While the President is subject to the general authority of cabinet under our constitution, the post-holder still holds substantial powers which have the potential to affect the lives of ordinary citizens.
The President appoints independent senators who can, collectively and individually, have a decisive impact on the legislative agenda of the government of the day since their support is needed to pass special majority laws. Additionally, the President has a direct role in the appointment of people to certain watchdog bodies such as the Integrity Commission. The health of these watchdog bodies has an impact on the public’s ability to have faith in the systems of governance.
It is only natural for the Government to consult with the widest pool of individuals possible when it comes to nominating individuals to be the next president. Therefore, the issuing of an invitation to the Opposition to meet on this issue is a good overture. This is particularly so given the ramifications of the appointment. Both the Government and the Opposition have much to lose if there is no consensus on the candidate or if the eventual post-holder turns out to perform poorly.
The issuing of an invitation is all the more timely given recent legislative wrangling which has stalled key legislation. Both sides of the House of Representatives need to demonstrate their capacity to work, in a non-partisan way, for the sake of the nation. The process by which we select the President is an opportunity for our leaders to formulate an approach that could be replicated when it comes to passing much-needed legislative reform on anti-corruption and anti-terrorism.
In recent times, we have not had a history of consensus when it comes to presidential appointments. More often than not, the ruling party has had one nominee and the rest of Parliament another. That needs to change. The issuing of an invitation to meet may not itself translate into 100 per cent agreement, but it is important for both sides to air their views and listen to one another. Down the road, more of that is what we need if we are to make high-quality decisions as a nation.
Including the Opposition in the process also allows all members of Parliament to have a say. These MPs are in a position to reflect the views of their constituents. In this way, the people who are affected by the appointment get representation. They should be encouraged to add their voices to the process through public debate and correspondence with their representatives.
Whatever the outcome, only good can come from the latest gesture. It sets a precedent for our democracy in terms of decision-making and power-sharing.