding the executive to account. The Project will consider the design of parliament and how that design relates to parliament’s performance of its day to day functions and operations.
We recognise the excellent work being done by colleagues in political science and other disciplines in this area – and we hope to engage thoughtfully with that work. An aim of this Project is to be genuinely inter-disciplinary while bringing a distinctive legal analysis to that ongoing discussion. To that end the Project will draw on any and all expertise with a view to improving the performance of parliament in the exercise of its public law functions.
The Project will seek to develop further terrain first explored by the G+T Centre Charter of Human Rights Project. It will also expand on research conducted by the ARC Laureate Fellowship: Anti-Terror Laws and the Democratic Challenge in collaboration with the Human Rights Centre, Durham which was funded by the British Academy – a detailed description of that research is available here.
In 2011 the Commonwealth adopted the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 (Cth) which adopted a political rights review mechanism. Political rights review places parliament at the centre of the process of upholding human rights and therefore provides an excellent prism through which to examine the strengths and weaknesses of parliament in upholding a core purpose of public law. Furthermore, the model of rights protection adopted by the Commonwealth is somewhat unique internationally. There is, therefore, the potential to contrast the operation of this parliamentary scrutiny model with dialogic and other models of human rights protection in Australia and internationally.
In June 2014 the project convened a successful Workshop on Parliamentary Process and Party Discipline, held at NSW Parliament House The aim of the workshop was to explore the impact of strong political party discipline in Australia on a variety of parliamentary processes, in particular those providing for political rights review. The workshop started with a keynote lecture from Professor Philip Cowley of the University of Nottingham in the UK. Professor Cowley used his expertise on backbench rebellions at Westminster to demonstrate that dissent was now a regular feature of votes in the UK parliament, but that weak party discipline did not necessarily have a detrimental effect on the parliamentary process. The workshop participants then explored how the opposite feature in Australia – strong party discipline – has affected the way in which Australian parliaments perform their oversight functions.
Although political rights review provides an initial point of focus for the Project the Director and other members of the G+T Centre are keen to collaborate in further research on any legal aspect of the institution of parliament – including (though not restricted to) bicameralism, electoral reform and the selection and role of speakers.
This project concluded mid June 2016.