Work of the Parliament

The Parliament consists of the Queen (represented by the Governor-General) and two Houses (the Senate and the House of Representatives).

Roles

In 1901 the Australian Constitution established the Australian Parliament, also known as the federal Parliament or the Commonwealth Parliament.

The Australian Parliament has four main roles:

  • Making and changing federal laws.
  • Representing the people of Australia.
  • Providing a place where government is formed.
  • Keeping a check on the work of the government.

Law-making

To make or change a law, a bill must be introduced into the Parliament. Bills are then debated and voted on by members of parliament. To become a law a bill must be agreed to by a majority vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and be given Royal Assent by the Governor-General. Laws are also known as an Act of Parliament.

Parliamentary committees

Parliamentary committees investigate specific matters of policy or government administration or performance. Committees provide an opportunity for organisations and individuals to participate in policy making and to have their views placed on the public record and considered as part of the decision-making process.

Representing Australians

Members of parliament represent the views and interests of Australians.

There are 151 members of Parliament elected to the House of Representatives. Each member represents 1 of the 151 electorates in Australia. There is approximately the same number of voters in each electorate.

Seventy-six senators are elected to the Senate to represent Australian states and territories. There are 12 senators from each state and 2 senators each from the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

Members of Parliament represent their electorates or states/territories by finding out about people's interests and concerns and by speaking about them in Parliament. Members of parliament assist constituents who may be having difficulties with issues such as pensions, migration and taxation.

Members of parliament also represent Australians by considering how bills and decisions of Parliament will affect those in their electorate or state/territory.

Formation of government

The Parliament forms government from the party (or coalition of parties) which achieve a majority in the House of Representatives following a federal election. The senior members of federal and state governments are also known as the Executive or executive government.

Executive government

The Prime Minister is appointed by the Governor-General, who by convention under the Constitution, must appoint the parliamentary leader of the party, or coalition of parties, which has a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. This majority party becomes the government and provides the ministers, all of whom must be members of Parliament.

The Federal Executive Council, referred to in the Constitution, comprises all ministers, with the Governor-General presiding. Its principal functions are to receive ministerial advice and approve the signing of formal documents such as proclamations, regulations, ordinances and statutory appointments.

Australia operates under a Cabinet system of government. The Cabinet, not mentioned in the Constitution, is the key decision-making body of the government and comprises senior Government Ministers. The decisions of Cabinet are given legal effect by their formal ratification by the Federal Executive Council.

Checking the work of the government

The Parliament scrutinises the work of the government in several ways:

  • investigating bills in debates and committees
  • reviewing government decisions
  • participating in Senate estimates hearings to investigate government expenditure
  • questioning the government during question time in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The Governor-General

The Governor-General is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister and performs a large number of functions which are defined by the Constitution. These fall roughly into three categories: constitutional and statutory duties, formal ceremonial duties, and non-ceremonial social duties. On virtually all matters, however, the Governor-General acts on the advice of the Ministry.

The Constitution

A constitution is a set of rules by which a country or state is governed.

The Australian Constitution was created by a British Act called the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1901. Section 9 of this Act is headed 'Constitution' and contains eight chapters and 128 sections that make up the Australian Constitution.

Federation

Federation is the name given to the union of the six self-governing colonies of Australia on 1 January 1901, to form one nation as a union of states under a central authority.

In the 1890s the colonies came together at special meetings called conventions to try to agree about how to form a new federal system of governance. Eventually they agreed on the rules of a federal system of governance that would run matters that concerned the whole country. The people of the colonies voted to accept this new constitution, which was then taken to the British Parliament, and Queen Victoria signed the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1901.

Elections

The essence of a parliamentary democracy is that citizens elect representatives to make laws on their behalf. General elections are held every three years to elect all members to the House of Representatives and just half of all senators to the Senate. The Constitution sets out the essential rules for calling general elections. It is compulsory for Australian citizens 18 years and over to vote.

What is Parliament?

Parliament is the body that makes laws for Australia.  It has three distinct parts:  the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Queen (represented in Australia by the Governor-General).

Parliament House Calendar