IN the face of the coronavirus pandemic a combination of necessity and political will expanded the boundaries of possibility.
New policies and procedures were created to handle the health emergency, in particular social distancing and lockdowns.
New financial packages were implemented to offset the economic impact of the health decisions.
Coordinating the national response was an unfamiliar piece of political machinery, the National Cabinet.
This is an intergovernmental committee consisting of the Prime Minister, state Premiers, and Territory Chief Ministers.
On April 24, the Prime Minister commented that "the National Cabinet may prove to be a better way for our federal system to work in the future, but this will be a matter for another time".
Let us unpack this a little. The National Cabinet is not really new. It already exists in the form of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). As COAG it meets twice a year.
All that is new is that it meets weekly to coordinate a national response to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
But the Prime Minister might have a point. Perhaps this is an opportunity to rethink how our federation and our democracy actually operates.
In effect, a National Cabinet as currently configured would amount to what is known as "executive federalism" where each member state and territory of the federation would be represented equally by its Premier or Chief Minister. The Commonwealth would be represented by the Prime Minister.
This might invigorate the operation of Australian democracy at the national level insofar as the National Cabinet would be making recommendations for the federal government to put before the Federal Cabinet and parliament.
But why should we stop there? At a time when public trust and satisfaction with Australia's democratic arrangements are at an all-time low, our democracy is in need of much more than a revamped COAG to invigorate it.
Successive royal commissions have demonstrated why we are losing trust in our institutions. Conflict-based political discourse, a disregard for experts and science, and turnover of leaders by parties are also key contributors to our declining trust in politicians and governments.
There is also a strong view that politicians don't listen or deal with the concerns of the people. If democracy is supposed to be about the rule of the demos, the people, where those whom we elect to make decisions on our behalf are accountable for those decisions then we still have a long way to go.
Broken promises and lack of integrity of many politicians contribute to our concerns about lack of accountability in our democracy.
At the centre of Australia's Westminster system of representative democracy is the principle that the executive of government (formally the Federal Executive Council) is accountable to the parliament. It also entails that all Ministers of the Crown are accountable to the parliament. This is what is meant by the idea of ministerial responsibility.
For some years now the practice of an accountable executive and responsible ministers has been in serious decline. Successive governments have failed to hold ministers accountable.
Similarly, successive parliaments have proven incapable of holding the executive or ministers accountable. Indeed many ministers have treated the processes of accountability with disdain.
In a representative democracy with an entrenched two-party system, the principles of responsibility and accountability end up being little more than comforting stories about what might have been once upon a time.
The government, its executive and its ministers, is only accountable in principle. In practice the balance of the numbers in the parliament determine who will be held accountable.
The issues of accountability and responsibility are only the tip of the iceberg. Numerous democratic freedoms and rights, especially the right to privacy, need to be more clearly embedded in our democracy. A rethink of our electoral system is also required to ensure it produces a parliament that better represents the wider population.
The response from Australians to comply with government directions impeding their freedoms to control the pandemic is remarkable given the lack of trust in our democratic processes.
There has been overwhelming support for our response and the collaborative approach to decision-making. The relationship between federal and states has been mostly respectful. The national cabinet has been a key mechanism to garner support.
However, serious democratic reform will require more than a recycled COAG.
Our challenge as citizens is to ensure that reforms to our democratic processes occur post COVID-19 and go beyond COAG models.