Australia

Feb 11, 2014

Part-time pollies: which is Australia’s laziest Parliament?

Australia's parliaments will sit on average for fewer than 50 days this year. We name the laziest, and explain why our part-time parliaments are bad for democracy.

Cathy Alexander — Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

Cathy Alexander

Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

As federal politicians jet into Canberra for Parliament’s first sitting day of 2014 today, they can rest assured they won’t be back very often. Australia’s parliaments are lazy, scheduled to sit on average for fewer than 50 days this year. And an academic has warned that makes it much easier for governments to hide from scrutiny and cramp public debate.

Crikey has tallied up how many days Australia’s lower houses are scheduled to sit — i.e. formally meet in their parliaments to consider legislation and debate issues — in 2014. While the UK House of Commons will sit 164 days and Canada’s lower house 130, Australia’s federal House of Representatives will sit for just 72 days.

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6 comments

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6 thoughts on “Part-time pollies: which is Australia’s laziest Parliament?

  1. Moving to Paraguay

    Can really you equate number of days in parliament with the level of activity by a politician? Would you do the same for soldiers and the number of days they spend in battle? You could as easily state the converse, that time sitting around listening to long speeches in parliament is the least productive time.

    This article seems to pander to the coarse politician-bashing found in Australia’s version of tea-party populism. It’s become such orthodoxy that politicians themselves adhere to it. Hockey defends privatisation because he says the government is so bad at getting things done.

    The great danger of anti-politicianism is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fewer honourable people are attracted to politics because of this stereotype. And existing politicians live down to the popular image.

    Crikey is the one publication that I hope can rise above this.

  2. BruceHassan

    The one Australian parliament you have missed is the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly. It sits one day per month, or 12 days in a calendar year. It seems like a low sitting rate, but a stellar performance compared to South Australia.

  3. tonysee

    Agreed MtP. This is pure gap filler.

    The idea of saying SA is the laziest is a measure of how superficial this analysis is. Last year the SA lower house sat for 50+ days putting it in the mid-range of states.

    And your broader point about sitting days being a measure of activity is well made.

    I have no problem with a critical analysis of the work of our pollies, but if you’re going to throw stones at another profession, perhaps you should do it in a way that shows you’re not lazy.

  4. Matt Hardin

    I think lazy is a bad word for them to have used. The more relevant and frightening thing is the fact that pArliament is increasingly sidelined and the executive has more and more power. Given the media’s obsession with “leadership” it seems to me that even cabinet is being sidelined and that the premier or prime minister is making more and more of the decisions. There is a word for that kind of government and an elected tyrant is still a tyrant.

  5. AR

    I can’t forget that Italy functions best – or less badly – during the fairly extended periods whenit had no functioning government.
    Not just Italy – Germany was without a sitting legislature for almost 3 months before forming a Grand Coalition (of “opponents” sic!)and carrying on with the “ight touch”.
    As has Belgium so often that when they have a coalition the ink is barely dry before it dissolves.
    For family reasons, I won’t even mention Ireland.

  6. Cathy Alexander

    “The world record for a democracy going without an elected government is held by Belgium, which went 589 days in 2010-11 … ”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/10/01/589-days-with-no-elected-government-what-happened-in-belgium/

    However I think parliament did sit in that time, but only a temporary government sort of ran / didn’t run the place. It would be fascinating to know what impact the absence of a government had on government. Sir Humphrey Appleby would enjoy it …

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