Alan J. Ward is the Class of 1935 Professor Emeritus of Government at William & Mary, and previously taught at the University of Adelaide and Flinders University in Australia.
Ward received his Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and his research has focused on parliamentary government in Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand. His latest work, Parliamentary Government in Australia, is the first major study of the Australian political system published by an American for more than 40 years.
Q: Why has the Australian political system received so little attention by American scholars these past 40 years?
A: Australia is a long way away and doing field research there is difficult for an American. More significantly, when American political scientists think about parliamentary systems, they think first of Britain and that’s what they write and teach about, which is natural.
Q: What prompted you to begin this project?
A: My first academic appointment was in Australia and I visit almost every year. But this book actually has its origins in two other things. First, I’ve long had an interest in Irish politics, and in 1994 I published a book rather like this new one called The Irish Constitutional Tradition. Second, for a very long time I taught a course on British politics at William & Mary. These two activities taught me a great deal about parliamentary systems and in the 1980s I started to do research comparing parliamentary systems. It was then that I noticed a need for the kind of comprehensive study of Australia that, many years later, I’ve published.
Q: What is the global importance of Australia's political system?
A: Australia is best seen not as a unique political system but as one of a great many countries that have parliamentary government. And if one understands Australia, one has insights into how these other countries work, from Japan and India to Germany and Spain, and beyond. You could make the same point starting from, say, Germany or Portugal or Canada. The book is loaded with comparative data to make this point.
Q: What were the most surprising aspects of the Australian political system uncovered during your research?
A: Australia has nine political systems, federal, state and territory, and nine formal constitutions, but only one of these documents spells out the model of government they all use. Many of the most important elements of Australian politics, the Prime Minister and Cabinet, for example, are determined not by constitutional law but by unwritten custom or convention in eight jurisdictions. Not surprisingly, most Australians know almost nothing about their constitutions, but reading them would not help very much because they do not, and have never, described reality. I argue that this should be changed.
Parliamentary Government in Australia was published by Australian Scholarly Publishing in January, 2013.