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The Australian National University

Proroguing the Parliament of Australia: The Effect on the Senate and the Conventions that Constrain the Prerogative Power

Eliot Olivier (2012) 40 (1)

Political controversies in New South Wales and Canada recently have focused public attention on the constitutional practice of proroguing parliament. They have also shone a light on two lingering areas of uncertainty that surround its operation under the Commonwealth Constitution. This article seeks to clarify these two muddy areas of the law concerning prorogation. The first is the effect of prorogation on the Senate and its committees. Since Federation, the Senate has purported to authorise its committees to continue to function notwithstanding a prorogation of the Parliament. However, it is argued that this practice is unsupported by the provisions of the Constitution and the Senate has no such power. Second, the article examines the operation of the conventions that constrain the Governor-General's power to prorogue. Prorogation generally is exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister. However, this article contends that where a Prime Minister seeks to prorogue Parliament to avoid a vote of no confidence, the Governor-General will have a discretion to reject the advice. It may also be open to the Governor-General to reject an advice to prorogue where the purpose is to avoid scrutiny of a fundamental constitutional illegality. In Australia, the uncertainties that surround prorogation, coupled with the now precarious political landscape in Canberra, create the very real possibility of a prorogation crisis at the Commonwealth level. This article provides a response to these uncertainties. In doing so it offers a solution to how a prorogation crisis can be resolved, whilst maintaining the fine balance of power in our constitutional system.

Vol 40, Issue 1, 2012

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