Sources of Contemporary
consists of the Queen
(represented by the
Governor-General) and two
Houses (the Senate and
the House of
These three elements make
Australia a constitutional
There are five important functions of
1. to provide for the formation of a government;
2. to legislate;
3. to provide the funds needed for government;
4. to provide a forum for popular representation;
5. to scrutinise the actions of government.
The Australian form of government follows the
British (Westminster) tradition.
The Federal and all state parliaments (except Qld)
are bicameral; i.e. they have two houses of
Federal Parliaments are elected for a maximum of
The House of Representatives
The Lower House
The House of Representatives has 150 Members - each
representing a separate electorate (of around 80,000 voters).
Members are elected for terms of up to 3 years.
The party or group with majority support in the House forms the
Traditionally, the members of the House of Representatives
belong to the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party of Australia
and the National Party of Australia. The Liberals and Nationals
have an agreement to vote together, so they form a “coalition”.
The primary role of the House is to make new laws and to amend
The Upper House
The Senate has 76 Senators -
12 for each state, and 2
each for the ACT and NT.
State Senators are elected for 6 year terms, territory Senators for
3 year terms.
The States enjoy equal representation in the Senate, regardless
of their population, and State matters are important to Senators.
Bills can’t become law unless they are agreed to by each House.
The Senate is often seen as a “House of review”
Bills can be introduced in the Senate (with the exception of
The Governor-General is appointed by the Queen
on the advice of the Prime Minister.
The Governor-General is the Queen’s
representative in Australia, and acts on her behalf.
Usually, the Governor-General will follow the
advice of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (senior
members of the Government).
There are some areas where the Governor-General
can exercise power against the PM&C’s advice. These
are known as Reserve Powers:
1. The power to appoint a Prime Minister if an election
has resulted in a ‘hung parliament’;
2. The power to dismiss a Prime Minister where he or
she has lost the confidence of the Parliament;
3. The power to dismiss a Prime Minister or Minister
when he or she is acting unlawfully; and
4. The power to refuse to dissolve the House of
Representatives despite a request from the Prime
The Governor-General also has a supervisory role to
see that the processes of the Federal Executive
Council are conducted lawfully.
The Governor-General acts to protect the Constitution
and to facilitate the work of the Commonwealth
Parliament and Government.
E.g. Before giving assent to legislation, the Governor-
General must be satisfied that the proposed law has
passed both Houses of Parliament and that the necessary
certification from the Attorney General has been obtained.
Compare the structure of the
NSW parliament to the Federal
‘The Governor-General should not
be allowed to dismiss a
government which has been
elected by the people.’