What is ‘ministerial responsibility’?

It’s been a slow election for open letters and political advertising from worthies, but things have picked up in the last few days. In The Weekend Australian, there was an ad from Doctors for the Environment Australia about, you guessed it, climate change. Last election it was doctors’ wives getting into the fashionable issues, this time it is the doctors themselves.

And this morning we had a blast from the 1970s, with Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser turning up in The Australian‘s letter pages (with the planned-for news coverage as well). Their topic was ‘ministerial responsibility’. ‘In the past two decades,’ they say,

the constitutional principle that ministers should be responsible for the failings of their policy or administration has been seriously undermined. No matter how grave their failings may be, ministers no longer resign.

But in reality there is no such constitutional principle (and who is Fraser to talk about constitutional principles, anyway?). Ministers are responsible in the sense that they must answer questions in the Parliament and elsewhere on their policies and performance, but resignation or replacement of Ministers is a matter of political judgment, not principle.
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