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.
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 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.
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.
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.