Parliamentary Leadership – A Dialogue for Pacific Parliamentarians
Canberra | 8 -13 February 2012
Parliaments are essential in a well-functioning democratic system of government. They perform legislative, accountability and representational functions and by electing representatives to parliament citizens are able to influence the decisions that affect their lives.
But in the Pacific many parliaments have struggled to establish themselves as credible and effective institutions. They are commonly criticised for being weak and, in many cases, subordinate to the executive arm of government.
Elected members of parliament often find themselves consumed by a cycle of negotiations to form and re-form government. This process of coalition-making can cause members to overlook the contribution they can make as parliamentarians to public policy and law making.
CDI’s Pacific Parliamentary Leadership Dialogue, which was convened in Canberra from 8 to 13 February, was attended by a select group of 12 influential and emerging parliamentarians from across the Pacific. They discussed what it means to be a parliamentarian today and considered what they as individuals can do to re-vitalize the performance of their parliaments.
MPs from Papua New Guinea (including the Autonomous Region of Bougainville), Vanuatu, Kiribati and Samoa met with parliamentarians and officials from the Australian House of Representatives and Senate. They observed proceedings of the Australian Parliament and its committees and met with members and staff from the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly.
During these meetings the Dialogue facilitators, Hon Kay Patterson (former Australian Senator and Cabinet Minister) and Hon Duncan Kerr (former Australian Member of Parliament and Minister), encouraged participants to reflect on the challenges involved in:
- achieving a constructive balance between the parliamentary, executive and judicial arms of government;
- exercising parliamentary power, especially law making, policy review and administrative accountability and financial scrutiny powers; and
- ethics and integrity in parliamentary leadership.
The Hon Richard Marles, Parliamentary Secretary for the Pacific and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs opened the Dialogue. The Hon Kevin Rudd (then Minister for Foreign Affairs) was Guest of Honour at an official reception.
It is clear from comments we have received since the Dialogue (from participants and from diplomatic representatives) that the ideas canvassed during the Dialogue are being shared with parliamentary colleagues. This is an encouraging sign and points toward the achievement of one of the principle aims of the Dialogue, that being to encourage participants to mobilise networks for change within their own parliaments.