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Given the recent government shutdown in the US, there have been a lot of related questions here wondering about the possibility of it happening in the UK, Australia, and so on. In general, the answers have revolved around how parlimentary systems (unlike the US) have built-in mechanisms for resolving a loss of supply.

However, by itself the loss of supply (i.e. failure to pass a budget) was not enough to cause the government shutdown. There's also the Antideficiency Act, which is interpreted to mean that the government can't spend money if there is no approved budget. All the mechanisms discussed for parliamentary systems resolve around dissolving the deadlocked government and replacing it with a more functional group of people, but the process of dissolving a parliament and reelecting it takes time. What happens in the meantime?

This question is threefold:

  1. Is there anything inherent in a parliamentary system or their budgeting procedures which would prevent legislation like the Antideficiency Act from being passed, or remove the need to do so? (I believe the original goal was to keep government services from over-spending their allotted budgets)
  2. If an Antideficiency Act-equivalent could be or has been passed, what happens to government services during the time between the loss of supply and the time the budget is finally passed by the newly elected government?
  3. What are the limits on the timeframe between the loss of supply and the convening of the new government?

I realize that the answers for these questions may differ by country. An ideal answer would cover both general and specific cases, but since the question was specifically inspired by an Australian question, I'll accept an Australian-specific answer if no one has a general one.

  • It would be really good if we could get loss-of-supply and supply as synonyms for shutdown. – Samuel Russell Oct 28 '13 at 22:21
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    @SamuelRussell Well, we need them as tags - but I'd be careful about making them synonyms of shutdown as that has specific US connotations due to US-specific dysfunction. – LateralFractal Oct 28 '13 at 23:50
  • Good point, agree. Apparently I'm not influential enough in politics to directly edit tags in posts yet. – Samuel Russell Oct 29 '13 at 0:44
  • @SamuelRussell You can check your current privileges here. You can also get a full list here. At 400+ for politics.se, you should be able to create new tags and edit posts with peer review. – LateralFractal Oct 29 '13 at 1:20
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    Possibly relevant case: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1975_Australian_constitutional_crisis – Andrew Grimm Jul 1 '16 at 11:53
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As is often the case, the answer is Yes and No. Specifically yes in some ways, and no in others.

The chief place where parliamentary systems win out over the separately elected executive branch (at least in terms of preventing a government shutdown) is that the government (i.e. executive) is chosen by the legislative body. This means there cannot be a long-running dispute between the legislative body and the government. If the government loses the confidence of the legislative body, then either a new government is chosen or an election is called. However the US government shutdown was not primarily because of a dispute between executive and legislative branches, but between the two parts of the legislative branch. A parliamentary system would protect against a US shutdown caused by presidential veto of a budget from a Congress that didn't have enough votes to override it - but that's not what happened here (it did happen in 2018).

A bicameral parliamentary system can suffer the same problem. The two houses can disagree about a budget and nothing gets passed. This was theoretically the case with the British parliamentary system until the People's Budget of 1910 (although in practice no dispute had arisen for 300 years). After that processes were modified so the upper house could not prevent the lower house from passing budget legislation. Most parliamentary systems take this approach now, but it is not an inherent property of the parliamentary system.

Anti-deficiency acts are rare in parliamentary systems precisely because the government (executive) are the same people as the majority of the legislative branch. If they want to overspend their budget they can simply pass legislation to authorize it. Without a compelling reason, most places would rather not force a government shutdown just because the legislature can't agree, so acts like that don't get passed. For this reason most governments can continue to spend money even when their budget period has technically ended. The government is going to answer at the polls for their behaviour, so this isn't as much freedom as it sounds. Even if the previous budget has expired, the government is permitted to keep spending enough to keep the government running. (In Canada this is through something called a "Governor General's Special Warrant". Other countries have similar systems.)

Finally, the likely period between failing to get a budget passed and a new budget being passed is:

  • a week or so while the goernment tries to negotiate itself out of this mess, and if it can't, goes through the formal process of calling an election;
  • a couple of months for the election
  • a month or so while the new government sorts out its priorities, appoints new ministers and puts a new budget before parliament
  • Another few weeks while the budget is debated

Technically the old government is in charge during the first two of those, but they are trying to get re-elected so everything is just in 'ticking over' mode during that time, They also won't do anything crazy for the same reason.

tl;dr

  • Alignment of executive and legislative branch prevents some kinds of deadlock
  • Most parliaments have mechanism to prevent deadlock between chambers, but it's not inherent to the parliamentary system
  • 'continuations' typically last a few months

EDIT: In response to LateralFractal, most government systems don't have a 'debt ceiling' like the US does - if the expenditure is authorized then raising the money (borrowing) is also authorized. That's not specific to a parliamentary system.

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    Nice! One question, though: If they want to overspend their budget they can simply pass legislation to authorize it. But what if there is no budget, and some department (such as the one that issues passports, for example) runs out of money? Or can they keep paying salaries and buying supplies despite the lack of official budget? – Bobson Oct 28 '13 at 21:58
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    Good answer. Could you flesh out the 'caretaker mode' some more - so that readers are informed whether the government can continue spending money during the interim? And Bobson's question about whether the government in caretaker mode can borrow more money to maintain the status-quo is also interesting. (If I paraphrased it correctly) – LateralFractal Oct 28 '13 at 23:56
  • @LateralFractal - I hadn't actually considered it from the perspective of borrowing. It's definitely relevant, but that then runs into the question of debt limits and how common they are outside the US... – Bobson Oct 30 '13 at 16:33
  • @Bobson If a government department is going to run out of money, it usually knows well in advance and a decision can be taken to authorize extra funds (or not). – DJClayworth Nov 1 '13 at 14:29
  • @DJClayworth - That goes back to the question of "What if the government is mid-crisis and can't authorize the funds?" I think the edit about the lack of debt ceiling addresses this well, actually. – Bobson Nov 1 '13 at 16:23
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At least in Russia if the budget is not agreed on by the legislature, the government is required to make payments following the budget of the previous year, until a new budget is approved.

Russia is not parliamentary system.

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    Yes, I actually think is the default. The government gets "frozen" at the last budget. But I don't know the formal term for this; would you happen to know? – LateralFractal Oct 31 '13 at 2:40
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    @LateralFractal Apologies for intervening and for off-topic, it just happens to be the topic of my BA thesis. The formal term you are looking for is "interim budget" (if we are talking about both spending and revenues) or, more commonly, "vote-on-account" (when talking only about spending). – I.M. Oct 31 '13 at 22:17

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