Challenges to political leadership through the prism of the National Cabinet: Representing one’s ‘gang’ or one’s ideology?

"First Ministers" - the bizarrely elitist term for members of the informal National Cabinet

My paper below has been accepted for presentation at the 2023 Public Policy Network Conference at the Museum of Australian Democracy on Wednesday 12th April. The abstract and slides for my paper are set out below.


The Albanese government has achieved an apparent policy consensus among Australia’s ‘first ministers’ in the quasi-institution known as the National Cabinet. But behind the public-facing consensus lies vicious party in-fighting that threatens to undermine the legitimacy of Australia’s political party leaders. A unique feature of political leadership is the need for leaders to keep their party base onside while also representing the interests of their constituents and their political party colleagues. Prioritising one group over another requires careful consideration for a leader to achieve their desired policy outcomes without losing support for their leadership. The National Cabinet has been used as a public relations vehicle by the Albanese government where premiers who are alone in their disagreement are spotlighted for negative public discourse. At the same time, the legitimacy of political leaders who support policy areas where consensus exists in the National Cabinet (such as The Voice and energy policy) is threatened by industry lobby groups, political party members, and power brokers within political parties. This paper, then, considers the impact of the National Cabinet on political leadership. The paper considers two case studies, The Voice and energy policy, to examine the power plays that influence the policy positions adopted by political leaders. It then considers the democratic deficit created by political leaders who stray from their party’s platform and how this influences a leader’s legitimacy within the party structure. The paper argues that the National Cabinet, now a regular feature of Australian politics, has allowed greater concentration of power in the prime minister’s leadership. The paper addresses the question: Has the National Cabinet weakened the ability of state and territory leaders to represent their parties’ bases, making it easier for ideology-based federal policy to gain public support?