Governing in a pandemic: from parliamentary sovereignty to autocratic technocracy

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Abstract

Emergencies require governments to govern differently. In Australia, the changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic have been profound. The role of lawmaker has been assumed by the executive exercising broad emergency powers. Parliaments, and the debate and scrutiny they provide, have been marginalised. The COVID-19 response also has seen the medical-scientific expert metamorphose from decision-making input into decision-maker. Extensive legislative and executive decision-making authority has been delegated to them–directly in some jurisdictions; indirectly in others. Severe restrictions on an individual's freedom of movement, association and to earn a livelihood have been declared by them, or on their advice. Employing the analytical lens of regulatory legitimacy, this article examines and seeks to understand this shift from parliamentary sovereignty to autocratic technocracy. How has it occurred? Why has it occurred? What have been the consequences and risks of vesting significant legislative and executive power in the hands of medical-scientific experts; what might be its implications? The article concludes by distilling insights to inform the future design and deployment of public health emergency powers.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalThe Theory and Practice of Legislation
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020

Keywords

  • Australia
  • autocracy
  • coronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • emergency powers
  • experts
  • legitimacy
  • parliamentary democracy
  • parliamentary sovereignty
  • technocracy
  • trust

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