Politics One

Fourth edition

by Ian Ward and Randal G. Stewart

Chapter 1: Introduction

Further reading suggestions

There are a quite a number of textbooks which seek to introduce the study of Australian politics. Here are some references which complement the introduction we provide in@@@Politics One.
  • Eccleston, R., Williams, P. and Hollander, R. 2006.@@@Foundations of Australian Politics. (Frenchs Forrest: Pearson). Chapter 1 ‘Introduction to Politics’.
  • Uhr, J. 2002. ‘What’s so Responsible about Responsible Government?’ D. Burchill and A. Leigh (eds)@@@The Prince’s New Clothes: Why Do Australians Dislike Their Politicians?@@@(Sydney: University of New South Wales Press). We recommend this chapter because it provides a helpful discussion of the idea of responsible government.
  • Vromen, K.A., Gelber, K. and Gauja, A. 2008.@@@Powerscape: Contemporary Australian politics@@@2nd edn. (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin). Chapter 1 ‘Politics and power’

A further note on the role of political institutions@@@
It is sometimes argued that discussion of institutions such as the Constitution or parliament are dry, difficult and boring and that the sort of approach take by texts like@@@Politics One@@@is overly 'traditional' and narrow. It is this idea that we wish to confront here. Writing in the 1960s J.D.B. Millar sought to understand how Australia had taken institutions from Westminster and progressively built up 'a governmental system on a federal basis, with special institutions and practices devised under the pressure of special demands, such as those created by war and depression' (Miller 1961,.61) Perhaps our account is 'traditional' because we do think it important that Australia's political institutions have evolved alongside, and been shaped by, the 'special demands' of a distinctive Australian society and politics. But equally our approach owes much to ‘new institutionalism’. We see Australia’s political institutions not as formal-legal, rule bound structures, but as battle fields on which rival political interests compete. A ‘battle ground’ is brought into existence by the confrontation between rival armies. In this sense it is an appropriate metaphor for political institutions whose purpose is to accommodate the conflicting demands of rival economic and social interests.@@@

‘New institutionalism’ emerged as a school of thought in the 1980s and has several different theoretical permutations. But a common thread is the recognition that the choices available to political actors are constrained by the institutions in which they are located. Institutions are created and sustained by the patterned behaviors of those who inhabit them, and not simply by formal rules and laws which also define them. However political institutions do generate both formal and informal rules (or standard ways of operating) which impact directly upon political activity. For example, rules associated with particular political institutions will prescribe appropriate behaviors —and sanction misbehaviors. Institutions as varied as parliament and protest marches also sustain a sense of political identity and meaning for those who inhabit them. Furthermore institutions empower some, but not other actors. In short political institutions serve to structure political activity because they establish who is able to participate in making decisions; influence what these actors consider to be possible outcomes; and often work to shape the political strategies they can use in an effort to achieve their goals. In short new institutionalism teaches that institutions matter because they influence the political strategies adopted by political actors and shape political behaviour and—ultimately—policy decisions. Hence institutions are a starting point for the study of politics.@@@

Millar, J.D.B. 1959.@@@Australian Government and Politics. 2nd edn. (London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.)

Discussion point@@@
What is the relationship between politics and government? Does it help to see political institutions as sites of conflict?