Parliament makes laws, authorises the Government to spend public money, scrutinises government activities, and is a forum for debate on national issues.
The work of the Parliament—its Members, Senators, and parliamentary committees—is supported by staff of the four parliamentary departments:
The government consists of members of the political party that wins an election and has the majority of members in the House of Representatives. This party and/or its leader (the Prime Minister) select fellow parliamentarians to be the ministers who run departments such as the Department of Foreign Affairs. All ministers are members of Parliament and are therefore elected.
Although the government is formed in the House of Representatives, some ministers are senators. About two thirds of ministers are members of the House of Representatives, and about one third are senators.
Parliament has four main functions: legislation (making laws), representation (acting on behalf of voters and citizens), scrutiny (examining the government), and formation of government.
General elections at the federal level in Australia are governed by a complex of constitutional and statutory provisions which, apart from determining how elections are held, also determine the balance of power between the legislature and the executive.
Each new Parliament begins with the opening by the Governor-General on the first day the two houses meet after a general election. The current Parliament is the forty-fourth since federation in 1901. The parliamentary term continues for three years after the date of the first sitting of the houses, unless it is ended earlier by the dissolution of the House of Representatives or by the double dissolution of both houses to resolve a deadlock or disagreement between them. Both types of dissolution are carried out by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister.
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