Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Government of Australia
- This article describes the national government of Australia. See list of Australian governments for other jurisdictions.
Australia is a constitutional monarchy, a federation and a parliamentary democracy. The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 as a result of an agreement between what were previously six self-governing British colonies. The terms of this agreement are embodied in the Australian Constitution, which was drawn up at a Constitutional Convention and ratified by the people of the colonies at referenda.
Structure of the government
The Australian Constitution creates a federal Parliament, executive and judiciary, and allocates certain powers and responsibilities to them (known as "heads of power"). All remaining responsibilities were retained by the six colonies, which under the Constitution became States of the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia thus has seven sovereign Parliaments, none of which can encroach on the functions of the other. The High Court of Australia arbitrates on any disputes which arise between the Commonwealth and the States, or among the States, concerning their respective functions.
The Constitution, however, provides that the States can agree to refer any of their powers to the Commonwealth if they choose. The Commonwealth Parliament can also propose to the people the transfer of power from the States to the Commonwealth (or vice versa), by way of a referendum to amend the Constitution. Such a referendum requires the approval of a majority of voters, and a majority of voters in a majority of states (this is called the "double majority").
In addition, Australia has three self-governing territories: the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Norfolk Island. The legislatures of these territories exercise powers delegated to them by the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth Parliament retains the power to override territorial legislation and to transfer powers to or from the territories.
The federal nature of the Commonwealth is reflected in the structure of the Parliament of Australia, which was the subject of protracted negotiations among the colonies during the drafting of the Constitution. The House of Representatives is elected on a basis which reflects the differing populations of the States. Thus New South Wales has 50 members of the House while Tasmania has five. But the Australian Senate is elected on a basis of equality among the States: all States elect 12 Senators, regardless of population. This was intended to prevent the Parliament being dominated by the interests of the two most populous States, New South Wales and Victoria, as the Senators of the smaller States could form a majority and amend or even reject bills originating in the House of Representatives.
The third level of government after the Commonwealth and the States is local government, in the form of shire, town or city councils. These bodies administer the provision of services such as local roads, sanitation, libraries, dog registration etc. Councils are composed of elected representatives, usually serving on a part time basis.
Division of power
Government is undertaken by three inter-connected arms of government:
- Legislature - The Commonwealth Parliament
- Executive - The Prime Minister, the Cabinet Ministers, Ministers and their Departments
- Judiciary - The High Court of Australia and subsidiary Federal courts.
The Separation of Powers is the principle whereby the three arms of government undertake their activities separate from each other:
- the Legislature makes laws, and provides a legislative framework for the operations of the other two arms.
- the Executive administers the laws and carries out the tasks assigned to it by legislation;
- the Judiciary hears cases arising from the administration of the law, using both statute law and the common law. Unlike courts in the United States, the Australian courts cannot give advisory opinions on the constitutionality of laws.
- the other arms cannot influence the Judiciary.
Until the passage of the Australia Act 1986, and associated legislation in the parliament of the United Kingdom, some Australian cases could be referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for final appeal. With this act, Australian law was made unequivocally sovereign, and the High Court of Australia was confirmed as the highest court of appeal. The theoretical possibility of the British Parliament enacting laws to override the Australian Constitution was also removed.(Act:pdf)
Head of state
The term "head of state" is not used in the Australian Constitution, so the question of who is Australia's head of state is a matter of convention. The role played by the monarchy has declined significantly over the past century, but Queen Elizabeth II is still generally regarded as Australia's legal head of state. At the time the Constitution was adopted, Australia was part of the British Empire and it was not considered necessary to affirm the British monarch's status. Australia became independent from the United Kingdom following adoption of the Statute of Westminster. Recognising this, the Australian Parliament in 1973 gave the Queen the title Queen of Australia, thus confirming her status as Australia's head of state.
Section 2 of the Australian Constitution provides that a Governor-General shall represent the Queen in Australia, and today the Governor-General carries out virtually all the functions of a head of state, without reference to the Queen. The Governor-General is appointed by the Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia. The current Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery, said in 2004: "Her Majesty is Australia's head of state but I am her representative and to all intents and purposes I carry out the full role."
Under the conventions of the Westminister system the Governor-General's powers are almost always exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister or other ministers. The Governor-General retains reserve powers similar to those possessed by the Queen in the United Kingdom. These are rarely exercised, but during the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975 Governor-General Sir John Kerr demonstrated a willingness to use them independently of the Queen.
Australia has periodically experienced movements seeking to end the monarchy. In a 1999 referendum, the Australian people voted on a proposal to change the Constitution. The proposal would have removed references to the Queen from the Constitution and replaced the Governor-General with a President nominated by the Prime Minister, but subject to the approval of a two-thirds majority of both Houses of the Parliament. The proposal was defeated. The Australian Republican Movement continues to campaign for an end to the monarchy in Australia, opposed by Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy .
Main article: Parliament of Australia
The Legislature makes the laws, and supervises the activities of the other two arms with a view to changing the laws when appropriate. The Australian Parliament is bicameral, consisting of a 76-member Senate and a 150-member House of Representatives. Twelve senators from each state are elected for six-year terms and two from each territory are elected for three-year terms using proportional representation and the single transferable vote (known in Australia as "preferential voting": see Australian electoral system), with half elected every three years.
The members of the House of Representatives are elected by preferential voting from single-member constituencies allocated among the states and territories roughly in proportion to population. In ordinary legislation, the two chambers have coordinate powers, but all proposals for appropriating revenue or imposing taxes must be introduced in the House of Representatives. Under the prevailing Westminster system, the leader of the political party or coalition of parties that wins a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives is named Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister and the Cabinet are responsible to the Parliament, of which they must be elected members. General elections are held at least once every three years. The Prime Minister has a discretion to advise the Governor-General to call an election for the House of Representatives at any time, but Senate elections can only be held within certain periods prescribed in the Constitution. The last general election was in October 2004.
The Commonwealth Parliament and all the state and territory legislatures operate within the conventions of the Westminster system, with a recognised Leader of the Opposition, usually the leader of the largest party outside the government, and a Shadow Cabinet of Opposition members who "shadow" each member of the Ministry, asking questions on matters within the Minister's portfolio. Although the government, by virtue of commanding a majority of members in the lower house of the legislature, can usually pass its legislation and control the workings of the house, the Opposition has certain recognised rights, and can considerably delay the passage of legislation and obstruct government business if it chooses. The day-to-day business of the house is usually negotiated between a designated senior Minister, who holds the title Leader of the House , and an Opposition frontbencher known as the Manager of Opposition Business . The current Leader of the Opposition in the federal Parliament is Kim Beazley. The Manager of Opposition Business is Julia Gillard.
Main article: Executive Council of Australia
The Federal Executive Council consists of the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and Ministers. It is a formal body which exists to give legal effect to decisions made by the Cabinet, and to carry out various other functions. Members of the Executive Council are entitled to be styled The Honourable, a title which they retain for life. The Governor-General usually presides at Council meetings, but a Minister with the title Vice-President of the Executive Council serves as the link between the government and the Council.
Main article: Cabinet of Australia
The Constitution of Australia does not recognise the Cabinet as a legal entity, and its decisions have no legal force. All members of the ministry are also members of the Executive Council , a body which is (in theory, though rarely in practice) chaired by the Governor-General and which meets solely to endorse and give legal force to decisions already made by the Cabinet. That is why there is always a member of the ministry holding the title Vice-President of the Executive Council .
Until 1956 all members of the ministry were members of the Cabinet. The growth of the ministry in the 1940s and 1950s made this increasingly impractical, and in 1956 Robert Menzies created a two-tier ministry, with only senior ministers holding Cabinet rank. This practice has been continued by all governments except the Whitlam Government.
When the non-Labor parties have been in power, the Prime Minister has made all Cabinet and ministerial appointments at his own discretion, although in practice he consults with senior colleagues in making appointments. When the Liberal Party and its predecessors (the Nationalist Party and the United Australia Party) have been in coalition with the National Party or its predecessor the Country Party, the leader of the junior Coalition party has had the right to nominate his party's members of the Coalition ministry, and to be consulted by the Prime Minister on the allocation of their portfolios.
When the Labor first held office under Chris Watson, Watson assumed the right to choose members of his Cabinet. In 1907, however, the party decided that future Labor Cabinets would be elected by the members of the Parliamentary Labor Party, the Caucus, and this practice has been followed ever since. The Prime Minister retains the right to allocate portfolios. In practice, Labor Prime Ministers have exercised a predominant influence over who has been elected to Labor Cabinets, although the leaders of the party factions also exercise considerable influence.
- Prime Minister
- Minister for Transport and Regional Services
- Minister for Trade
- Minister for Foreign Affairs
- Minister for Defence
- Minister for Finance and Administration
- Minister for Health and Ageing
- Minister for the Environment and Heritage
- Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
- Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
- Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs
- Minister for Education, Science and Training
- Minister for Family and Community Services
- Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources
- Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
- Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
- Attorney-General's Department
- Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
- Department of Defence
- Department of Education, Science and Training
- Department of Employment and Workplace Relations
- Department of the Environment and Heritage
- Department of Family and Community Services
- Department of Finance and Administration
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
- Department of Health and Ageing
- Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs
- Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources
- Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 
- Department of Transport and Regional Services
- Department of the Treasury
- Department of Veterans' Affairs
- Public Service Commissioner
Main article: Australian court hierarchy
The Judiciary interprets the laws, using as a basis the laws as enacted and explanatory statements made in the Legislature during the enactment.
- High Court of Australia
- Federal Court of Australia
- Family Court of Australia
- Federal Magistrates' Court
- Administrative Appeals Tribunal
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details